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Bengal's biggest stars and their Saratchandra moments — Birth anniversary special


Last weekend saw the great writer's 142nd birth anniversary (he was born on 15 September 1876). On the occasion we look at some of the biggest artistes in Bengali cinema who portrayed characters from his works.

Roushni Sarkar

A pioneering author who became the voice of rural Bengal and often questioned the social practices prevalent in the pre-Independence era, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay is also perhaps one of the few authors who has had his significant works adapted multiple times in various languages across the country into different mediums of expression over the years.

It is fascinating to go through the array of adaptations through which the themes of Devdas, Biraj Bou, Srikanta, Borodidi, Mejdidi, Bindur Chhele, Parineeta and other novels by the author have been repeatedly explored and interpreted, ensuring their continuing relevance.

The iconic status of Saratchandra's stories cannot be discussed without delving into his iconic characters. Most of the legendary artistes in Bengali cinema as well as important actors in Hindi cinema have played characters from his novels at least once.

Last weekend saw the writer's 142nd birth anniversary (he was born on 15 September 1876). On the occasion, we look at some of the biggest stars of Bengali cinema and their renditions of Saratchandra characters that not only popularized the author across the country but also helped to enhance the quality of content in Indian cinema.

Uttam Kumar

Uttam Kumar, Bengali cinema's biggest star, was called 'Mahanayak' not only for his romantic persona, but also for his thoughtful portrayal of some of the most complex characters.

Uttam Kumar brought to life some iconic characters from Saratchandra novels. He twice played Srikanta in Rajalakshmi O Srikanta (1958) and Kamallata (1969), successfully bringing out the growth of the character as depicted by the author in his novel Srikanta.

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It is often said that Uttam Kumar almost overshadowed the lead with his brilliant rendition of Chunilal in Dilip Roy’s Devdas (1979). His performance as Mahim in Grihadah (1967) is also regarded one of the most memorable from his illustrious career.

Soumitra Chatterjee

Best known for his extraordinary collaborations with the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and a recipient of France’s highest civilian award the Legion of Honour, Soumitra Chatterjee is also remembered for etching out characters from Saratchandra's novels that are deeply ingrained in the minds of the Indian audience.

Among the multiple portrayals over the years by various noted actors, Chatterjee’s rendition of the immortal character Devdas in Dilip Roy’s Devdas (1979) stands out. He also lent a new dimension to the character of Shekhar in Ajay Kar’s Parineeta (1969). The audience still relates with the characters as it watches Chatterjee play Naren in Ajoy Kar’s Datta (1976) or Gokul Majumdar in Sushil Mukherjee’s Baikunther Will (1985).

Suchitra Sen

The most popular Bengali actress of all time, Suchitra Sen is known for her bold renditions of a varied range of characters. With her, a transformation began in the portrayal of female characters in Bengali cinema, lending complexities to them. In this regard, some of Sen’s renditions of the characters from Devdas, Srikanta, Grihadah and Datta are significant.10 iconic roles of Suchitra Sen – Birth anniversary special

10 iconic roles of Suchitra Sen – Birth anniversary special

In 1955, when Sen played Paro in Bimal Roy’s Devdas alongside the great Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala, she set the bar for actresses of the following generations as they essayed the same role.

Sen’s thoughtful and dedicated portrayal of Kamallata in Harisadhan Dasgupta’s Kamallata (1967), Rajlakshmi in Bulbul Ahmed’s Rajalakshmi O Srikanta (1958) opposite Uttam Kumar; Achala in Subodh Mitra’s Grihadah (1967) and Bijoya in Ajoy Kar’s Datta (1976) are testimonies to her acting prowess.

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Kanan Devi

The first lady of Indian cinema began her career as a child artiste in silent films and went on to become the biggest singing star of the early talkie era.

