Uttam Kumar

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Uttam Kumar
উত্তম কুমার

Uttam Kumar
Native name Arun Kumar Chattopadhyay
অরুণকুমার চট্টোপাধ্যায়
Born Arun Kumar Chatterjee
(1926-09-03)3 September 1926
Ahiritola, Calcutta, Bengal, British India
Died 24 July 1980(1980-07-24) (aged 53)
Tollygunge, Calcutta, West Bengal, India
Occupation Actor
Director, Music Director, Playback singer
Years active 1945–1980
Height 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Spouse(s) Gauri Chatterjee
Children Gautam Chatterjee
Website http://www.mahanayak.com/

Uttam Kumar (3 September 1926 – 24 July 1980) (born as Arun Kumar Chatterjee) was an Indian film actor, director, producer, singer and music composer, playback singer who predominantly worked in Indian Cinema.[1] He is widely regarded as the greatest actor of Bengali cinema, and also among the greatest actors ever in India. Through his career he earned commercial as well as critical success, and he remains as an Indian cultural icon.[2]

Considered as the most popular film star of Bengali cinema, Kumar managed to have a huge fan following, that mainly concentrated in the regions of West Bengal, India. He was a recipient of many awards over his lifetime, including National Film Award for Best Actor. A Metro Station in Kolkata was renamed in his honour.

Early life and family

Uttam Kumar was born in Kolkata at the home of his maternal uncle at Ahiritola, while his ancestral house is on Girish Mukherjee Road, Bhowanipore. After his schooling in South Suburban School (Main), he went for higher studies in Goenka College of Commerce and Business Administration, a college affiliated to the University of Calcutta. He could not complete his studies and started working at the Kolkata Port trust as a clerk. During this period, he acted in amateur theatre groups. His prodigious joint family had its own theatre group, the Suhrid Samaj, which staged many amateur shows.

Uttam Kumar was the eldest of three sons (Arun, Barun and Tarun) of Satkari Chatterjee and Chapala Debi. The youngest, whose screen name was Tarun Kumar, acted in several Bengali films and grew to become an actor of considerable repute, in screen and on stage. There are several films in which Uttam Kumar and Tarun Kumar starred together like Saptapadi, Sonar Harin, Maya Mriga, Sesh Anka, Deya Neya, Jeeban-Mrityu, Dhanyi Meye,Mon Niye, Sanyasi Raja, Kamal lata and Agniswar. Uttam Kumar married Gauri Debi [Chatterjee][nee Ganguly]. Their only son, Gautam, died for Down from Fifth Floor at the age of 59. His grandson, Gaurav Chatterjee[3] is a Bengali television actor. Pulak Bandyopadhyay, a noted lyricist, was his uncle. Rajesh Khanna once said about Kumar: "He is the perfect ambassador of Indian cinema. No one carries Indian culture in a Kurta and Dhoti as well as he does."


Debut and breakthrough

Uttam's first release was Drishtidan (The gift of sight, 1948) directed by Nitin Bose, though he worked in an earlier unreleased film called Mayador (Embrace of Affection). Then he acted in about four to five films, all of which were flops. In those films he constantly varied his name: Arun Chatterjee, Arun Kumar, Uttam Chatterjee and finally Uttam Kumar. He was dubbed as the 'Flop Master General'. When he entered the studio, people would laugh at him and comment "Here comes the new Durgadas..." "Meet the new Chabbi Biswas..". He considered leaving the world of cinema and start working at Calcutta Ports. But his wife, Gouri Chatterjee told him that it would be better if he did not to do a job his heart was not in. He later got the contact at M.P Studios for three years. M.P studios produced the film "Basu Paribar" in which he came into prominence, but his breakthrough film was Agni Pariksha in 1954 that began the success of the all-time romantic pair of Uttam Kumar - Suchitra Sen, though they had first paired in Sharey Chuattor (1953).The film ran for 65 weeks and established Uttam in the industry.

