Uttam Kumar had a phenomenal fan base, which continues even to this day. The reason may not be difficult to fathom. It has been 33 years since he passed away, but Bengali cinephiles swear by his works. Some are born to shine, to conquer and to rule and continue living ever after. Jab tak chand suraj rahega...
Arun Kumar Chatterjee was born in north Kolkata on September 3, 1926 and had a normal upbringing through his schooling and college days. He joined Calcutta Port Trust as a clerk, but was destined for far better and bigger things.
His journey began with theatre, a flop film and a shelved film; then the magic happened - Agnipariksha, with Suchitra Sen. Not only did it mark the beginning of a golden era for Bengali cinema, but also gave Bengal one of its greatest romantic hit pairs on celluloid - Uttam and Suchitra Sen.
It was as if the heavens had opened up for this young talented actor with a disarming smile. Uttam Kumar delivered 'hit after hit' at the box-office - a feat that remains unparalleled even today. His foray into the Hindi film industry was short and can be called experimentation or even a natural progression. However, Bengal is where he belonged.
Uttam Kumar worked with all the leading actors of the time. He had the Midas touch - any film he worked on received appreciation from the audience. His films ushered in an intoxicating excitement among the cine-goers that was hitherto unseen. Even today, his films remain the most researched and commercially profitable for the Bengal film industry.
Somewhere in this enchanting journey, Uttam Kumar transcended from being a Nayak to a Mahanayak. Uttam Kumar was the first actor to have received the National Film Award in the Best Actor category for two films - Chiriyakhana and Antony Firingee. The year was 1967. The other films that earned him prestigious awards are: Saptapadi, Harano sur, Nayak, Grihadaho, Ekhane Pinjar, Amanush, Ananda Ashram and Bahnisikha.
Speaking of bare facts, Mahanayak Uttam Kumar worked in 202 films in his lifetime. 153 films belonged to the blockbuster, super hit and hit category. That works out to be a staggering 75% of success rate. This achievement was in an era much before promotions and mega bucks took over the film industry. Uttam Kumar remains one of the most bankable actor of Tollygunge Film Industry.
"I never fear work. Rather I derive pleasure out of work." Uttam Kumar had once said. True to his words, he bid us goodbye while shooting for the film Ogo Bodhu Shundori on July 24, 1980. Perhaps the greatest tribute Uttam Kumar received, Ray said after his early demise "I recently watched Nayak on Doordarshan. I admit there are flaws in my direction, but none in Uttam Kumar's performance. He is the most professional and equipped actor I worked with, after Chabi Biswas and Pahari Sanyal."
After watching Nayak in London, actor Elizabeth Taylor had reportedly expressed her desire to meet and work with a versatile and effortless actor such as Uttam Kumar.
As it goes with the terrain, Kumar faced his share of bouquets and brickbats from his peers in the film industry, both at home and abroad. What matters most is what the common man of Bengal feels about him. He has earned a lifetime of free membership to reign in the hearts of every Bengali.
Team M3.tv joins the entire state of West Bengal today, in paying our respectful tribute to the Mahanayak on his 87th birth anniversary.
Ei poth Jodi na shesh hoye...and never this road shall end.