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Supriya Devi (1933-2018): The Legend of Bengali Cinema


By Rimli Bhattacharya

Born on 8 January, 1933 as Krishna Banerjee in Burma, Supriya Devi’s father, Gopal Chandra Banerjee, was a lawyer. Post World War II, her family relocated to Calcutta (now Kolkata). They were refugees since 1942 in Burma till the Japanese troupes occupied Burma. They moved to India in 1948.

I see myself in her as I took to dancing when I was a little girl of four; so was Devi, who started dancing as a little child. She was seven, when she made her debut in acting in two plays directed by her father.  In Calcutta, she fine-tuned her steps under Guru Murithappan Pillai and Guru Prahlad Das. It was with Chandrabati Devi’s inspiration and contacts that Devi started her full time career in acting in the world of Bengali films.

During her acting stint, she had featured in forty-five Bengali movies till 2006. Her last movie was The Namesake, directed by the Indian American filmmaker, Mira Nair, where she played the role of a grandmother. Her debut film was Basu Paribar (1952) in which she paired with the legendary actor, Uttam Kumar. In 1960, she featured in Ritwik Ghatak’s iconic movie, Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud Capped Star), where she plays the heart tugging role of Neeta, the sole earning member of an uprooted refugee family during the Partition of India. As she is admitted to a sanatorium because of consumption, she tells her jobless elder brother, who dreams to be a singer and with whom she shares a unique bond, that she wants to live. This movie was based on an eponymous Bengali novel by Shaktipada Rajguru. Meghe Dhaka Tara is the first from the Partition trilogy by Ghatak, followed by Komal Gandhar (1961) and Subarnarekha (1962).

Supriya Devi on Meghe Dhaka Tara

Some of her other notable films include Sonar Harin (1959), Natun Fasal (1960), Uttarayan (1963), Chowringhee (1968), Sabarmati (1969), Bagh Bandi Khela (1975), etc.

Devi acted till 1952 and then took a break. She married Bishwanath Choudhury in 1954. A daughter, Soma, was born out of the wedlock. It was during this period she took a break and then returned to acting in 1958 with Marmabani. The couple divorced and later Devi had a live-in relationship with the late veteran actor, Uttam Kumar.

Devi was also a passionate cook. She hosted a popular cooking show, ‘Benudir Rannaghar’ on television and published a cookbook, Benudir Ranna Banna.

She was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2014 for her contributions to the entertainment industry. She was also conferred with the BFJA Award two times and, in 2011, she received the Banga-Vibhushan, the highest civilian honour in West Bengal.

She lived a life like no other and lost her battle today (26 January) at her Ballygunj residence, Kolkata, to cardiac arrest. She was eighty five. She leaves behind her aggrieved daughter, Soma Chattopadhyay, who confirmed that she was ailing since last few years. As the film industry and noted politicians grieved her loss, Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, tweeted “Very saddened at the passing of legendary actress of Bengal, Supriya Chowdhury (Debi). We will fondly remember her through her films. Condolences to her family and fans.”

Her death came as a rude shock to actors, Soumitra Chatterjee, with whom she has acted in Jodi Jantem, and Sabitri Chatterjee, who were her closest friends in the film industry. All three belonged to the same era, when Devi started her acting career.

Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, West Bengal power minister, visited her residence to pay tributes and said that arrangements were being made on behalf of the state government for the last rites.

We wish our hero, Supriya Devi, a happy resurrection!

Rimli Bhattacharya 
completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76


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