Commercial cinema in the form of films like Uttam Kumar starrer Basu Paribar (1952) and the iconic Uttam–Suchitra pairing in Sharey Chuattor (1953), did tremendous business. Explaining the emergence of parallel cinema at time when commercial cinema was doing extremely well with hero s like Uttam Kumar taking on a cult status, Soumitra Chatterjee, who starred in many of Satyajit Ray's films explained: "Uttam Kumar alone was not able to fulfill every part of the hero that Bengali audiences wished to see on the screen … there are different kinds of people in life … other kinds of young men, other kinds of romances … possibly that is why audiences found a parallel screen hero in myself."[4]

On the background of the mass migration from the then East Pakistan to Calcutta, the Uttam-Suchitra pair gave expression to the yearnings of a new, transformed city. They played out on screen the new desires of a young audience trying to come to terms with industrial modernity and a new form of urban existence. The stylised, black-and-white romanticism of landmark Uttam-Suchitra films of the 1950s like "Agni Pariksha", "Shapmochan",Sagarika (1956), Shilpi (1956), or Harano Sur, Indrani, Sabar Uparey, Surjyo Toron reflected a novel, youthful urban desire to break free from the confines of the feudal joint family and set up a nucleated, private space for the couple in love. In contrast to the earlier phase of Bengali cinema mostly dominated by the dramatised style of the New Theaters' films (in the 1940s), the Uttam-Suchitra films were marked by a more naturalistic acting style, a bit dramatic-stylized, soft-focus black-and-white cinematography with chiaroscuro effects, and a more popular and modern form of music that broke away more decisively from earlier dependence on classical types. These features were put in place by a new generation of cinematographers like Dinen Gupta and Ajoy Kar, a fresh batch of directors (Kar himself,Sudhir Mukherjee, Naresh Mitra, Sushil Majumdar, the combines of Jatrik and Agradoot) and musicians like Nachiketa Ghosh, Rabin Chattopadhyay, Anupam Ghatak, Hemanta Mukherjee, Anil Bagchi, Sudhin Dasgupta and Salil Chowdhury, along with lyricists like Gauriprasanna Majumdar, Pranab Roy, Pulak Bandopadhyay. A number of them hailed from the left wing Indian People's Theater Association (IPTA) movement, popularly known as Gananatya Sangha.

Uttam Kumar was especially adored for his effortless naturalism in front of the camera and a distinctively urbane charisma that broke free from the prototypical Bengali screen hero of the past. He went on to form successful screen pairs with many leading ladies like Suchitra Sen, Supriya Choudhury, Sabitri Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Sharmila Tagore, Anjana Bhaumick, Tanuja Samarth, Aparna Sen and Sumitra Mukherjee, apart from Sandhyarani in the 50s, Arundhati Debi and Mala Sinha in the 60s and Kaberi Bose and Tanuja in the 60s and 70s. He acted in Nayak by Satyajit Ray in which the master-director scripts the rise of a young actor with an ordinary background to a star sought after by one and all. In fact, this film may be considered as a tribute to Uttam Kumar. Often hailed as the one-man industry, Uttam Kumar dominated Bengali cinema for three decades until his death. This near-total reign was somewhat slightly disturbed during the politically turbulent era of the late sixties up to the Emergency, when Uttam Kumar's regular, politically passive or relatively conservative romantic film persona sometimes found it difficult to fit into the narratives of unrest that came to the fore.

Never quite satisfied with his undisputed matinée idol status, Uttam Kumar started experimenting with character roles early in his career, as evidenced by films like Khokababur Pratyabartan, (1960), Mayamriga, (1960) or Thana Theke Aschi (1965) and Bicharak. In Marutirtha Hinglaj (1959), he played a mentally disturbed character. In Kuhak he was a murderous thief, while in Sesh Anka, he was a suave businessman who had murdered his wife and was romantically engaged to the daughter of a social elite and rich nobleman. In Aparichita (1969) he also played the role of a villain. Such departures were unusual in relation to set formats of stardom in Indian popular cinematic cultures, where deviating from established 'star images' were often considered to be risky. However, this brought Uttam Kumar early recognition as a genuine actor of substance apart from a box office superstar and stood him in good stead later, especially in his collaborations with Satyajit Ray in Nayak (1966) and Chiriyakhana. A perfectionist, Uttam Kumar performed on stage for a full year, opposite Sabitri Chatterjee in Star Theatre in the play "Shyamali" [On screen, he played opposite Kaberi Bose]to hone up his skill as an actor.

Stardom and legacy

Apart from Bengali, Uttam Kumar also acted in 15 Hindi films such as Chhoti Si Mulaqat (along with Vyjayanthimala), Amanush, Anand Ashram, Dooriyaan (with Sharmila Tagore), Bandie with Sulakshana Pandit and Kitaab with Vidya Sinha etc.He was also offered the role of Rajendra Kumar in the Raj Kapoor starrer film Sangam but for some reason he refused the role.

