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Will India's Greta Garbo accept Phalke award?

millions of Bengalis smitten by her unsurpassed beauty and screen aura of the black

india Updated: Aug 11, 2006 19:31 IST

Will she, won't she? She won't, say those who know Suchitra Sen intimately. She might, hope millions of Bengalis smitten by her unsurpassed beauty and screen aura of the black and white celluloid era. The enigma of Suchitra Sen, who many consider the Greta Garbo of Indian cinema, lives on.

Ever since Suchitra Sen's name came up for this year's Dada Saheb Phalke Award, speculation has been rife on whether the screen goddess of Bengali cinema would come out of her Garboesque seclusion of 28 years and accept the honour, which is presented by none other than the president of India.

These days the 76-year-old actress, whose legendary romantic pairing with late Uttam Kumar created box office history in Bengali cinema, is reportedly not well.

"I am very happy that she is the recipient of this prestigious award but I am really unable to speak for her. Please, I cannot say anything about this except for the fact that we are extremely happy with the announcement," Bollywood starlet and Suchitra Sen's granddaughter Riya Sen told IANS from Mumbai.

Riya's more successful actor sister Raima Sen echoed: "It is celebration time for us but I am unable to say anything on her decision. She is a private person and she does not like it when we discuss her in the media."

Raima Sen shares more resemblance with Suchitra than her mother Moonmoon Sen (Suchitra's daughter) or sister Riya. She last spoke about her enigmatic granny when she was essaying the role of a naive Ashalata in Rituparno Ghosh's "Chokher Bali", which also starred Aishwarya Rai.

"My grandmother gave me tips on preparing for the role," said Raima, who won accolades for her performance despite the presence of Aishwarya.

Added Moonmoon Sen: "I am so happy that Ma has been chosen for the award. But I am not sure if she would attend the award ceremony," she said.

"She won't," averred Gopal Roy, a close friend of Suchitra and the only Indian journalist who has some access to the living legend.

"She has shunned the world of glamour and recognition. She has many wounded feelings and is not keeping well these days either," said Roy, who wrote three books on Suchitra Sen - Suchitrakatha (Words of Suchitra), Sonali Nayika Suchitra Sen (Golden Heroine Suchitra Sen) and Romantic Juti (Romatic Pair).

Her oeuvre of Bengali films apart, Suchitra acted in Hindi films like "Devdas" (with Dilip Kumar in 1955), "Musafir" (1957), "Champakali" (1957), "Bombai Ka Babu" (with Dev Anand in 1960), "Mamta" (with Ashok Kumar and Dharmendra in 1966) and the phenomenal 1975 Gulzar film "Aandhi" where she starred opposite late Sanjeev Kumar (one of her few friends in filmdom), playing with élan a female politician resembling late prime minister Indira Gandhi.

"She takes no interest in all this now. The life she leads now is spiritual and has been doing so for the past three decades. The last time I saw her was two years ago. Of what I know, not even her daughter and granddaughters can go to her room any time," said Roy, a former journalist with a news agency.

"Even in this age of media explosion, none can ever take a photograph of hers. Earlier she used to take a walk in the lawns of the house on Ballygunge Circular Road. But since 1996, when the house was demolished and an apartment building came up, she does not even venture for a walk," Roy said.

A follower of the Ramakrishna Mission order, Suchitra now spends time in meditation and prayer. In 1989, when Bharat Maharaj of the mission passed away, she was seen publicly walking all the way to the crematorium from Belur Math near Kolkata.

"I feel that Suchitra has many wounds. Once she was slighted here in Kolkata after her name was thrown up for inauguration of an international film festival.

"It is also true that Hiralal Sen, who is hailed by some as the pioneer of Indian cinema instead of Dada Saheb Phalke, was a relative of Suchitra Sen. Hiralal Sen, who made at least 25 films, including feature and ad films from late 19th century to early 20th century, was actually her uncle-in-law," revealed Roy, whose fourth book on Suchitra Sen is to hit bookstores soon.

Interestingly, Suchitra Sen is the first Indian actress to be awarded in an international film festival (best actress award for the Bengali movie "Saat Paake Bandha" at the 1963 Moscow film festival). She had also received a best actress award for the Hindi film "Devdas" in 1955 (she played Paro).

Suchitra Sen made her debut in films in 1952 with an unreleased film, but her first released film was opposite Uttam Kumar - "Sharey Chuattor" (Seventyfour and half), a comedy. The film became a box-office hit. It is remembered for launching Uttam-Suchitra as a lead pair.

They went on to become the icons of Bengali melodramas for more than 20 years, becoming almost a genre in themselves. Their performances in films like the 1961 classic "Saptapadi" are still most popular in Bengal.

Suchitra Sen retired from the screen in 1978 after a career of over 25 years.

Now it remains to be seen if the highest honour for a film personality can bring her out of seclusion.