In popular Bengali cinema, the 1950s–1970s are often referred to as the ‘Uttam–Suchitra Yug’, an era when the superhit romantic melodramas of actors Uttam Kumar (1926–1980) and Suchitra Sen (1931–2014) reigned supreme. Feted as the ultimate romantic screen couple, the actors became synonymous with love and modern romance and came to define commercial Bengali cinema, revitalising the industry at a time when it was threatened by financial troubles and increasing competition from Bollywood. However, scholarly engagement with popular Bengali cinema and its stars remains limited.
Filling this lacuna, Modernities and the Popular Melodrama examines the film careers of Suchitra and Uttam, the media frenzy surrounding their public and private lives and selves, and the imprint they left on the popular imagination in newly independent India. Engaging with specific social and political concerns of the time, which both informed and defined the cinematic, the author asks: What can we understand about the desires and aspirations of newly-independent India through these two stars and their audiences? What made them emblematic of middle-class bhadralok ideas of love, life, and work?
Smita Banerjee shows how, despite their strong box-office draw, mass appeal and iconic status, the two stars’ sensuous enactment of desire led to severe criticism, and critical acceptance remained elusive. She pairs her analysis of select films from the stars’ oeuvre with insights from media archives—including film magazines, publicity booklets and posters, interviews, tabloid gossip, and biographies—in this fascinating account of the Suchitra–Uttam phenomenon, its social context, and its enduring emotional appeal.
This study of the mahanayak and mahanayika of Bengali cinema will interest scholars of film and media studies, culture studies, as well as any reader interested in the cultural moorings of stardom.
Smita Banerjee is Associate Professor, Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, University of Delhi.
List of Figures ix
List of Abbreviations xi
Publisher’s Acknowledgements xiii
1. Screen Romance 39
The Suchitra–Uttam Love Films
2. The New Woman 85
3. The Female Star / The Lonely Bhadramahila 127
4. Disenchanting Modernity 171
The Crisis of the Bhadralok
5. Afterlives 216