[Reader-list] 6th Posting- Cinematic City-A study of 1950s-60s Bangla Films

smita mitra smitamitr at gmail.com
Sun Aug 5 18:24:45 IST 2007

Dear All,

Sorry for missing my posting last month. I have been unwell for sometime and
ended up not being able to do much work. To get back to my project, I would
like to share some ideas on the 2 stars of the 50s and 60s-Uttam Kumar and
Suchitra Sen.

Stardom or the study of stars has been a very prolific branch of Film
Studies and most students regard Richard Dyer's *Stars* as a bible for the
analysis of the phenomenon. His later book *Heavenly Bodies* also discusses
the social image construction and circulation of the star figure. There are
various other critics whose work on stars can provide interesting insights
to decode the 'star text',Molly Haskell's *From Reverence to Rape*  or
Jackie Stacey's *StarGazing. *I would discuss some ideas about the
phenomenon by drawing on some key ideas that Dyer  works with.

Stars are social phenomenons,they are images that are produced and consumed
within a given social and cultural matrix and network of
relationships.Theyare of course media images ,created and circulated
via various media texts,
publicity, advertising. Promos, newspaper reportage, fashion etc.I do not
wish to address the ideological implications of the creation of these images
and their circulation in the social at this point. I would focus on an
important constituent of this construction of the star image -the star
biographies. Given the proliferation of these at least in terms of Bollywood
stars, I would like an engaged discussion as this is an important
constituent of my project as well.

Very briefly biographies are generally accepted as narrative about the 'life
story' of an exemplary character, makes certain 'truth claims' and give
evidence of historical accuracy and can be linear, chronological or remain
skeletal and partial narratives. But most importantly biographies evoke or
construct the person for its readers, even if they are  hagiographic and
deify the person , they still provide interesting clues to the contexts of
how that persona is being created for its readers and what images are being
circulated in the social domain. Biographies are crucial in the field of
star studies, not because they give a glimpse of the 'real' person, but they
provide tools for decoding the image. Star studies are not about uncovering
the real person beneath the image but about analyzing the star-text . One of
the crucial questions can be --- how reliable these texts can be? If one
reads these texts as a 'trace'(Kopitoff'snotion of evidence and clues), a
discourse that provides a partial access to the image, the context within
which that image is being constructed and  how the advocacy of the subject
is being undertaken, then these can become important components of the star
text. A close textual reading between the lines of even the mundane,
formulaic, part rumor, part gossip, part historically verifiable facts can
be an important tool to engage with the contemporary reconstruction of a
segment of the star figure.

I would briefly engage with 2 biographies of Uttam and Suchitra---  *Amar
Ami* Uttam Kumar's authorized  autobiography  co written byGourangoPrasad
Ghosh,Dey's Publishing,Kolkata1980. *Suchitrar Katha* by Gopal  Krishna
Ray,Anando publishers, Kolkata,1992. Incidentally G.K Ray is the author of
three books on Suchitra and a fourth one is being published this month.

Amar Ami( translates as Me Myself) is a straightforward linear narrative,
narrated in the first person in Uttam's own voice, beginning with his birth,
his childhood, his family, ,abiding love for acting, his theatre experience
, his struggle as an actor and his stardom, interspersed with the glimpses
into his personal life-his first marriage to Gauri Devi, his much publicized
live in relationship with Supriya Chaudhari(Neeta in Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka
Tara, and Uttam's heroine in many of his successful films). What emerges out
of this text is the image of a middle class person tremendously invested in
the values of hard work ,perseverance ,diligence, gritty and determined who
gets into the industry and works his way up through the ladder to reach the
top, but who never takes his success for granted, who is ever ready to work
hard and continuously learning. A large part of the narrative is devoted to
descriptions of his endeavors to learn dancing, horseriding,Hindi Urdu
lessons to improve his diction for his stints in Bombay,his tennis lessons
etc.The book also reiterates his sense of commitment to better the working
conditions of the junior artistes and his life long struggle to improve the
status of the industry. There are long passages describing his meetings with
the various ministers and his charity fund raises for various causes. The
text makes constant references to Uttam being the 'dada' (the elder brother
figure) of the industry who tirelessly strove to work for the betterment of
Bangla cinema. There are vignettes of Uttam the devoted family man, who
still is a good father figure to his  wife's children in spite of having a
live in relationship with Supriya.

The iconic figure that this text provides us with is interesting not because
it continuously peppers the narrative with actual dates and statistics but
because it manages to add to the 'aura' of Uttam the star—the immensely
successful romantic star, but a tragic and lonely angst ridden individual
grappling with the pressures and baggage of being the 'dada' of the

*Suchitrar Katha *,written by G.K Ray does not claim to be the authorized
version, mainly because Suchitra has refused to give interviews after her
retirement and is often compared to Greta Garbo the other famous Hollywood
recluse. There have been rumors and speculation about Suchitra post
retirement in the late seventies, she starred in her last film in 1978, but
she has steadfastedly refused to corroborate or refute any of those. This
text adopts a very intimate tone of voice as the author claims to be a
friend of the star who had access to her home as a family friend and with
whom Suchitra shared many hours of conversation after she retired from the
industry, but of course the relationship dates back to her days as a star.
Ray claims he decided to write the book for the Suchitra fans who were keen
to know how the star spends her days after her retirement , what made her
Suchitra from Roma(Suchitra is her screen name) , her unparralled rise as a
star, her relationship with her daughter Moon moon Seen etc.The narrative
creates the persona of the exotic, moody, at times unpredictable, mysterious
woman, extremely childish at times, nice ,caring loyal friend, companion,
who never engages with the salacious rumors and gossip, who sublimates her
anger and rage into her devotion to her God, and spends her time in her puja
and in being a doting grandmother to her daughter's children Rima and
Raima.The narrative signposts various dates and figures about her life and
career, but  is invested in creating the image of this recluse and retiring
woman who has left her stardom behind her , who is more content being a
mother and doting grandmother, who reluctantly became a star but who
essentially is a midlle class woman looking for personal fulfillment , who
faced personal trauma of a broken marriage ,who juggled the demands of a
demanding career and motherhood single-handedly. Unlike Uttam's narrative
this text remains partial and sketchy as Ray does not follow a  linear or
chronological structure , he writes it as a personal memoir of his
interaction  and conversations with the Suchitra.Details of her films, her
hits and successful romantic onscreen pairing appear as incidental asides,
almost as if she would rather forget that she was the most successful female
star of the Bangla Film industry.Appearing almost  a decade after Suchitra
retired from the industry, this text manages to recreate her star persona
for the contemporary public domain in a different register from the other
star biography that I mentioned, which was written when Uttam was still
alive except the last chapter which was completed after his death in 1982.

I am presently reading some other biographies of the two stars and will keep
you posted. It would be an interesting exercise for me to read these texts
along with the star image in some of the films that I have on my list to
formulate some ideas about the middle class urban experience that I hope to
map through the popular city films of the 50s and 60s.

Smita Banerjee

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