Bengal’s FANTASTIC FIVE Cinema personalities

The FANTASTIC FIVE personalities from Bengal. A tribute to the legends. Enjoy reading and please add your comments.


Ashok Kumar
Ashok Kumar

The greatest persona from Indian cinema who worked in over 250 movies was accidentally discovered in 1935 as a filler for the sick hero, he shot to stardom with his pairings with Devika Rani and Leela Chitnis.

He emphasized the need for a natural style and was the first superstar to break out of the theatrical mode in Indian cinema. He had the widest range and ability to play every image possible and is an ultimate role model for all actors globally.

He was the first actor to introduce the angry man negative hero image in Kismat 1943 which proved to be the first blockbuster for Indian cinema ever running in Calcutta on the same screen for 2 years.  But he is then accredited with bringing the film noir to Hindi cinema as the Bogart era started in Hollywood, he produced and acted with Madhubala in the first Indian bona fide masterpiece acclaimed critically worldwide in Mahal and in doing so he bestowed and introduced a genius maker to Bollywood in the guise of Kamal Amrohi.

He starred in 20 movies with Kamal’s wife, Meena Kumari who was his most successful heroine both critically and commercially and they made Parineeta in 1953, which opened a flood gate of quality movies like Palk, Bheegi Raat, Bahu Begum, Aarti, and finally the great eighteenth century musical social drama Pakeeza.

He was effortless as he transformed to character roles in the sixties with the super hit Mere Meboob with Nimmi and Sadhana, where he had a bigger role than the hero Rajendra Kumar.

He also starred in Aanoon the first song less Hindi movie by B.R Chopra which is a cult classic and shows his commitment to quality innovations. But his best was still to come as he made the great Mamta with Suchitra Sen in which he played a lawyer in the romantic drama, but the Hrishikesh Mukherjee movies Anupama was equally good where he plays an embittered father to Sharmila Tagore who blames his daughter for the loss of his wife in childbirth.

It was in Hrishikesh movie which followed that he was honoured with the  national award in 1968 (the second award ever) for his memorable turn in Ashirwaad as the innocent man who is convicted of a false crime and spends his entire life in prison, he brings a pathos and dignity to the role that is incredibly sophisticated and sensitive yet subtle and intelligent.

His portrayals of the role of father as in Naya Zamana and Sharafat with Hema Malini as his daughter are incredibly off-beat as well which  give the paternal figure a new direction in commercial cinema in the ordinary mode.

He gave some extremely sophisticated comedies like Khoobsurat with Rekha and Shaukeen with Mithun Chakraborty which were quality super hits.  This is his final gift to Indian cinema endowed with talent, natural empathy and a graceful dignity which no other actor has ever demonstrated and it affirms his position as the superstar of the millennium.
He was a model husband and father too and a gracious human being who worked for art rather than greed and that reflects on screen with his sincerity in his great persona and immaculate talent.


Upahaar Bengali Movie - Uttam Kumar Manju Dey
Upahaar Bengali Movie

The man who was introduced to the world as Nayak by Ray was the darling of the Bengali screen as his pairing with Suchitra Sen is the most successful ever in Bengali cinema. He also won the first ever national award for an actor in India in 1967.

He made a number of critically acclaimed hits with her without any true romantic links in real life and his range as an actor and star are obvious from their pairings. But it was not till he worked with Satyajit Ray and Shakti Samanta that his best was elicited in Amanush and Nayak which are his definitive signature movies, although Chiriyakhana-The Zoo and Kitaab are essential viewing as well to get a complete picture of his mesmerizing style and immense talent.

He played the role of a alcoholic desperado in Shakti Samanta’s Amanush with Sharmila Tagore which shot him to fame in Bollywood too though his first Hindi movie Chotisee  Mulaqaat with Vyjanti Mala had commercially failed.  Nayak was a milestone for Indian cinema and he was awarded the first national award in the subsequent year as a reward for his great act in the Satyajit Ray masterpiece chiriyakhana released in 1967.

He is a very sedate, charming person with a soft handsome yet masculine face and is perfectly suited for the romantic social dramas that became his signature to fame.  The soft dynamics with which he is able to bring middle-class, educated gentry to life can be clearly seen in his later roles in Hindi cinema.

He was successful in Anand Ashram again with Sharmila Samanta team and made two more critically acclaimed movies in Hindi  which are both unique. He has been artistically more successful with Sharmila Tagore as in Nayak where he played himself as a cinema icon being interviewed by a young journalist played by sharmila Tagore, they supplement each other by their placid, calm styles although they are both icons but together they are simple and natural rather than superstars with stylish tantrums which they both were in real life itself.

