Veteran Bengali actress Supriya Devi dead, Bengal gives gun salute
By Sirshendu Panth
Veteran Bengali film actress Supriya Devi, who reached legendary heights for her portrayal of the protagonist Neeta in Ritwik Ghatak's cult movie "Meghe Dhaka Tara", died at her residence here on Friday following a massive cardio-respiratory failure, her physician said.
She was cremated in the evening with full state honours given by the West Bengal government.
Supriya Devi, 85, is survived by her daughter and three grandchildren.
"She felt unwell in the washroom around 6.20 a.m. When doctors were called, they declared her dead at 6.30 a.m.," the family physician said.
Supriya Devi's body was taken from her home to the Rabindra Sadan compound, where hundreds, among them leading cultural and political personalities, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, paid their last respects.
The last journey began around 6.15 p.m., with a barefoot Banerjee walking 3.5 km alongside a large number of mourners to the Keoratala crematorium, where the coffin was taken out of the cortege and placed on a high platform by police personnel in a slow march.
The bugle played the last post before she was accorded a guard of honour and a gun salute, as soulful Rabindra Sangeet played in the background.
Born on January 8, 1933 at Myitkyina in erstwhile Burma (now Myanmar), Supriya Chowdhury (nee Banerjee) took the screen name Supriya Devi to emerge as one of the leading figures of the golden era of Bengali cinema that saw her straddle the celluloid space with great aplomb alongside the late Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen.
Soumitra Chatterjee, Sabitri Chatterjee and Madhabi Mukherjee now remain among the few surviving representatives of that generation.
Supriya Devi was one of the leading heroines of Uttam Kumar, her live-in partner, and essayed memorable romantic roles opposite him through two and a half decades.
The duo's mega hit movies included "Sanyasi Raja", "Baghbandi Khela", "Chirodiner", "Sabarmati", "Suno Baranari", "Bon Palashir Padavali", "Kalankini Kankabati" and "Sudhu Ekti Bachar".
Apart from the Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen combine, it was the Uttam-Supriya pairing that kept generations of Bengali film buffs mesmerised with their romance, hit songs on their lips and well-scripted story lines.
She also acted in a few Hindi films like "Begaana", "Door Gagan Ki Chhaon Mein" and "Aap ke Parchhaiyan".
Known for her beauty and sharp features, she made her acting debut as a seven-year-old in two plays directed by her father Gopal Chandra Banerjee, and forayed into films in 1952 playing a side part in the Uttam Kumar starrer "Basu Paribar".
It was in 1959 that she rose to prominence after her appearance in the runaway hit movie "Sonar Harin", which also featured Uttam Kumar.
The year 1960 gave Supriya Devi a cult status following her sensitive and touching depiction of the sole bread earner of a refugee family against the backdrop of the 1947 partition of India in "Meghe Dhaka Tara" (Cloud Capped Star).
Her heart-rending cries "Dada ami kintu banchte cheyechilam... dada ami banchbo... dada ami banchbo (Brother, I just wanted to live... brother, I want to live... brother, I want to live)", that broke the serenity of a tuberculosis sanitarium, echoing through its natural surroundings, is regarded as a classic celluloid scene. She came up with another spectacular performance in Ghatak's "Komal Gandhar" in 1961.
Among her other popular films are "Debdas" (1979) - where she was cast as Chandramukhi opposite Soumitra Chatterjee in the title role, "Jadi Jantem", "Amarapali", "Chowringhee", "Sabyasachi", "Dui Pur ush", "Mon Niye" and "Atmiyo Swajan".
In 2006, she made her last appearance on the big screen in Mira Nair's "The Namesake".
In 1954, Supriya Devi married Biswanath Chodwhury. The couple's only daughter is Soma. However, later in life, Supriya Devi fell in love with Uttam kumar.
Supriya Devi was conferred the Padma Shri in 2014, and received the Bengal Film Journalists' Award twice -- "Tin Adhyay" (Best Actress in 1969) and "Chinnapatra" (Best Supporting Actress in 1973).
The state government bestowed its highest award Banga Vibhushan in 2011 on her.
President Ram Nath Kovind led the nation in condoling Supriya Devi's demise.
Calling her an icon of Indian cinema and of Bengal's cultural life, Kovind said she would be "remembered for memorable films such as 'Meghe Dhaka Tara'".
Mamata Banerjee said: "She was a legendary actress. She was like a family member to us... We will fondly remember her through her films. Condolences to her family and fans."
Soumitra Chatterjee, two years junior to Supriya Devi, was heartbroken.
"I have nothing to say. I am also 83 now. For 60 years she was my friend, colleague. We worked together in so many films. I feel very sad and heartbroken."
Film maker Sujoy Ghosh tweeted: "RIP Supriya Devi... I was, am and, always will be your fan" - IANS