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Does Suchitra need the Phalke?

Speculation is rife over who will receive the award this year, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2006 13:40 IST

Will she, won't she? Speculation is rife over who the recipient of the coveted Dadasaheb Phalke Award will be this year.

While the name of the enigmatic Suchitra Sen is doing the rounds, the Information & Broadcasting ministry is treading with caution.

Unsure whether the 75-year-old former actress, who has religiously stayed away from the public eye for nearly three decades, will accept the Phalke Award if her name were to be formally announced, has kept the decision in abeyance.

Of course, the ministry still has some time on its hands - the name of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner is usually made public a day or two after the National Awards jury announces its recommendations.

 

 If Suchitra Sen does indeed win the Phalke, she would be only the sixth woman to find herself on the hallowed list of film industry luminaries

The jury proceedings are currently on in New Delhi and they are expected to be wrapped up by mid-August.

A special panel of former winners chooses the Phalke Award recipient. This year, men of the stature of Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, A Nageshwara Rao and Yash Chopra are in the panel.

Ministry officials do not want a situation where the Phalke Award is turned down - that has never happened before. But with the reclusive Suchitra Sen, nobody can quite be sure.

Indications available from Kolkata suggest that even if she does win the award, Sen might not turn up personally to accept it from the President of India. In that case, she might have to forgo the honour altogether.

If Suchitra Sen does indeed win the Phalke, she would be only the sixth woman to find herself on the hallowed list of film industry luminaries.

The first Phalke Award winner (in 1970) was Devika Rani, but since then only four other women - Kanan Devi, Sulochana, Durga Khote and Lata Mangeshkar - have made the grade.

All the women on the Phalke roster are exceptional achievers in their own right, but with the exception of Lata Mangeshkar, none can claim to have soared to the sort of heights that Suchitra Sen did during her heydays.

With her incandescent screen presence and emotive skills, she lent a rare lustre to Bengali cinema of the golden era.

With Uttam Kumar - inexplicably, he never won the Phalke Award - Suchitra formed what ranks among the most enduring screen pairs ever in the history of Indian films.

The string of super-successful emotional and romantic melodramas that Bengali cinema's greatest screen couple featured in during the 1950s and 1960s assumed the proportions of a full-fledged genre.

Uttam-Suchitra films became an entity by themselves - an entity that drew film lovers to the theatres in droves. Bengali cinema, indeed Indian cinema, hasn't seen a phenomenon that could rival what Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen achieved as a pair.

Though Suchitra deserves the Phalke Award as richly as anybody else, it would only be in the fitness of things if she were to choose to turn her back on it.

For one, the one-time actress, who spends much of her time outside of the house in Ramakrishna Mission's Belur Math on the outskirts of Kolkata, has moved well beyond the world of awards and encomiums.

And two, a Phalke Award for her would be an incomplete and much-delayed act of recognition given the fact that Uttam Kumar, whose name inevitably crops up every time one mentions Suchitra Sen, never won Indian cinema's top honour.

Suchitra Sen's identity as a movie star is inextricably intertwined with that of Uttam Kumar. It is no coincidence that Sen hasn't been seen in films or in public since the death of the Bengali superstar in 1980.

The Garboesque mask of inscrutability that she has worn since she called it quits in 1978 is Suchitra Sen's personal identity badge.

If she deigns to step out of her self-created cocoon to accept the Phalke Award, her countless fans around the country would be overjoyed no doubt, but wouldn't she lose her aura just a tad in the bargain? Some icons are best left on their pedestals.