When Gulzar conceived the idea to make a semi-autobiographical movie about himself and Rakhee he wrote the script with Uttam Kumarin mind, just like Satyajit Ray had written Nayak for this unique artist, kitaab with Gulzar is an under-rated classic where he plays a man in an unhappy marriage which leads to disastrous effects on their  child, and Dooriyan with Sharmila Tagore again was on marital disharmony but they were commercially unsuccessful though critically acclaimed.

His sudden death at 53 of a coronary was a shock and lamented widely, as Satyajit Ray paid a tribute to him saying Bengal had lost an irreplaceable actor it is true that Nayak can never be enacted by any other artist and is a unique portrayal in cinema.  A great artist who is sensitive and ideally suited for romantic dramas with an intelligent touch and he has made a tremendous contribution to Indian cinema in his short life span.


Soumitra Chatterjee Senior

The most intelligent actor on Indian screen who made his debut in Apur Sansar in the great Satyajit Ray classic is the most talented of the brood, he has been honoured with international awards which no other Indian star can even dream about like the French merit of achievement and Italian lifetime achievement awards.

H e collaborated with ray on 14 projects and each is unique his range and diversity are apparent after watching him portray the young man infatuated with his sister-in -law in Charulata as the romantic, confused, guilty youth and then watch him in Ashani Sanket as the rural high caste Brahmin coping with the disaster of the Bengal famine, he is the character and not the star at all and he is almost unrecognisable in the two roles .

He also played the adventurous youth with Sharmila Tagore in Aranner Din Ratri(Days and Nights In the Forest) where he showed an ordinary urban streak with a selfish intent masterfully. He plays doctor Ashok in Ganashatru which is based on unseen’s enemy of the people as an idealistic man fighting a corrupt system and the bittersweet role brings the disgusted Indian intellectual to life who has seen his dreams of a just society shattered in a very subtle and sensitive manner.

He has recently received his first national award for Padakkhep and this belated award was given after he became the first actor to turn down the Padma Bhushan as a protest.  This man is a natural genius and an epitome of gifted talent, he has a legacy which is immaculate and it proves quality above quantity.

His projects with Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha are just as great as Satyajit Ray movie and he is still very much as talented as Apu in his debut masterpiece. In Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece Apu was the serene, pensive and shy representative of a culture within a culture that Bengal is within India itself and he rendered the part of the lover, the widower and the father with an ultimate sensitivity that can never be equalled, yet there is something heartbreaking about Soumitra Chaterjee that makes him ideal for the poetic vision of ray and the two become ideal companions complimenting each other in perfection.  Yet his fragility and vulnerability make him a major cinematic talent is unquestionable and his screen presence is subtle but very strong in ordinary roles which are simple but extremely sophisticated in their simplicity.
This handsome man signifies a legendary actor who is better appreciated by western intellectuals than the Indian critics and that says a lot about the Indian criteria to judge talent and artistic merit.


Mithun Chakraborty in Kolkata
Mithun Chakraborty in Kolkata

The man who turned from a wanted Naxalite into an internationally acclaimed actor and superstar is a phenomenon. He has it all a charming persona, dark handsome looks which melt the hearts of females ranging from Punjabi Yogeeta Bali to the southern siren-Sridevi.

He also has vocals to command attention and the dancing talent to make the first disco blockbuster of Indian cinema as the street dancer jimmy, which made him globally renowned, but he is an actor before a superstar and the only actor to win a national award for Mrigaya, his debut art classic with Mrinal Sen.

He went onto make good use of his martial arts training and dancing talent in Suraksha and Wardat which made him a star, till movies like Mujhe Insaaf chahiye, Pyar Juktha Nahin and Swarg Se Sundar made him a superstar rival for Amitabh Bachchan.

But he balanced his commercial success with artistic merit in Swamivivek Ananda, Hum Paanch and Ghulaami which were all off-beat roles which were awarded with both commercial and artistic success. His pairings opposite Padmini Kholapuri, Rati Agnihotri, Yogeeta Bali, Ranjeeta, Kim, Madhuri Dixit, Tina Munim and Sridevi were appreciated across the width of Indian sub-continent, yet he was equally at home with Smita Patil and Mamta Shankar in the parallel cinema because of a wider appeal as the artist who can portray both the ordinary and extra-ordinary .

His ability to counter trash with genius is unique as he can do a Dost and then go onto play the doomed soldier in Ghulaami who is romancing a fragile Anita Raaj in a realistic drama.  His turns in Wanted, Sharara, Mujrim, Beshaque, Boxer and Guru also made him an action star while his sophisticated romantic comedies like Pasand Apni Apni and Shaukeen struck gold for quality cinema at box-office.

