Kolkata: Veteran Bengali film actress Supriya Devi, who reached legendary heights for her excellent portrayal of the protagonist Neeta in Ritwik Ghatak’s cult film “Meghe Dhaka Tara”, died at her residence here on Friday following a massive cardio-respiratory failure, her physician S.K. Sarkar said.
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.,” a doctor said. Supriya Devi was suffering from multiple old-age diseases including waist pain, hypertension and kidney problem.
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. Her pairing with Uttam Kumar produced mega hit movies like “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, Supriya Devi trained as a dancer from her childhood under Guru Muruthappan Pilla and Guru Prahlad Das.
The actress showcased her dancing proficiency in a number of films including the title role in “Amrapali” (1959). She made her acting debut as a seven-year-old in two plays directed by her father Gopal Chandra Banerjee. Inspired and helped by then famed actress Chandrabati Debi, she made her first foray into film in 1952 playing a side part in the Uttam Kumar starrer “Basu Paribar”.
It was only 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 a sole bread earner of a refugee family in the backdrop of the 1947 partition of India.
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. It is regarded as a classic celluloid scene.
Among her other popular films are “Debdas” (1979) – where she was cast as Chandramukhi opposite Soumitra Chatterjee in the title role, “Jadi Jantem”, “Chowringhee”, “Sabyasachi”, “Dui Purush”, “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 Chodwhury. However, later in life, Supriya Devi fell in love with Uttam kumar. Supriya Devi was conferred Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award, for her contribution to Indian Cinema in 2014.
She also received the Bengal Film Journalists’ award twice — in 1969 for “Tin Adhyay” (Best Actress) and in 1973 for “Chinnapatra” (Best Supporting Actress). The West Bengal government bestowed its highest award Banga Vibhushan in 2011 on her. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Very saddened at the passing (away) of legendary actress of Bengal, Supriya Chowdhury (Debi). 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.” Sabitri Chattejree said: “So many memories are flashing before me. We were talking about her last night also during a shoot. We were regularly in touch over telephone. It’s a huge loss.”