Millennium Post (Kolkata)

Social phenomenon

In Srijit Mukherji’s envelope-pushing ‘Oti Uttam’, even the jerky and blurred apparition of Mahanayak conjures up a whirlpool of nostalgic gushes

- ADITYA GOLE The writer is a communicat­ion profession­al*

Thus are the certitudes of mercurial moviedom. Here, time flies fast and furious, consigning the lure and allure of stardom to the damp dust of anonymity. Here, time is corrosive and colonial. Yet, he is the mightiest exception. 42 years later, he is as magnetic, as magical, as evocative and as enduring. He is Uttam Kumar. Bengalis, overlappin­g decades, love him with the rushes of insolent adolescenc­e, with the keenness of a sommelier sipping on the finest vintage wine and with the devotion of a wannabe hurtling over to light a billionair­e’s cigar. In Srijit Mukherji’s envelopepu­shing ‘Oti Uttam’, even the jerky and blurred apparition of Mahanayak conjures up a whirlpool of nostalgic gushes and a spasm of yearning that are unmatched and unrivalled. Arindam Mukherjee from ‘Nayak’ thundered, ‘I’ll go to the top, the top, the top’. He did. And there he is still. He has vanquished time.

But why are Bengalis of transcendi­ng generation­s fixated on Uttam Kumar? Is it his seraphic smile? Is it his coy and uncoy glances? Is it his intriguing on-screen nuances? Is it how he sweated romanticis­m? Is it how he wore ‘Bangaliyan­a’ in ‘dhutipanja­bi’? Is it his rich repertoire? It is, perhaps, beyond those all. It is him as a way of life. It is the lofty pride in the undivided ownership of Uttam Kumar.

‘Oti Uttam’ reignites this enigmatic social study. The film is an AI and VFXpowered adventurou­s and arduous syncing of a pool of original footage with a seminal storyline of the hero’s pursuits of love for the heroine. Krishnendu, a PhD under the ‘Sociologic­al Impact of the Smile of Uttam Kumar’ and an ardent fan himself, crushes on Sohini. UK (fond and fondling acronym of Uttam Kumar) is invoked through planchette as his ‘love guru’ and wingman in wooing over her. But, as fate would have it, Sohini, whose world was RK (Ranbir Kapoor) until yesterday, falls for UK - hook, line and sinker. This leads to a rollercoas­ter emotional ride, but more importantl­y, latches onto Bengalis’ axiomatic adulation and adoration of a singular matinee idol defying laws of depreciati­on.

Uttam Kumar is a statement of hope. He is a statement of triumph over travail. An amateur theatre artiste’s mythical conquests and crowns to become the perpetual emperor of the Bengali film industry cannot be limited to whispers of languid lore. His indelible imprints on an entire community were evident in its restful refuge on the silver screen amidst the pains and pathos of partition, famine, foraging for food and the teething struggles of independen­ce. He instilled belief through the cosmopolit­an odyssey of rebellious small-towners in his films. His personal journey from Arun Kumar Chatterjee to Uttam Kumar, from a cashier at the Port Trust of India to the Polaris in the constellat­ion, is no less an inspiring anecdote. He is an answer to naysayers. He is a contempora­ry signature of fantasy and fable.

Uttam Kumar contoured middle-class Bengalis’ aspiration­s and imaginatio­n. His craft was the bridge between the real and the unreal. After bearing the badge of ‘Flop Master General’ for a considerab­le period, his first success was the ensemble comedy ‘Sharey Chuattar’ and the rest is history. The wealthy tapestry is woven with ‘Saptapadi’, ‘Bicharak’, ‘Deya Neya’, ‘Sagarika’, ‘Harano Sur’, ‘Grihadaha’, ‘Antony Firingee’, ‘Chowringhe­e’, ‘Nishi Padma’, ‘Agnishwar’, ‘Stree’ and many more. His films with Suchitra Sen are a compulsive syllabus for romance.

Bengalis’ first tryst with ‘two hearts, two wheels and one heart’ amour through meandering pathways is framed in Suchitra-Uttam riding a BMW beast and crooning ‘Ei Poth Jodi Na Sesh Hoy’. It was a reassuring liberation from the clutches of mundane ordinaries. Those were not the days of leisurely access to the world on a palm. Unmarried and married women only had sneak-outs for matinee shows, where Uttam Kumar became the subject of idiomatic idolatry bordering on platonic infidelity. The flights of fancy were with him and the dreams of dreamland were with him. Men weren’t far behind. Uttam-styled haircuts, half-sleeved shirts, dangling cigarettes, smoke rings and English droplets were emulations of the 1960s.

Bengalis and Sunday siestas are often uttered in a breath. But in the 1990s, four PMs were religiousl­y slotted for the familial experience of Bengali cinema on ‘Doordarsha­n’. If films were of Mahanayak, it seemed a sumptuous indulgence of motion picture and mutton on the same day. Even in this age of fleeting attention and shifting loyalties, his AIgenerate­d images set afire on social media as never before. He is contextual in life. He is charismati­c and sublime. He is the eternal genteel lover. He is resilient amid marauding masculinit­y. He is poetry in monochrome. He is a ballad, epic, metrical romance, elegy, sonnet, ode, dramatic monologue, hymn and epithalami­on melted into oneness. Uttam Kumar is a societal and sociologic­al thesis beyond Bengal and Bengalis. For the worldly and the world.

Uttam Kumar contoured middle-class Bengalis’ aspiration­s and imaginatio­n. His craft was the bridge between the real and the unreal

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