Uttam Kumar is a common household name in those Bengali families which have even a little inclination towards Bengali cinema and its huge history. For the uninitiated, Uttam Kumar was one of the greatest actors (some say, he is the greatest) in Bengali and Indian cinema, thus earning the coinage ‘Mahanayak’ (Great actor). He was not only an actor but also a producer, director, singer and music composer. This article would go in a totally different direction if I start writing about his talent and his acting skills. I would only request those who haven’t watched any of his films to just start watching them now. They might be a little difficult to source, but some of them are easily available.
On his 37th death anniversary, Cinema Thek, a group of three friends -Rohit Mookherjee, Subhendu Das and Sourav Mukherjee – all with a background of film studies, put up a breathtaking show where original and rare film publicity materials of Uttam Kumar were put on display at Nandan. The exhibition comprised of 37 posters, 37 booklets, 37 lobby cards, 37 record covers, 37 books and magazines of Uttam Kumar’s films, right from Kaar Paape in 1952 to Uttam Kumar’s Hindi film Desh Premee in 1982 (directed by Manmohan Desai), including films such as Nayak(1966), Marutirtha Hinglaj (1959), Harano Sur (1957), Ogo Bodhu Sundori (1981) and many more. Viewers witnessed the almost lost art of poster making and got a sense of how the posters were thematically linked to the narrative. Courtesy of renowned collector Rudrajit Mookherjee, who has a huge collection of original visual material of yesteryears, the exhibition also raised an important question with regards to archiving and preservation of visual materials related to the huge film industry that not only Bengal but India possesses. We have heard quite a few number of times that a fire or an unfortunate accident has damaged reels or valuable film materials. It is us, who have to protect our history and this exhibition proves we need to come together and work harder for the preservation of our history.
Cinema Thek’s aim is to “preserve the print materials (original) in digital format particularly keeping in mind its perishable nature and its easy accessibilities to the film scholars, readers, viewers and cine lovers.” We wish Cinema Thek all the very best for their efforts in saving the rich film history of Bengal and India.