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The Legend Was Born: An Ode to Mahanayak Uttam Kumar

It is true that men have a financial clock and making a killing overnight is what we all crave. But the reality is often different; Different for different people. We all reach success at different times in our individual lives but each one of us has one thing in common. Yes, I am talking about hard work. Who else to portray better the effects of sheer hard work than “Mahanayak Uttam Kumar” himself?

The person whose core motivation was; “I will go to the top”, lived to his words and the legend was born. On 3rd September 1926, at Ahirtola in North Calcutta, under the darkness of British India, the bud of divine willpower and talent was born.

Arun Kumar Chattopadhyay was from an ordinary lower-middle-class family. His father Sri. Satkari Chattopadhyay was a film operator in Metro Cinema Hall. Smt. Chapla Devi was the one to bear him in her womb and in her heart for the rest of Kumar’s life. He had two brothers: Barun Kumar and Tarun Kumar.

Kumar was admitted to Chakraberia High School and later entered South Suburban School where he passed Matriculation. He was a cinema, theatre and jatra lover since childhood. In 1935, while still in school, he founded a theatre group called Lunar Club with his friends. Kumar's first role was in Rabindranath Tagore's Mukut. At the age of ten, he won a trophy for his role in the play. He joined Goenka College of Commerce and Business Administration for his higher studies but was unable to complete his education because of the financial difficulties his family was facing. Then he joined Kolkata Port Trust as a clerk, where he received a pay of 75 rupees per month.

After working in theatre and Port Trust for a few years, Kumar entered the film industry in 1947, in the Hindi film Mayadore which was never released. His first released film under his birth name Arun Kumar Chatterjee was the 1948 film Drishtidan directed by Nitin Bose.

He gave back-to-back seven flop films while the industry stated him as "Flop Master General". People thought he was not good enough to be a film star. It was in this difficult time that his wife Gouri Chatterjee stood by him prompting him to try again.

Uttam Kumar came to fame in Sare Chuattor and then in Agni Pariksha, starring in both the films with the gorgeous Suchitra Sen. His career took the turn he was waiting for and since then the megastar Uttam Kumar came into being.

Uttam Kumar acted in more than 200 films. He has been an actor, a playback singer, a composer and a director. He is the holder of many prestigious awards. He received two national awards in the years 1961 and 1963 for the films Saptapadi and Uttar Falguni respectively as the producer. Some of the greatest actors and actresses such as Elizabeth Taylor, Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Shammi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan have expressed their admiration for him. Tollygunge Metro station in Kolkata was renamed Mahanayak Uttam Kumar Metro Station in his honour. A life-size statue has been erected near Tollygunge metro station which in 2013 was renamed after the actor by the Central Railway Ministry.

Uttam Kumar had been loved madly by female fans for his charming smile and charismatic looks. Men copied his style and every gesture and are still emulating him in this era but Uttam Kumar was more than a pretty face and handsome man.

Kumar also did social work. In 1942 he joined the Indian Independence Movement. In 1945, he also helped Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army relief fund, by arranging the play "Ananda Math" from which he collected 1750 rupees and gave it to Bose's elder brother Satish Chandra Bose. In the 1946 Hindu-Muslim controversy he also involved them.

Soon after the legacy of the legend started to tremble as his health deteriorated over time. Kumar first had a heart attack during the shooting of Ray's Chiriyakhana. In fact, for much longer, his heart had been a problem. After his last attack in 1978, he was diagnosed with cardiac asthma. On 23 July 1980 around midnight, he felt severely ill. This time, suspecting an attack, he drove himself to Belle Vue Clinic, which was a five-minute drive from his Moira Street residence. At 3:00 am, he was admitted and attended by a medical board composed of eminent cardiologists. Nevertheless, he died a little after 9:00, on the evening of Thursday, 24 July 1980 at the age of 53.

He still lives and will live until the end of time. He will be remembered through his hard work, biographies and nevertheless through his immortal works in the Tollywood film industry.

Forward Media Group pays humble tribute to this maestro on His 96th Birth Anniversary.

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