Beth, who has lately shifted her allegiance from Bollywood to Tollywood, has just completed a project on the Uttam vs Soumitra rivalry (imaginary or otherwise). To assist her, I asked my mother to put down her thoughts on the two heroes. I thought her perspective – of someone who saw their movies as they released – would be interesting. I was not prepared for this piece (which I would call amazing) that is reproduced below.
This post was written in hand (over one evening), scanned by a friend of hers and mailed to me. There are some typos and rough edges, which I have intentionally left uncorrected.
If you ask a Bengali (Kolkatan) to choose between Arsalan Biriyani and Oh Calcutta’s Sarshe Ilish Paturi, he’s sure to be cornered and find himself in a Catch 22 situation. But Bongs being Bongs always fond of arguments in the name of adda will sure give you a reason for their choice of one over the other. So in one such adda, if the discussion verges on films, the perennial debate is bound to crop up – Uttam and Soumitra, who is better? As for me, the question initially would be just like Biriyani and Paturi – both are good and so why and what for a comparison and choice? Aren’t we magnanimous enough to have space in our hearts equally for the two superstars who have regaled us with heart-rending performances in all their movies?
If Uttam Kumar is unforgettable in each and every romantic role he has acted in – Saptapadi, Pathe Holo Deri, Sanyasi Raja, Deya Neya, Mon Niye, Memsaheb, how can we ever forget Soumitra’s stellar performances as Ray’s Apu. Soumitra’s intelligent depiction of the sleuth in Feluda movies is as good as Uttam Kumar’s Chiriyakhana. Both performed as smooth operators in negative roles – Uttam’s Shesh Anka, Baghbandi Khela and Soumitra in Jhinder Bandi. In comedy too, they excelled with their innocent charm. Soumitra’s Chhutir Phnadey and Uttam’s Ogo Bodhu Sundori, Mouchak, Dhanni Meye had us in splits. When they shifted to character roles, they managed to win hearts with memorable acts in Agniswar, Nagar Darpane, Atanka and Asukh.
Admirers of Soumitra feel that nobody but him could perform the intelligent, grey matter-driven roles better while Uttam was criticised for overacting in films like Lal Pathar and Jay Jayanti. His delivery of English dialogues was not up to the mark. Even Othello’s speech in Saptapadi was dubbed by Utpal Dutt.
Similarly, Soumitra could never reach in romantic roles the zenith which Uttam attained. He appeared a little stiff and awkward compared to Uttam’s mesmerising romance.
I call myself a Double Mom. One the mother that I am, the other a tag I’ve given myself – Mad Over Movies. And I go to watch movies for entertainment, entertainment and entertainment. What are movies without oodles of romance for entertainment. So yes, you have guessed right. If I have to make a firm choice between the two superstars, my hand will go up a teeny bit higher for the complete matinee idol, the hero of heroes, for the one and only who was named ‘Guru’ by youngsters of our generation and whose life Satyajit Ray depicted so realistically in Nayak... and what a performance of a lifetime!
Even at the age of sixty, I just go weak in the knees at those killer romantic looks of his while watching them for the nth time, alone at home during summer afternoons, bringing a smile to my face and saying “ooh la la...” to myself! Harano Sur, Kal Tumi Aleya, Shudhu Ekti Bachhar... you name it and the smile flashes in your mind’s eye.
After performing in the Hindi adaptations of Nishi Padma (Amar Prem) and Deya Neya (Anurodh), superstar Rajesh Khanna had declared that he hadn’t been able to do full justice to Uttam Kumar because none in the film industry had that ‘million dollar smile’ (which, in Bangla, we call ‘Bhuban bholano hashi’!) Even after more than thirty years of his passing away, Bangla cinema is yet to find one such superstar who would send the crowd into ecstasy, euphoria and hysteria that we did whenever we got a glimpse of him.
The day he passed away – 24th July 1981 – my husband was in London and he used to call every evening. That day, hearing my voice, he asked – “Why are you sounding so low, so distanced?” I just started weeping and said, “Uttam Kumar is no more”. If this is not an affair to remember and continue with, what is?
As you now realise, there could not have been a better (or worse) day to post this.