As a contemporary of the legendary Kundanlal Saigal, Kanan Devi depicted characters from the novels Mejdidi, Naba Bidhan and Srikanta. Even when she turned producer with her own banner Shrimati Pictures, she produced films based mostly on Saratchandra's stories.

Among her numerous pathbreaking performances are her renditions of Hemangini in Binoy Chatterjee’s Mejdidi (1950), Usha in Haridas Bhattacharya’s Nababidhan (1954) and Annada in Indranath Srikanta-O-Annadadidi (1959).

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Sandhya Rani

One of the more popular actresses of Bengali cinema, with a career spanning five decades starting from the 1940s, Sandhya Rani perfected various characters from the novels of Saratchandra on screen. She had a typical Bengali appearance and was, therefore, always considered suitable for the earthy characters etched by the author.

Sandhya Rani's acting potential was widely cultivated by many notable directors as she played Bharati in Agradoot’s Sabyasachi (1948), Gyanada in Pashupati Chatterjee’s Arakshaniya (1948) and Annapurna in Gurudas Bagchi’s Bindur Chheley (1973).

She played the protagonist in Chitta Basu’s Bindur Chheley (1952) and Sushil Mukherjee’s Baikunther Will (1985) opposite Soumitra Chatterjee.

Sabitri Chatterjee

The assessment of the quality of Sabitri Chatterjee's work can be summarized with Soumitra Chatterjee’s description of her as the finest artiste. Never keen to create a glamorous on-screen persona, Sabitri Chatterjee always delivered her best in almost every performance and reaped success at a very early stage of her career.

Initially a theatre actress, Sabitri Chatterjee also performed some of the finest renditions of the eternal characters from Saratchandra’s novels. Her portrayal of Lalana in Niren Lahiri’s Subhadra (1952) and Mrinal in Subodh Mitra’s Grihadah (1967) alongside stalwarts Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen needs special mention in this regard.

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Utpal Dutt

A pioneering figure of modern Indian theatre and one of the finest character actors of Indian cinema, Utpal Dutt is best remembered for his collaborations with Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

Like many other great actors, Utpal Dutt also played characters conceived by Saratchandra, imbuing them with his own interpretation. Utpalda's effortless portrayal of Rashbihari in Ajoy Kar’s Datta (1976) and Mini’s maternal uncle in Basu Chatterjee’s Swami (1977) alongside Shabana Azmi and Girish Karnad are still imprinted in the minds of the discerning audience.

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Supriya Devi

Best known for her performance in Ritwik Ghatak’s celebrated Megha Dhaka Tara (1960), Supriya Devi is considered one of the stalwarts of Bengali cinema. With her distinctive style of performance and an enigmatic on-screen persona, Supriya Devi brought many iconic characters alive in her illustrious career lasting almost half a century.

Among the various renditions of Chandramukhi from Devdas over the years, Supriya Devi’s on-screen exploration of the character in Dilip Roy’s Devdas (1979) remains unparalleled. Her depiction of Sumitra from the novel Sabyasachi in Piyush Bose’s Sabyasachi (1977) is considered one of her best performances.

Madhabi Mukherjee

While Madhabi Mukherjee is best remembered for her extensive collaboration with legendary directors Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak and her contributions in some critically acclaimed Bengali films, her renditions of the protagonists in Manu Sen’s Biraj Bou (1972) and Gurudas Bagchi’s Bindur Chheley (1973) stand out amongst the numerous adaptations in both Bengali and Hindi.

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Bhanu Banerjee

Known for his extraordinary comic timing and enormous contribution to Bengali cinema as a character actor of repute, Bhanu Bandopadhyay also successfully animated characters from Borodidi, Srikanta, Bindur Chheley and Devdas. In 1965, he was cast as Nanda Mistry in Haridas Bhattacharya’s Abhoya-O-Srikanta (1965) while in 1973 he was seen playing Bhola in Gurudas Bagchi’s Bindur Chheley. In 1979 he also appeared in Dilip Roy’s star-studded Devdas.