2009 is the year of Sharmila Tagores 50 years in Indian cinema. In 1959 we first saw her in the film Apur Sansar by Satyajit Ray.Apur Sansar was the first film of both the lead characters of the film Soumitra Chattopadhyayand Sharmila Tagore.
What attracted Ray to Sharmila? Its a very difficult question. The answer could be - a) A new face, b) An educated mind, c) Dimple on her cheek or d) her big eyes? Probably, its her eyes.
Sharmila was born on 8th December 1946. She was born in Bengali Brahmo family in Hyderabad. She is the elder daughter of Gitendranath Tagore who was then in 1946, the Deputy General Manager of the British India Company, owner of Elgin Mills. Later they shifted to Kolkata in the early 50s. Her younger daughter Tinku Thakur played a role of the little kid in Tapan Sinhas Kabuliwala. But his elder daughter Rinku was then far off from cinema. But irony of fate is that Tinku never acted in cinema after Kabuliwala, Rinku though acted a few years later remained in cinema for long 50years. I was earlier talking about what got Ray attracted to Sharmila. I had also mentioned, that probably her big expressive eyes. The reason is that Ray used Sharmilas eyes not only in the poster but also in the film Debi a year later in 1960.
In Apur Sansar, Sharmila was only 13 and in Debi she was 14. She didnt know anything about acting and anything about life. She only did what the director was saying. So, her mind was not at all important to the director, her look, her presence was important to Ray.
But who knowsshe has a beautiful figure too and her face has a pan-Indian appeal. That means her looks was not a typical Bong-look, she looked liked an Indian. Shakti Samanta realized this first and he placed her in the Bollywood film like Kashmir Ki Kali opposite Shammi Kapoor in 1961. And Bengali films lost a potential actress forever. Because Kashmir Ki Kali was a huge success and Sharmila became the most sought after heroine in Bombay.
But Sharmila, though became very busy in Bombay, she adjusted her time for good Bengali film. So in 1963 we found her in Sesh Anka, Nirjan Saikate, Chhaya Surjo, Barnali & Sesh Prahar.
Sesh Anka was a murder mystery were she was paired against veteran Uttam Kumar. She was like a prop in the film. But in Nirjan Saikate she was more an actress, than a mere prop. Again in Chhaya Surjo, a film by Partha Prartim Choudhury she acted brilliantly. But it was totally a directors film. Sharmila was there, but she was a puppet in the directors hand.
In 1964 she acted in three films like Kinu Goyalar Goli, Probhater Rong & Subha O Debotar Grass. Only in the film Subha O Debotar Grass, she was brilliant and again it was Partha Pratim Choudhurys film.
In the meantime she became the busiest actress in Mumbai. And after six long years of Debi, again Satyajit Ray summoned her for the film Nayak. This time pitted again against Uttam Kumar, but for the first time we found a mature Sharmila. It was not the same Sharmila whom we found against Uttam Kumar three years back in Sesh Anka. Here though it was directed by Ray, Sharmila was not a puppet in the hand of the director. And we found that Sharmilas Bengali diction was as good we heard 7years back. Even after 50years of her acting career and 45years of staying in Mumbai, her Bengali is as good as a pure Bong. We found it in her recent Antaheen directed by Aniruddha Roy Choudhury.
After Nayak, Sharmila did Evening In Paris in 1967. It was again with Shammi Kapoor. At this time, she could have hardly managed any time for Bengali films. But Satyajit Ray again summoned her for Aranyer Dinratri in 1970. After 11years, she was again paired against Soumitra Chatterjee. Her personality, her acting was necessary for Ray in the character she portrayed in that film. And because of the same personality and acting caliber, she again appeared in 1971 to act in Rays Seemabaddha. She has a mysterious quality in her personality which was first discovered by Ray what he did utilize in those two films. Ray never used her eyes after Debi. It was not needed. It was her presence that was needed by Ray.
Apart from Rays work, Sharmila acted in Bengali films like Mother, Kalankini Kankabati, Tanaya, Pratidan, Anurodh - but she was highly acclaimed in Shakti Samantas double version film Amanush, this time again we saw her against Uttam Kumar, but this time she acted as a guide of Uttam Kumar, because Amanush was the comeback film of Uttam Kumar in Hindi.
So if we study three films of Sharmila Tagore with Uttam Kumar in a span of 20years Sesh Anka, Nayak & Amanush we would be able to find the development of an actress.
With Gautam Ghose in his Abar Aranye sequel to Rays Aranyer Dinratri, we found Sharmila again in Bengali cinema. This times she is aged, mother of adult children, but she carried the nuances of Rays film in the sequel too.
Rituparno Ghosh used her in his murder mystery Subha Mahurat, where she played a retired actress and the main culprit. Her scene with Rakhee Gulzar is unique and will remain as a show-piece of two acting talents.
She acted in Antaheen by Aniruddha Roy Choudhury. We have found both Aparna Sen and Sharmila Tagore in the same frame. This will remain historical piece, but nothing else.
Sharmila is still acting, but these days in some meaningful films. Hope we will find her in some meaningful Bengali films some day in near future.