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Sandhya Roy, Debashree Roy grateful for their mentoring by co-artiste Ruma Guha Thakurta

Sandhya Roy and Debashree Roy, each among the dominant actresses of her generation, said they owe their success to such mentoring by seniors.

Debashree Roy, Ruma Guha Thakurta and Sandhya Roy

Roushni Sarkar

Veteran artiste Ruma Guha Thakurta, who died on 4 June 2019, was revered both as a versatile actress and a vocalist. The socially conscious Ruma Devi also left a legacy in the form of the Calcutta Youth Choir, of which she was a co-founder along with Satyajit Ray and Salil Chowdhury in 1958.

A close relative of Ray, Ruma Devi, born Ruma Ghosh, made her debut as a child artiste in Hindi cinema with Amiya Chakrabarty's Jwar Bhata (1944), a film in which another young artiste, Dilip Kumar aka Yusuf Khan, also made his debut.

She then made a mark with Mashaal (1950) and Afsar (1950) before taking a break to get married to the rising singer-actor Kishore Kumar aka Abash Kumar Ganguly in 1951. The following year, the couple had a child named Amit Kumar.

Ruma Devi and Kishore Kumar separated in 1958 with Kishore Kumar rumoured to be growing closer to the actress Madhubala, whom he eventually married in 1960, and stepped into the Bengali film industry with Ganga (1959). She is known for her performances in films like Abhijaan (1962), Palatak (1963), Antony Firingee (1967), Ashite Ashio Na (1967) and Ganashatru (1990).

Later, she married writer-director Arup Guha Thakurta. The couple had a son Ayan and a daughter Sromona.

Sandhya Roy, a stalwart of the 1960s and 1970s, also made her debut in Rajen Tarafdar's Ganga (1959) with Ruma Devi and later featured with her in films like Baghini (1968) and Arogya Niketan (1969). Among actresses of a later generation, Debashree Roy probably shared screen space with her the most, in films like Dadar Kirti (1980), 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981), Bhalobasa Bhalobasa (1985) and Gayak (1987), which also starred Amit Kumar.

In Ganga, Ruma Devi played the leading lady while Sandhya Roy enacted a supporting character.

“Ganga first introduced us to each other," Sandhya Roy recalled in a conversation with Cinestaan.com. "Later, we worked together in many films. Despite making her debut in Hindi films and having been used to a certain sophistication while working there [in Bombay], the way she effortlessly portrayed her character in Ganga and spoke fluently a distinct dialect of the Bengali language was commendable.”

According to Sandhya Roy, it was apparent from Ruma Devi's first performance that she was an extraordinary artiste. “I was quite young then and hardly had much knowledge about acting, but I thoroughly enjoyed her performance,” she said.

Ruma Guha Thakurta and Sandhya Roy in a scene from Arogya Niketan (1969)

“One of my most significant works with her was Arogya Niketan. By the time we acted in the film, we had grown quite close. She was full of warmth and would easily welcome younger artistes,” said the actress.

Sandhya Roy liked to call herself the romantic heroine of her time and Ruma Guha Thakurta the character heroine. “I remember an incident when she was at the peak of her career and I was also gaining popularity. For a wedding sequence in Arogya Niketan, she put dudh alta on my feet. Though it was the makeup artiste’s job, she did it herself with love,” recalled the veteran.

Incidentally, the next day was Sandhya Roy's actual wedding. "It was quite an emotional moment for me as I contemplated how her act of love for a film coincided with my own marriage," she said. "My bond with her grew even more thereafter. Though I used to call her Ruma-di, I used to respect and love her as a mother figure.”

They could not stay in regular touch later as Sandhya Roy became extremely busy with her career. “One of her most interesting aspects was the way she could educate and train new artistes," Sandhya Roy said. "She was also a founding member of the Calcutta Youth Choir. She had the ability to put people at ease. As long as I worked with her, I had the reassurance that there was at least one co-artiste to rectify my mistakes and help me improve.”

Off the sets, the actress would mostly meet Guha Thakurta at Satyajit Ray’s place. “Recently, when I was in Delhi, I got the news that she was not keeping well and was planning to visit her. Then I got the sad news today,” she said.

To Sandhya Roy, Guha Thakurta was not only a tall artiste but also a human being of great stature. “Sadly new artistes these days hardly receive advice and insights from artistes of such experience," she said. "She was a great mentor. These days, we lack such mentors. Had there not been artistes like Ruma-di, even we would not have been so successful in our careers.

“We are also nearing our end. I hope artistes of this generation get guides like her in their careers. My prayers are for her soul.”

Debashree Roy and Ruma Guha Thakurta (centre) in a scene from Dadar Kirti (1980)

Debashree Roy also echoed Sandhya Roy's thoughts on mentorship. “It is a pity that we are gradually losing all the veteran artistes who helped us grow and build our careers," she remarked.

Debashree addressed Guha Thakurta as 'Ruma masi', meaning maternal aunt. “I was quite close to Ruma masi and her daughter Sromona is also a dear friend. They are like family and Ruma masi loved me a lot,” she said.

Debashree said she received a phone call from Guha Thakurta only a few days back. “She was in Mumbai and spoke to me at length," the actress said. "She told me to meet her once she gets back to Kolkata. Unfortunately, that did not happen and now she is no more.” 

Debashree characterized Ruma Guha Thakurta as a complete artiste both as an actress and a singer. “Today I feel a huge vacuum for both the music and film industry," she said. "I have lost someone who was like a mother to me. May her soul rest in peace.”