Sumitra Devi
Sumitra Devi


The year was 1955. The crew members of Director Kartik Chattopadhyay has made a grandiloquent set for the screen adaptation of Bimal Mitra's masterpiece Saheb Bibi Golam. Kartik Chattopadhyay was explaining a sequence to the winsome Uttam Kumar. But the matinee idol seemed to be lost in somewhere else. His eyes were intensely following someone else. Over a distance of nearly 5 meters from him it was the gorgeous Sumitra Devi who had been preordained to portray the figure of the famous heroine of Bimal Mitra. So shall we call our matinee idol quirky for his behaving like this? No. Not at all. He was quite right to look into her. Else he would have been regarded blind to beauty. Sumitra Devi doesn't need any introduction. She was a stunner. She was irresistible.

Sumitra Devi ruled over the layout of Bengali cinema with her beauty and subtle administration of seduction. All through her reign she was celebrated more for her infinite charm than her astuteness of an actor. Her large beautiful eyes were evocative of fantasy and she was fascinating when her full, shapely lips parted and met and contracted in tune with the vowels and consonants of her speech. Her kohl-eyed look was an abode of allurement and indeed, her summon was as inevitable and unforeseen as that of death.

It was Devaki Kumar Bose who actually introduced Sumitra Devi to stardom. Her first film was Sandhi (1944) directed by Apurba Mitra who was the nephew of Devaki Kumar Bose. She was hailed for her performance in her first film and was cited as an actress having an “outstanding luminous screen presence.” After that she had a row of incessant hits with Pather Dabi (1947), Abhijog (1947), Pratibad (1948), Joyjatra (1958), Devi Chowdhurni (1949) and Swami (1949). In early fifties she concentrated her focus on her Bollywood career. In 1955, she starred in Ardhendu Mukhopadhyay’s Dasyu Mohan which set the box office on fire. During this time Director Kartik Chottopadhyay was planning to adapt Bimal Mitra’s celebrated novel Saheb Bibi Golam on silver screen. As for the casting in the character of Pateshwari, the beautiful, forlorn mistress of the junior landlord, Kartik Chattopadhyay considered Sumitra Devi apt for the role. He contacted her and narrated the script thoroughly. While narrating Mr. Chatterjee was a bit nervous as Sumitra Devi might refuse to play this character as the character had a stark resemblance to her fatal life as the actress herself used to buy liquor at the end of the day for her husband. But she loved the character finally and gave her nod. "Initially I was getting befogged whether she would love the script or reject it. I kept narrating on and she was there with those inert eyes, patiently sitting on her couch and listening to me. Once in a while she was enquiring into something but that was all. Overall she became reticent. As I went on, I saw her altering her posture with her elbow supported on the armrest of her couch and I envisioned the scenario at once, the scenario of Bhootnath sitting before a prepossessing Pateshwari boozinging over her elbow rested on her lavish cushion" said the director of SBG during an interview session with Ekaal. Saheb Bibi Golam was released on 9th March 1956 and a major success of that year. During the shooting Uttam Kumar was often caught red handed gazing intently at Sumitra Devi whom the icon certified as, “the queen bee of Bengali cinema.” Pradeep Kumar was two steps ahead of Uttam. He blatantly used to keep staring at Sumitra Devi on the set of Dasyu Mohan (1955). “I felt honoured in becoming an ardent onlooker of her deeds” said Pradeep Kumar, “She is an instance of the perfect harmonization of beauty and glory.” In 1957, she again acted in Kartik Chattopadhyay’s Nilachale Mahaprabhu where she appeared as an enrapturing yet eeyorish courtesan in love with Mahaprabhu Chaitanya. She again played a character of a beautiful courtesan in Haridas Bhattacharya’s National Award winning Bengali film Andhare Alo (1957). The film is an adaptation of a short story by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay. The character she played falls in love with a man who eventually starts to hate her. She was inordinately applauded for her feelings backed performance in this film. How can we forget her coy but bright, beaming pair of eyes gazing at an enamoured Vasant Chowdhury or that same pair of eyes closed in pain originated from the vehement rejection of the actor. “I was certain that, with those transfixing attributes, she would be the best choice for the role of Bijali. I didn’t have to direct her at all. She herself figured it out how to render Bijali, how to interpret her journey from an enticing, playful coquette to an ardent devotee of love” said Director Haridas Bhattacharya when he was asked what had led him to cast Sumitra Devi in the lead. Released on 12th April 1957, the film was a major run at box office.

Sumitra Devi has mostly been seen to render the common plight of women from various layouts of society. Her characters are those deprived of love or amity. She has been best known for a type character who looks immensely seductive by nature on screen. She was a mastermind at the art of seduction. Her kohl-eyed look was an abode of many secrets which reflected on and off the camera. Vasant Chowdhury said, "Nothing more beautiful than her ever happened on the array of Bengali cinema." Raj Kapoor said, "Sumitra Devi doesn't need any reference; she is beautiful than anything else." Shammi Kapoor who worked with her in Chor Bazaar (1954), said, “I think I would walk out on a lot of due compliments if I just use the term ‘beautiful’ to describe Sumitra Devi. She has the face that can arrest an unblinking gaze for long. She is marvellous. At the same time, I hold regards to the noble way she demonstrates herself. It is her etiquette and politeness that brightens up her beauty.” She could regulate the degree of her charm. Isn’t beauty always the winner! Actors, directors, producers, journalists got dazed before her and then she was the one who often manipulated their maze. She managed to play female lead even after she turned forty. In 1964, she was forty one years old when she had two releases as the female leads – Kinu Gowalar Gali and Veer Bhimsen. They said the Saheb Bibi Golam actress had an enormous capability of hypnotizing a person at once. Obviously, she had her way and we still appreciate that.