Perhaps his most lauded appearances was in Satyajit Ray's Nayak (The Hero). It is now widely accepted that Ray wrote the script with Uttam in mind. Many people feel the film bears resemblance to Uttam Kumar's own life – the sense of anxiety and restlessness mirrored Uttam's insecurities about his phenomenal success and abiding fear that his superstardom might not last. Uttam made the role of Arindam (Mukherjee) his own and Ray later confessed that if Uttam had refused the film, he would have abandoned it. He worked with Ray the following year in Chiriyakhana (1967).[5]

Uttam also worked with another great film director Tapan Sinha in his film Jhinder Bondi (with another great actor Soumitra chatterjee),

When the Indian government instituted the National Film Awards for National Film Award for Best Actor and National Film Award for Best Actress in 1967, Uttam Kumar was the first-ever recipient of the Best Actor Award for his performances in Antony Firingee and Chiriyakhana in 1967.

He explored new avenues of film-making by trying his hand at production, singing, composing music, screenplay writing and directing. The success of his Indian films as producer — Harano Sur, Saptapadi, Bhrantibilash, Jotugriha (1964), Grihadah — won greatest acclaim.On producing Chhoti Si Mulaqat in 1967, which was a Hindi film starring Uttam and Vyjayanthimala, Uttam almost used up all his savings, since the film had to be shot in colour and was shot in extravagant locations.Both Uttam and Vaijantimala has huge hopes associated with the film, but the film was a flop leading to great disappointment for Uttam Kumar. It was later said that this flop was one of the main reason for triggering heart attack which ultimately led to his death.[6] Later, Uttam directed much-lauded films such as Sudhu Ekti Bochhor and Bon Palashir Padaboli. He composed music for the film Kaal Tumi Aleya in which Hemanta Mukherjee and Asha Bhonsle sang to his tune.

He came out with an authorised biography Amaar Ami in 1979-80. He had a phenomenal fan base which continues even to this day. In 1960, he started writing an autobiography named Harano Dinguli Mor {My Bygone Days}, but could not complete it.Parts of that book was published by the magazine Nabokallol.On the day Uttam died,the original manuscript was stolen.Later a member from Times of India had found the manuscript and the national library hepled to find old editions of Nabakallol and then the incomplete book was finally published in the 37th Calcatta Book Fair. As a singer, he recorded songs for the AIR - All India Radio - and very recently, an album of Tagore songs (Rabindrasangeet) sung by him, has been brought out.[7]

There was a time, when at the heights of his popularity Uttam Kumar was approached to recite the Chandi Path in the AIR studios. Traditionally this had always been done by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. but there was a huge uproar amongst the audience about why Uttam Kumar had been chosen instead of Birendra Krishna. Uttam personally met Mr Bhadra and apologized and from the next year Mahalaya on AIR was again done by Birendra krishna Bhadra.[8]

Reruns of his films on television decades after his death are still eagerly watched. Uttam Kumar’s time is considered by most as the golden era of Cinema of West Bengal.


Late journalist Ramendra Trivedi, in his Modern Uttam, explained the incredible bankability of this star. From 1945 to 1980, both in Bengali and Hindi, Uttam Kumar acted in 217 films. In 1947, he got an offer for a brief role in a Hindi film called "Mayador." The film never saw the light of day. His first release was the Bengali film "Drishtidaan" (1948), directed by Nitin Bose. In the film Uttam was credited as Arun Kumar. The film was a flop. In 1949 he made his debut as the leading man in the film "Kamona," crediting him as Uttam Chatterjee. But this too bombed. By then the Industry had labelled him a "flop master." During this time he got married to Gauri Ganguli (in 1948). Fortunately for Uttam, "Basu Paribar" (1952), co-starring Sabitri Chatterjee, was a big hit.Uttam delivered another big hit "Sharey Chuattor" in 1953. After that everything was part of making history. Though trying out in Hindi movies was quite disappointing to him, because of his Bengali accent which did not much impressed audiences all over the country. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest actors in the history of Indian cinema and known by the honorific Mahanayak. Through his career he earned commercial as well as critical success, and he remains a cultural icon.


