Remembering Mahanayak Uttam Kumar on his 97th birth anniversary (03/09).
Remembering Mahanayak Uttam Kumar on his 97th birth anniversary (03/09). Uttam Kumar, born as Arun Kumar Chattopadhyay on September 3, 1926, and passing away on July 24, 1980, was a multi-talented figure in Indian cinema. Widely revered as the Mahanayak, he was an actor, producer, director, screenwriter, composer, and playback singer, primarily in the Bengali film industry. His illustrious career stretched over three decades, from the late 1940s until his untimely death in 1980.
Kumar’s filmography is extensive, featuring over 200 films. Some of his most celebrated works include Agni Pariksha, Harano Sur, Saptapadi, and Nayak, among others. He also produced seven films and directed titles like Sudhu Ekti Bochor, Bon Palashir Padabali, and Kalankini Kankabati. Additionally, he composed music for several of his projects.
Regarded as one of the most influential actors in the history of Bengali cinema, Kumar was the inaugural recipient of the National Film Award for Best Actor for his roles in Antony Firingee and Chiriyakhana in 1967. He also received the BFJA Best Actor Award and the Filmfare Award for Best Actor. His legacy is commemorated through the Mahanayak Uttam Kumar metro station in Tollygunge and the Mahanayak Samman Award by the West Bengal government.
Kumar had on-screen chemistry with several leading ladies, but his pairing with Suchitra Sen remains iconic. In 1955, he starred in the musical blockbuster Shapmochon, where every song became a hit, making him and singer Hemanta Kumar a legendary duo. That same year, he won his first BFJA Best Actor Award for his role in Hrad, where he portrayed a man suffering from memory loss.
Throughout the late 1950s, Kumar continued to dominate the box office with hits like Harano Sur, Pothey Holo Deri, and Chandranath. In the 1960s, he maintained his status as a leading star, delivering hits like Maya Mriga and Saptapadi, for which he won his second BFJA Best Actor Award.
Notably, acclaimed director Satyajit Ray had initially wanted Kumar for a role in his film Ghare Baire, penned in 1956. However, Kumar declined, feeling the role was better suited for a more established actor. The film was eventually made in 1984, after Kumar’s death, with Soumitra Chatterjee in the role.
Kumar first collaborated with Ray in 1966 for the film Nayak. The film’s premiere was a significant event; when Kumar arrived, he was mobbed by fans, highlighting his immense popularity. He won his third BFJA Award for Best Actor for this role and even caught the attention of Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor, who expressed a desire to work with him.
In 1967, Kumar teamed up with Ray again for Chiriyakhana, becoming the first actor to portray the iconic Bengali detective Byomkesh Bakshi. When the National Film Awards were instituted by the Indian government, Kumar was the first to receive the Best Actor award in 1968 for his performances in Chiriyakhana and Antony Firingee.