An excerpt from the book, Gulzar’s Aandhi: Insights Into the Film by Saba Mahmood Bashir on the protagonist, Suchitra Sen from the chapter ‘The Stellar Cast’ :

‘Suchitra Sen was an era’ is the opening sentence of Shoma A. Chatterji’s book, Suchitra Sen: The Legend and the Enigma, quoting the journalist Ranjan Bandyopadhyay. A lot is established by this single line. Suchitra Sen ruled Bengali cinema for decades and gave powerful performances in Deep Jwele Jaai (1959) and Uttar Falguni (1963) among many others. Beginning her career with Shesh Kothay (1952), she continued to give powerful peformances, one after the other, till the year 1978 when she quit cinema after Pronoy Pasha (1978). In Hindustani cinema, she is remembered for Devdas (1955), Bombai ka Babu (1960), Mamta (1966) and, of course, Aandhi. Although she acted in very few Hindi films, her ethereal beauty, screen presence and emotive powers led to her popularity among viewers, and she was considered at par with actresses who starred in many more films than her. Sen’s personal photographer, Dhiren Deb, claimed that he had never ‘met a woman more decent, warmer, more beautiful, more complete and ideal’ than her. Chatterji writes that Suchitra’s choice of roles indicated she was a woman with a mind of her own at a time when most actresses were happy doing whatever they were offered. Often, she played the role of a working woman, a rare phenomenon in those days .

Suchitra’s choice of roles indicated she was a woman with a mind of her own at a time when most actresses were happy doing whatever they were offered. Often, she played the role of a working woman, a rare phenomenon in those days.

Maitreyee B. Chowdhury, in the book Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen, writes, ‘Suchitra Sen evokes the image of a woman of incredible beauty and grace, with large haunting eyes. Yet she remains an enigma.’ She adds, ‘The way she dressed, her makeup, her way of talking, everything bespoke of a woman in command of herself and accustomed to attention.’

The persona of Aarti Devi’s character was a good fit for Suchitra Sen’s personality.

Maybe this was the reason why Gulzar chose Suchitra Sen to play the role of Aarti Devi. The director himself says that he had always wanted to cast Suchitra Sen in a film, but decided to approach her only once he had written a role which suited her talent . The persona of Aarti Devi’s character was a good fit for Suchitra Sen’s personality. Chatterji quotes an interesting anecdote between Gulzar and Suchitra Sen, highlighting the equation between the two – in that, both of them would address each other as ‘Sir’. Although he was younger to Sen, in both ‘age and experience’, Gulzar says that she insisted in addressing him as ‘Sir’, much against the requests of Gulzar. So, he too started addressing her as ‘Sir’. The two of them continued using this salutation with each other even after the film was wrapped up .

Excerpted with permission from Gulzar’s Aandhi: Insights Into the Film by Saba Mahmood Bashir, HarperCollins.

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