Remembering Swatilekha Sengupta’s Bimala And Aarti

Swatilekha Sengupta Belashuru, Remembering Swatilekha Sengupta, Swatilekha Sengupta Death
Remembering Swatilekha Sengupta: The internet lamented Sandip (Soumitra Chatterjee) and Bimala passed away within a year, the Bela Seshe family has lost the two senior members, as Swatilekha Sengupta passed on after a prolonged battle with kidney ailments. The veteran Bengali actor was 71-years-old. In November last year actor Soumitra Chatterjee and her co-star of two of her most successful films passed away after a prolonged illness.

I am a late bloomer as far as appreciating Bengali films is concerned, but as a literature student when we studied Rabindranath Tagore’s Gaire Baire (The Home And The World) as a textbook not watching the film was never an option. That was my first brush with Swatilekha Sengupta’s work. Her debut was as a Satyajit Ray heroine in Tagore’s work. Bimala who had lived largely at home opens up to the idea of the world when Sandip her husband’s friend comes to stay with them. Sandip is a revolutionary who burns British clothes but smokes French Cigars. He is also the first man Bimala interacts, outside her home. Nikhilesh (Victor Bannerjee), her ideal husband believes that his wife should not remain confined in the four walls of their home. He even hires a governess to teach her English.

The heady idea of nationalism that Sandip embodies excites Bimala. She crosses the boundaries of the ‘home’. Sengupta as Bimala has often been considered as one of Ray’s most controversial heroines. She plays the piano and as a married woman, she kisses her husband’s friend on-screen and this was the mid-80s. Sengupta reportedly battled depression after this success.

Another of her films that touched me is Bela Seshe, again opposite the iconic Soumitra Chatterjee. A wonderful story of relationships. She plays Aarti, whose husband Biswanath Mazumdar (the patriarch of a typical Bengali business family) wants to divorce her to make her independent. He feels there is nothing more to their relationship than them being a boring habit of each other. She acted in this film after a gap of 31 years in 2015. The film was helmed by Nandita Roy and Shivprasad Mukherjee.

Sengupta was a great admirer of Amitabh Bachchan. She mentioned to Filmfare that Amitabh Bachchan liked Bela Seshe and had corresponded with her after watching it. “He sent me a letter which I have preserved. I always wanted to meet Mr Bachchan but unfortunately, I could never meet him.” she said.

As the story unfolds the septuagenarian couple rediscover marriage and relationship. The film is an emotional journey that questions the givens in any relationship. There is a scene where Sengupta talks about “obhaash” or habit and how there are so many things she does which are never considered work.  They mend their marriage by accepting each other for who they are and it takes them 49 years to say these things to each other.

These two films remain with you for a long time after you have finished watching them.

More About Swatilekha Sengupta

Sengupta began as a theatre doyenne who started her career in Allahabad. She went on to win the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for her contributions. She was married to the founder of the theatre group Nandikar, Rudraprasad Sengupta. She had his full support throughout her tryst with fame. Her daughter Sohini Sengupta is also an acclaimed actor. Swatilekha even directed her daughter in a play named Khuje Nao. During the making of Ghaire Baire Sohini who was a kid accompanied her mother to the veteran Ray’s home for rehearsals. In an earlier interview Sengupta has said, “Never did our daughter complain of being neglected. As a student, Sohini fared well in exams and took interest in dance and music. We were more like friends, sharing and discussing various subjects”.

In the aforementioned interview, she also said, “With Sohini by my side, I have learnt to be practical and less judgmental in life. It is time for mothers to take a few tips on life from their daughters.”

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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