National Film Awards
Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards
Other Awards

"Evergreen" Award for "Anand Ashram" (1977)


The on-screen chemistry between Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen has always been much adored and admired. Both of them together constituted the evergreen and popular romantic pair of Bengali Cinema till date. Some of Uttam's famous films co-starring Suchitra Sen include "Share Chuattor", "Agni Pariksha", "Shilpi", Saptapadi (Seven Steps),[11][12] Pathe Holo Deri (Delay on the road), Harano Sur (Lost Music), Chaowa Paowa (Wish and Achievement), Bipasha, Jiban Trishna (Thirst for Life), Sagarika, Trijama, Indrani, Sabar Upare, Surjyo Toron, Rajlakshmi O Sreekanto, "Ekti Raat", "Grihadaha", Kamallata, Har Mana Har, Alo Amar Alo.[13][14]


Shonar Harin (1959) saw Supriya Devi (who would win great accolades for her performance in Ritwik Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara the following year) play the lead opposite Uttam Kumar. As they began to act in more films together, the two got involved off-screen as well. In 1963, Uttam left his family home at Girish Mukherjee Road, Bhowanipur and stayed with Supriya for the next 17 years till his death. They starred together in several other films like Uttarayan, Chiradiner, Agni Sanskar", "Suno Baranari", "Kal Tumi Aleya", "Lal Pathor", "Andha Ateet", "Sudhu Ekti Bochhor", "Mon Niye", "Bilambita Loy", "Bhola Maira", "Sanyasi Raja, "Bon Palashir Padabali", Sister (1977), "Jibon Mrityue","Bagh Bandir Khela" etc.[15]


Appreciated by many to be most talented of Bengali heroines, Sabitri Chatterjee was ardently admired by the Mahanayak as his most powerful heroine. Together, they performed in a number of blockbusters and superhits, few of which are acclaimed as evergreen comedies. Uttam-Sabitri starrers include "Abhoyer Biye", "Hat Barelei Bandhu", "Dui Bhai", "Kuhak", "Nishi Padma" (1970), "Bhrantibilash", "Momer Alo", "Kalankita Nayak"[also starring Aparna Sen], "Dhanyee Meye" and "Mouchak". In a radio interview, the actress recorded her admiration to Uttam Kumar for taking up challenging roles like that of Raicharan in "Khokababur Pratyabartan", the judge in "Bicharak" and police officer in "Thana Theke Aaschhi" at a time when he was at the height of popularity as a matinee idol of Indian cinema.


A workaholic, he was rumoured to have said that his preferred demise would be on the floor of a studio, doing what he loved best: acting. While filming Ogo Bodhu Shundori in 1980 Uttam Kumar suffered a stroke and was admitted to the Belleveue Clinic. The doctors did their best for 16 hours but he died that night on 24 July 1980 at the age of 54. As his death body found its way across Bhowanipur and finally to the Keoratala Burning Ghat, traffic in Kolkata came to a halt as thousands flocked the streets to pay their respects and have a last glimpse of the legend.[16][17]

Tributes and appreciations

There is a theatre (Uttam Mancha) named after him in Kolkata. A life-size statue has been erected near Tollygunj metro station which has recently been renamed after the iconic actor by the Central Railway Ministry.[18] Besides, Shilpi Sansad, the actor's pet project of safegurading the artistes especially the poor and the old, is active still. Celebrating the 89rd birth anniversary of Uttam Kumar, the Department of Posts in 2009, released a series of new postal stamps featuring the actor on them.The Department of Posts also released a brochure on the Uttam Kumar Stamp release with a note that says "Uttam Kumar – The Legend of Indian Cinema". "The government of india" release 19TH JUNE 2015 "UTTAM" AWARD for Best acting.[19]

