Indian actress Suchitra Sen, who starred in such iconic films as “Devdas” opposite Dilip Kumar, and “Aandhi,” died Thursday in Kolkota, India. She was 82 and had been suffering from respiratory problems for some time.
Sen, known as the “Greta Garbo of India” left films in 1978 and refused to meet those who were not family members. When she was awarded India’s prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2005 she refused it as that meant traveling to Delhi to accept the honor.
Her breakthrough role in 1953’s “Share chuattar” (74 and a Half) launched a pairing with Uttam Kumar that was to last for two decades of Bengali cinema. They made such hits as “Sagarika” (1956), “Harano Sur” (1957) and “Saptapadi” (1961). The latter won her the actress prize at the Moscow Film Festival.
Oddly for an Indian woman of that era, Sen’s acting career began a few years after she was married at age 16 and became a mother. Her husband arranged a meeting with the famous Bengali director Bimal Roy who was a family friend. Along with career advice, Roy cast her as Paro, the unhappy heroine of 1955’s “Devdas,” opposite Dilip Kumar.
Her foray into Hindi films continued with 1957’s “Musafir,” 1960’s “Bumbai ka babu” and 1966’s “Mamta.” In 1975 she played a politician who reunited briefly with her estranged husband in “Aandhi,” a film that had strong undertones connected to then-prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Sen held her own against the top actors of the day in Hindi cinema from Ashok Kumar to Dilip Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar and Dev Anand. But in the mid-70s she refused offers of film roles from helmers Satyajit Ray, who wanted her to work with him exclusively, and Raj Kapoor, preferring to withdraw to Kolkota.
Her own marital life was rather rocky, but she drew on that experience for her role in “Saptapadi.”
Reactions to Sen’s passing started pouring in early with director Aparna Sen telling the Hindustan Times, “An era has ended.”
Sen’s husband preceded her in death. She is survived by her daughter, Moon Moon, and granddaughters Riya and Raima Sen, all actresses.