Genteel Aspirations: A Study of Uttam Kumar and the Image of the bhadralok through three of his Films

Atmadeep Sengupta
Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts

Abstract

In 2018, Anandabazar Patrika, one of the most prominent Bengali dailies in operation, enlisted Uttam Kumar, one of the most prominent actors of Bengali cinema of post-Independence Bengal, as the benchmark of quintessential Bengali romantic (Mandal, 2018). Evidently, this particular image would have been impossible without Uttam Kumar being able to establish himself as the benchmark of the English-educated middle-class Bengali gentleman or bhadralok, who holds a revered place in the Bengali society. It is interesting to note that this particular image of Uttam Kumar has persisted despite his conscious attempts of repeated experimentation with characters, including that of a detective, a psychologist, a manservant and, very interestingly, what can be called a “cinematic self-critique” (Chowdhury, 2017) of himself. This essay will try to investigate into this particular bhadralok image that Uttam Kumar carries on to this date, even thirty-eight years after his death. This essay will try to analyse whether Uttam Kumar can be regarded as the bhadralok on screen. This will be done through textual analysis of three of his films – Harano Sur (1954), in which he essays the role of the amnesiac owner of a private firm, Lal Pathar (1964) in which he plays the role of a whimsical, self-obsessed feudal landlord and Nayak (1967) in which he performs the role of a star and thus becomes self-reflexive. In the process, other elements like how the bhadramahila complements his presence on screen as a bhadralok, as well as the questions that emerge with his rise as a star, shall also be taken into account. 

Keywords: bhadralok, Bhadramahila, Star, Private Sphere, Nationalism, Cinema