They had never met but Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi stayed in their home …what happened then?

Posted: February 14, 2018 in Art, Beauty, Friendship, Women
Tags: , , ,

Sipra Banerjee, Uttam Kumar, Supriya Devi and Amiya Banerjee (extreme right)

Dr Amiya Banerjee, my mother’s brother, my uncle, whom I call Chhotomama, is not only an acclaimed scientist he is someone who has worn many feathers in his cap. Not one to ever boast of his achievements or experiences, Chhotomama never spoke about his association with the doyen of Indian cinema Uttam Kumar and actress Supriya Devi.

All our life I had heard our relatives talking with pride about Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi staying in my Chhotomama’s home in the US in the late 70s. After Supriya Devi’s recent demise, for the first time I got talking to Chhotomama about Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi. What he told me is truly interesting.

Here is the conversation:

How did you meet them?

In the September of 1979, we – The Tagore Society of New York – invited Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi to spend some time with his devoted admirers and we featured some of his films.  We wanted to behold in person the greatest Nayak of our time. My friend Ramkrishna, a close associate of Uttam Kumar, worked tirelessly to convince him to accept our offer. The rest was history!
Being the President of the Society, I had the privilege and honor to host them and spend some extraordinary time with them during their stay at our home.

Did you make any special preparations before they came?

There was palpable excitement in our home before their arrival. We could not do any special arrangements except making our guest room in our Verona home in New Jersey neat, clean and welcoming. Both my wife Sipra and I were busy with our respective work schedules during the day. I was a faculty staff at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, NJ and Sipra was in the faculty in New York University Medical School in NYC. She had to commute everyday to the City and we were also taking care of our 11-year-old daughter Rini and 4-year-old son Arjun. Even if we wanted to make special arrangements we couldn’t because we were so busy juggling work and home.

Uttamda and Supriya di always expressed happiness in our home and never for once complained about anything. Our house was located atop a hill and had to be approached by a winding road and had the most breathtaking view of New York City. They loved the view.

While going to bed at night the very thought that two of the biggest stars of Bengali cinema were sleeping in my home in the next room was the most surreal feeling. Many of our guests, who stayed later in the same guest room, would ask us with awe, “So this is where they stayed?”

How were they as guests?

At home they dressed up simply and ate simple food. They never had any special demands. Supriyadi became like our elder sister.  She had an indelible simplicity around her. Despite being such a huge star she never thought twice before helping out Sipra in the kitchen. Although Sipra did most of the cooking and did not allow her to do much but she was always ready to help.

Uttam Kumar mesmerized the Indian community by his charm, his politeness, and above all by his unforgettable smile. We all started to call him Uttamda and I was awestruck when he started calling me Amiyada. He told me his reason was that everyone around called me by that name, so why not him.

Uttam Kumar, Supriya Devi and Sipra Banerjee exploring New York. The photograph has been clicked by Amiya Banerjee.

Tell us more about Supriyadi

Uttamda and Supriyadi had a wonderful relationship. They chatted, joked with each other and were always in a good mood. Here is an interesting anecdote which exemplified Supriyadi‘s simplicity. One morning Uttamda was sitting alone in our living room downstairs post breakfast when I had the opportunity to talk to him. I hesitantly told him, “Uttamda you may not know but we are very distant relatives.” He excitedly wanted to know how. I told him that his first wife Gouri was the daughter of my uncle Dr Dhirendra Nath Banerjee’s brother-in-law. Uttamda immediately said, “Tumi tahole Phanibabur chhele?” (You are Phanibabu’s son?)  He told me how much he admired my uncle and his family.

Next time when I was alone with Supriyadi, she suddenly asked me, “Amiyada  tumi nischoi amar upor rege acho?” I was surprised. She said, “Ami je tomar Gouri r katch theke tomar Uttamda ke niye niyechi.” I looked at her she looked so sincere. I was touched by her simplicity and honesty.

Supriyadi was always thinking about Uttamda‘s family. Sipra took her for shopping where she was more interested to buy gifts for Uttamda’s newly born grandchild and other relatives. She did not buy much for herself.

We explored NYC all of us together sometimes taking a cab, sometimes the subway and sometimes on foot. They found it really liberating to be able to walk around without fans chasing them. But at a restaurant in NYC one Bangladeshi staff member recognized them and immediately came to our table with drinks saying it was on the house. They both accepted his warmth with humility.

We never imagined that there would be so much madness at the screenings and at the shows. Bengalis came from far and wide to catch a glimpse of them and there was often mayhem. In the midst of this Uttamda stayed completely unfazed so did Supriyadi.

In fact, once a lady just went ahead and hugged Uttamda and started screaming to her husband, “Tolo! Tolo!” The husband initially was flabbergasted but then he swung into action and started clicking with his camera. Supriyadi would smile at all this because I am sure she was so used to seeing women going berserk seeing Uttamda.

Amiya Banerjee, Supriya Devi, Uttam Kumar and Sipra Banerjee at the stars’ home at Moira Street

Then how did the invitation to their home happen?

When they left after a month of busy stay with us (also visiting Toronto and Los Angeles) Uttamda asked me and Sipra to promise to call him when we would visit Kolkata in January 1980. Deep in my heart I was not sure if they would remember us. They were such big stars I was sure they would be busy so I never picked up the phone to dial their number when we were there.

When Ramkrishna called me he proved me totally wrong. He told me excitedly that he was searching for my contact fervently on the behest of Uttam Kumar.  The star wanted to invite us to his home for dinner. I was dumb-struck because, never in my wildest dream I thought the Superstar would remember us.

How were Uttam-Supriya as hosts?

Uttamda and Supriyadi welcomed us to their home standing at the top of the stairwell. They were truly happy to see us. Supriyadi hugged Sipra with genuine affection. At the time of dinner she told us that she personally went to Gariahat market to buy galda chingri and ilish macch. She cooked everything herself. The taste of the dishes clearly testified her prowess in cooking.

That evening at their Moira Street residence will remain etched in my memory as one of the best evenings of my life. I met legendary singer Shymal Mitra, a close friend of Uttamda, for the first time. And I had the rare honour of singing sitting in front of him. The evening was full of music  – Uttamda and Shymalda both sang – plenty of drinks and ended with a sumptuous dinner, the taste of which still lingers on my tongue.

Their hospitality was simply impeccable. The party ended around 2 am. Their driver dropped us home. Tragically, Uttamda passed away in the same year in July.

Uttam Kumar singing at the party at his place

Did you keep in touch with Supriyadi?

After Uttamda passed away we met Supriyadi only once. We went to see theater in North Kolkata and she had acted in that play. It was probably in 1982 or 83. We met her backstage. She was very happy to see us. I regret very much that we did not visit her or keep in touch after that even though we visited Kolkata many times.

 

Dr Amiya Banerjee is a scientist. His many breakthrough researches in virology have been highly acclaimed internationally. He is a former Chairman of the Departments of Molecular Biology and Virology in the Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland , USA. He is a well known Ranbindrasangeet singer and has been one of the favourite students of late Debabrata Biswas. He has held important posts in various Bengali organizations in the US and has a huge contribution in keeping the Bengali culture vibrant and thriving in America.

 

 

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