Distinguished names paying homage to Uttam

"It is the demise of a leading light of the Bengali film industry...There isn't - there won't be another hero like him."[20]
"I personally felt that the acting of Uttam Kumar could be compared to the best actor of any country. His great attribute is his diligence...Many are born with talent, but the talent gets eclipsed due to the lack of diligence. Uttam Kumar has both of them. Perhaps, that is the reason why he still sparkles."
"Uttam is my friend. In a word, he is a great, great artist. But still sometimes I feel as if he is not properly exploited."
"Uttam Kumar was the most gifted actor I ever worked with. His first Hindi film, Chhoti Si Mulaqat, was opposite me in 1967... Uttam Kumar was thoroughly professional, cooperative and lip-synced perfectly, especially on "Aye Chand" and "Tujhe Dekha". He lip-synched songs rendered by Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey and Mohammed Rafi as if he was singing them. I was criticised for Chhoti Si Mulaqat but Uttam Kumar never criticized me"[21]
"Uttam was a great human being...it can easily be underscored -- actor of his class is a rare kind"
"...slowly Uttam Kumar got popular. And a fairy tale was born. I was never bothered to know the individual self of the romantic hero of this fairy tale. I would never want to. What if the dream gets shattered! Let the beautiful spell be alive! Long live Uttam Kumar -- The evergreen romantic hero."
"It feels good to see all praising one. Uttam is one such person... He never had any pose or pretension... God gave him everything but a friend."
"Uttam Kumar, the numero uno hero of Bengal, the most loving."
"If Uttam Kumar committed a crime and then he gave that smile, I was ready to believe he was innocent."[22]
"Sri Uttam Kumar is not merely the actor, I regard him as the creator of character. May be as the creator of character, he has achieved such stupendous popularity."
"He is the Great Hero and life of many of my fictions."
"Uttam! An extraordinary artist! The artistic self of Uttam Kumar never dies down! Oh God give him Uttam health, Uttam strength, Uttam longevity." (in Sanskrit and in Bengali, 'Uttam' means 'Excellent')
"Uttam Kumar is my guru. From my childhood, I am a die hard Uttam fan."
"Many think that I have always been a sharp critic of Uttam Kumar's acting. This is not true. I have rarely seen actor of his stature. I have been fan of his acting, his admirer."
"I have seen so many dhuti, kurta-clad Bengalis both on screen and in reality. But Uttam Kumar as the Bengali babu is unique. What I believe is that there is no one who can ever represent the Bengali community like Uttamda did."
"Usually, what we find is that the good-looking guys lack substance, or the reverse. But Uttam Kumar had the both...I have always respected that man... when I was at Pune Film Institute, we used to argue on Dilip Kumar-Uttam Kumar-Raj Kapoor."
"My first real meet with Uttam Kumar was in Calcutta and the occasion was the release of Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai. Hemen Ganguly happened to be the distributor of that film. He used to be the 'common friend' of elder brother (Raj Kapoor) and Uttam Kumar. It was my pleasure to see the two greats together. I was awestruck by the royal gaits of the both... I like Uttam Kumar."
"In Uttam Kumar, we have found a director who shows his brilliance on diverse levels."


The Tollygunge metro station of Kolkata Metro was renamed as "Mahanayak Uttam Kumar" and decorated the station by movie pictures of Uttam Kumar by Indian Railways.[23]

"Mumbai" Film Festival 2015 has a special screening of the Mahanayak's "UTTAM" award.


  1. "Of fond memories", The Telegraph, 24 July 2003, retrieved 15 August 2010
  2. . Dasgupta, Priyanka (24 July 2010), "Star struck for Uttam?", The Times of India, retrieved 15 August 2010
  3. Gaurav Chatterjee
  4. "Co-Existence Of Parallel Cinema With Popular Cinema In Bengal In The 50s And 60s". Silhouette Magazine & Learning and Creativity. 29 October 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  5. "Byomkesh Bakshi", The Telegraph, 7 August 2010, retrieved 15 August 2010
  6. "Uttam Kumar: As a Producer", gomolo, 13 June 2008, retrieved 4 September 2011
  7. Nag, Kushali (20 July 2008), "Living with Uttam Kumar", The Telegraph, retrieved 15 August 2010
  8. "Reference: Two Legends and Their Lives: Uttam Kumar Suchitra Sen". Learning and Creativity. 13 Sep 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  9. "9th National Film Awards". International Film Festival of India. Retrieved 8 September 2011.
  10. "11th National Film Awards". International Film Festival of India.
  11. Das, Mohua (9 December 2009), "how Saptapadi shattered stereotypes", The Telegraph, retrieved 15 August 2010
  12. Nag, Kushali; Chattopadhyaya, Sanjoy (16 December 2008), "Saptapadi bike still road-worthy", The Telegraph, retrieved 15 August 2010
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  14. "Forever Suchitra", The Telegraph, 21 March 2010, retrieved 15 August 2010
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  16. He was the greatest actor in the Indian film. "July '80", The Telegraph, 20 July 2010, retrieved 15 August 2010
  17. "Fadeout of Uttam films", The Telegraph, 24 July 2005, retrieved 15 August 2010
  18. Banerjee, Sudeshna (25 July 2010), "Mamata's day out", The Telegraph, retrieved 15 August 2010
  19. "stamps 2009", India Post, retrieved 15 August 2010
  20. "Uttam Kumar(3 September 1926 ) was a legendary Bengali actor" (PDF). mahanayak.com. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
  21. Ranjan Das Gupta (23 July 2010). "Remembering the matinee monarch". The Statesman. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  22. http://www.rediff.com/movies/interview/soumitra-chatterjee-is-bigger-than-a-ray-actor/20160127.htm
  23. "After station, it's a stamp in Uttam Kumar's name". The Times of India. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
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