"I can't give you a kiss so easily," actress Suchitra Sen, who died Friday, once told her biographer Gopal Krishna Roy, leaving him momentarily stunned.
But the "kiss" that the iconic actress spoke of, was not in a literal sense. Roy, then a reporter with UNI, had approached Sen with a questionnaire on the issue of the kiss in Indian films, which had become a raging debate in the late 1970s.
"The issue was whether it was right to have kissing scenes in Indian films or not. The matter was fiercely debated in parliament also. So, I prepared a set of questions, and sent it to filmmakers like Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen and actors Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee. I had given a set to Suchitra also. "Everybody responded, but Sen. When I called her up after a few days, she said, 'I can't give you a kiss so easily'. I understood she won't reply. So I told her I will do the story without her answers. And I went ahead," Roy told IANS.
But the incident was a boon for Ray, as it started his long friendship with the most popular actress in Bengali films. The relationship continued even after Sen withdrew from public life, confining herself to a close circles of family members and a handful of friends.
"During the last three and half decades, very few people could meet her. There was a director, Dilip Mukherjee who often called on her. Mrinal Sen visited her once. But her doors were closed to most people," said Roy, now 80. But she became very fond of Roy. "She used to call me every day. She insisted I accompany her on her evening strolls that started from near her residence in Ballygunge Circular Road. I used to tell her "People will recognise you." "But she said: "Are, let us go na?" One evening, a gentleman did recognise Sen and sought her autograph. "But he was carrying neither a paper, nor a pen. Suchitra took my pen. Then she picked up an empty cigarette packet and signed on it and returned it to the gentleman."
Sen was moody, and had her star-like whims aplenty. "Till a few years back, she used to drop in often to the local tailor shop. She would spent hours there, chatting with the tailor and asking him about his family," recalled Roy.
On another Sunday morning, Roy received an "sos" from the actress to come to her residence. "When I reached, she told me, "I badly need to check my weight right now. Let's go". "We drove out. But the weight machine at a nursing home close to her residence was out of order. She then insisted that we go to Gariahat area about three kms away. But there the shops were closed. However, Suchitra said she won't return home without checking her weight. Finally, we travelled eight kms to near the Grand Hotel in Central Kolkata, where she finally found a weight machine," said Roy. Sen then asked for 50 paise from Roy. "The job done, she was happy, and lost her interest in the outing. We immediately returned home."
On another occasion, Sen asked Roy to accompany her to Lover's Lane. "I told her I didn't know the place. She replied impishly: "What sort of a journalist are you, that you don't know where Lovers'Lane is?" "When I went there, I saw her sitting happily with her two granddaughters Riya and Raima, her face covered with a veil. She was munching on ground nuts," he said.
Sen was a regular visitor to Roy's house, and would spent hours chatting with his mother in "Bangal" (East Bengal dialect). "She was also fond of my mother's culinary skills".
Roy felt that the magic of Sen lay in her beautiful smile. "And you know, she never needed glycerine to cry on screen. Whenever she had to give such a shot, she would ask for a minute, close her eyes, and immediately tears used to flow."
Roy wrote two books on the actress. "Suchitrar Katha" came out in 1998. It is now into its 12th edition, a testament to Sen's unsagging popularity and the fans' interest in the enigma. The other book "Anya Ek Suchitra" was finished five years back.