He wisely worked with directors like Mrinal Sen, K.A Abbas, Basu Chaterjee while working with a newcomer like J.P Dutta in Ghulaami, yet he was never cast by the movie moguls like Yashraaj, despite that he was able to survive and flourish in the cut-throat milieu of Mumbai is no less than a miracle itself, but then talent will always win if it is sincere and honest and he has both those qualities in abundance.

He played a memorably negative and subtly evil role in Sheesha and then won the national award for his great sympathetic portrayal of a disillusioned freedom fighter in Tahader Katha.

He has a huge following in Bhojpuri cinema too and is worshipped in Orissa, Bengal and Bihar where he continued to make movie from 1995 to 2005 while in semi retirement from Hindi cinema.

But his Jallad and Agneepath won him 2 Film-Fare awards although the movies are shoddy and very poorly made.  He made Prem Pratigya with Madhuri Dixit which won Madhuri Dixit a Film-Fare award and was a huge hit showing his tough and tender aspects in a showcased portrayal as a street don.

There is no doubt that Gudia and Titli are two of the most internationally acclaimed movie from India recently, while Gudia was the last Hindi movie selected for Cannes competition section, titli won the coveted FIPRESCI award from the European critics.  He portrayed the two complex characters with an ingenious dexterity and insight only a natural genius can achieve.

His most recent artistic accomplishment is Kaalpurush which won the best movie national award for 2006. In Hindi cinema he returned with the critically acclaimed Elaan and followed up with Dil Diya Hai, Chingaari and Guru where he was acclaimed by the critics again.

I feel he has given the most balanced account of himself in both commercial and art movies of all the Indian actors and he is working in almost a dozen movies which promise to bring him more plaudits than before.

He worked last year in Om Shanti Om in a guest appearance and created history when he turned the crowds wild when he turned up on the set to dance opposite Sharukh Khan, with whom he shares a friendly interest in cricket teams as well.

He is described as a charitable, gracious person who won the stardust role model award and has a huge chain of 5-star hotels as well a financially and naturally talented man rich in all aspects, he is the only regional language star to become a superstar in Bollywood too which has remained a unique phenomenon.


Kishore Kumar
Kishore Kumar

The eccentric genius who is the younger brother of Ashok kumar is a singer, actor and director too and great on all counts, he acted in Jhumroo which established him as a comic lead which he followed with halfticket, and the memorable Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi where he played with the legendary Madhubala and the other two Ganguli brothers.

The song ‘Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhagisi’ is considered a masterpiece of visual rendition with a romantic under stamen mixed with a whimsical humour inimitable in cinema.  He made the art classic Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein where he played the father of a deaf-mute kid and won universal acclaim.

This was followed by Door Ka Rahi, which was another quality project but his most memorable role is in Padosan with Mehmood which is considered a comic masterpiece of Indian cinema.

He is known for his tantrums regarding money and weird behaviour on sets and real life.  This cost him dearly as he and Mehmood were to play the leads originally in Anand but due to a misunderstanding where he instructed his watchman to turn a Bengali man who owed him money away, Hrishikesh Mukherjee was turned away from the gate when he went to sign him for Anand without an appointment, thus landing Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in the classic.

He developed a scandalous reputation for wild behaviour and late comings to sets and his status as a great singer made him opt out of cinema as an actor,  as he was not a very disciplined man as most geniuses are inclined to wilful behaviour.

Despite being labelled as greedy, he sang songs for free for Rajesh Khanna not out of necessity but as a gesture thus redeeming his image.  He married Madhubala after his first divorce and converted to Abdul Karim for the court marriage as she was a muslim.

After her death in 68, he married Yogeeta Bali and they divorced soon as Yogeeta Bali got the hot for Mithun Chakraborty and he decided not to sing playbacks for Mithun Chakraborty, explaining why Bappi Lahiri sings for Mr. Chakraborty.

He also boycotted Amitabh Bachchan after sharaabi as Bachchan refused to make a special appearance in one of his movies, that finished Bachchans heyday as a superstar which began with the musical hits like Muqaddar Ka Kikander, Yaraana, Dosrtana, Mr.Natwarlal, Lawaaris, Amar Akbar Anthony, Suhaag, Khoon Pasina and Great Gambler where Kishore gave hit after hit for Bachchan.

Kishore Kumar
married Leena Chandavarkar which was his fourth and last marriage and died soon after.  He is an under-rated actor with a sense of comic genius and timing seen rarely in the world and his inimitable roles in Jhumroo, Padosan and Chalti Ka Naam Gadi are immortalised on screen as role models for future generations.  It might be impossible befog a man with his diverse talents can be seen again in this century.

Hope you enjoyed this tribute to the five fantastic Bangalee Babu’s.

Part 1 out of 5: The next series on 5 Pathan on Patriotic

by Dr Usman Khawaja

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *