The allure of Suchitra Sen

Belated good wishes to Suchitra Sen, who celebrated her birthday yesterday. Reclusive as Greta Garbo and one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen, she personifies the Bengali ideal of beauty.

Her two grand-daughters, Riya Sen and Raima Sen, are film stars now — and Riya was said to have caught the eye of the Booker Prize winning novelist Salman Rushdie last year. Riya and Raima's mother, Moon Moon Sen, is also a former actress and a beauty.

But Suchitra Sen is in a class of her own.

This is a clip from a Bengali movie dating back to 1958 starring her and the matinee idol Uttam Kumar, the most famous Bengali star of all time. The film is called Indrani — an Indian woman's name.

The singer is Hemanta Mukherjee, my favourite Bengali singer. The song begins like Do Re Mi in The Sound of Music. The singer is singing that the sun is about to set and the twilight will create a dream world which will last all night.

The video gets better after the first minute when the camera focuses on Suchitra Sen's face. She looks lovely.

Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar created movie magic. Generations of Bengalis adored their films. From the 1950s to the 1970s, they reigned at the box office. Uttam Kumar died of a heart attack on the set of the Bengali film Ogo Bodhu Sundari (Oh Beautiful Bride) in 1980. He was 54.

Suchitra Sen last appeared in the Bengali film, Pranay Pasha (Gamble of Love), in 1978, according to Wikipedia.

Era of romance

The romantic films starring Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar portray India before globalization, when the country was less prosperous, the idealism perhaps greater, and when marriages seldom ended in divorce.

Jawaharlal Nehru was the Indian prime minister when this film was made in 1958.

The eminent writers and thinkers of today were still in their youth. VS Naipaul had graduated from Oxford and got married to Patricia Hale three years earlier – in 1955. The Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen was still doing his PhD in Cambridge – he received his doctorate in 1959, according to Wikipedia. The Bengali filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, had just started winning international acclaim with his Apu Trilogy since 1955 (he died on April 23, 1992, at the age of 70). It was a different era.

The one book that captures that era is Vikram Seth's novel, A Suitable Boy.

Era of rock 'n' roll

It was also the time of rock 'n' roll. Elvis Presley joined the army. But there were big hits such as Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis and Sweet Little Sixteen by Chuck Berry. Both charted in 1958, according to The Fifties Web.

Perry Como's Catch A Falling Star won the Grammy for best vocal performance by a male artiste in 1958 – the year this film was made. The Kingston Trio won the Grammy for best country and western performance for Tom Dooley. That song was a very big hit in Calcutta (now Kolkata), popular throughout the 60s.