On April 6, Suchitra Sen turned 80. I’m pretty sure not many outside her immediate family got to meet her. In the last three decades, few have spotted the ‘desi’ Greta Garbo, perfectly content with her books and her garden. The only two people who are always welcome to drop by are her granddaughters, Riya and Raima.
A year ago, a colleague while doing a telephonic with Raima who was in Kolkata, enquired about her reclusive grandmother. “She’s right here besides me, it’s her birthday today, you can wish her,” Raima laughed, and handed over the phone to
. A soft, somewhat hesitant voice skimmed over the wires, “
(Who is this?)” My colleague introduced herself, and offered her best wishes. Mrs Sen, as she likes to be known, accepted them graciously and rang off. I was envious. Why couldn’t I have heard the voice that had seduced thousands down the decades?
I remember her from
Saat Pakey Badha
Deep Jeley Jai
… In the good old Doordarshan days, the weekends were for movie watching, Saturdays for these Bengali classics.
There were some not-so-memorable Hindi movies too…
Bambai Ka Babu
Palkon Ki Chaon Mein...
And some that were unforgettable like
and of course, Bimal Roy’s
, her first Hindi film.
For my daughter, Parvati or Paro is Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. For me it is Suchitra Sen. I can imagine why Devdas would want to put a mark on his ‘
’ because even in scratchy black-and-white prints, her luminous beauty shone through. I hadn’t even entered the world in 1955 but I learnt later, that Mohan Studios where they were shooting
, used to be crowded with visitors who’d come by hoping to catch a glimpse of her famous beauty. She was like an ice queen who shuttled between the studio and her hotel in a Buick convertible.
The ice melted when her daughter, Moon Moon, during a school vacation, flew down to Mumbai. Her father, Debnath Sen, picked her up at the airport and drove her to the sets. “Mummy was always busy working but I remember sleeping with her at night. Dilip Kumar would call me ‘
because I used to run around in my nightie,” Moon Moon had once laughingly reminisced.
Moon Moon, through her memories, introduced me to a different Suchitra Sen from the often teary-eyed lover I had grown up watching. She remembered her as a fun-loving woman for whom once every night was party night. Their Ballygunge Palace apartment in Kolkata, Mafatlal Park flat in Mumbai, and London pad was crowded with people and pets: “Guests were dropping by and my parents were always late catching a flight. Those days my mother was very glamorous and dressed for the evenings in black lace and red feathers.”
We saw glimpses of this Suchitra Sen in
as the Anglo-Indian Rina Brown who dressed in short skirts. The light went out of her life with the death of her husband on December 29, 1970. The couple had legally separated by then.
But Moon Moon remembers that her mother who had distributed cakes in school during Easter and clambered into lorries for Durga puja ‘
’ (immersions), after her father’s death, stopped celebrating festivals. And slowly retreated into her own world with its unwritten ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.
Once in an interview Suchitra Sen had said, “I’m to be seen only on screen because I am an actress.” So, that’s what I do, watch her movies and wonder about the woman she has become...