Suchitra Sen, the brightest icon and the ‘queen of hearts’ of Bengali films, sadly passed away on Friday, 17 January 2014, aged 82 in Kolkata, India. She succumbed to the respiratory malfunction and breathed her last at 8:25am this morning. She was born as Rama Desgupta in Pabna, Bangladesh on 6 April 1931. She left behind innumerable admirers of all ages on both sides of the border. It is a very sad day indeed for Bengali culture in general and Bengali film industry in particular.

Although she was not active since 1978, she remained an idol in the film industry. For people of our generation, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s on this of the border, to be able to see Suchitra-Uttam film (or even a small clip) was like getting something utterly unthinkable. All we could do was to read about the films she was making, hearing the songs in those films and create a picture in our minds. Subsequently, post partition and in overseas countries, when we could get hold of her films, we found that films were better than we imagined. Her acting, her little quips, her personality and her sheer talent could give so much pleasure that it is indescribable.

She acted in 52 Bengali films and seven Hindi films. Her most acclaimed and hit Bengali films were Agnipariksha (1954), Sagarika (1956), Harano Shur (1957), Saat Paake Bandha (1963), Saptapadi (1961), Akti Raat, Priyo Bandhabi (1975) and many more that gave immense pleasure to millions of people. Her most famous Hindi film was Devdas. Her last Bengali film was the Pronoy Pasha with Soumitra Chatterjee in 1975. But that film flopped and that gave her the shock to withdraw from public life. She was honoured at an international film festival in 1963 at Moscow and awarded the best actress for her role in Saat Paake Bandha. She is the actress who leaves behind an indelible mark in the chronicle of Bengali films with her beauty and talent.

Suchitra Sen left East Bengal just before 1947 partition and went to live and work in Calcutta. It was a great loss for our present Bangladesh. However, she left behind her ancestral home in Pabna, Bangladesh.
A friend of mine, a retired Ambassador of Bangladesh who comes from a very prominent family in Pabna with highly educated lineage right from the British Raj, produced the following discourse on Suchitra Sen’s ancestral home, based on his research and Indo-Asian News Service dated 27 July 2011, BBC Bangla News 21 Aug 2011 and The Daily Star news item of 27 July 2011).
Soon after the creation of East Pakistan her ancestral home was declared ‘vested property’. Sometime later, the permission was given to set up a primary school under the title ‘Imam Ghazzali Institute’ for a couple of years. This was obviously an Islamic Institute at primary level (up to class V) with the financial support from home and abroad. However, the Institute continued operating long after the termination of the lease contract. One Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) called the ‘Human Rights and Peace in Bangladesh’ felt strongly to take legal action against the Institute. (Incidentally, Suchitra Sen’s family members were unwilling or unable to do anything to recover their rightful property). The Institute Management embolden by their Islamic credential also went to the court and the case dragged on for years, moving from lower courts to higher courts. After a long time, the Dhaka High Court (HC) gave its judgement which directed the government to take over the ancestral home of Suchitra Sen from the illegal possession of land/ property grabbers and to protect it. The HC also directed the government to take legal action against the grabbers and submit a report with ten days.

However, after all these activities, no action was taken to recover the property. Subsequently a ‘stay order’ was issued to the Institute, indicating that there were very influential people backing the Institute. Recently a Tribunal has been set up to resolve the issue. In the meantime, the Institute continues to operate and it is reported that it had added some structures to the property.

The reason for giving all these details of Suchitra Sen’s property is that we must do something to recover it from the jaws of these religious zealots and convert it to a ‘Suchitra Sen Museum’. There was a strong support from the Bangladeshi educated, liberal minded people which we garnered. But because of the political turmoil in Bangladesh for about a year and this particular issue having a strong religious dimension, the issue was dropped or suspended.

Now the situation is right for us to pursue the case. But a strong support, both moral and material, of the overseas Bengali community who feel passionately to preserve our culture and heritage would be needed. To support this case, please list your name, your email address and the city you live in the comment section. The first step would be to produce an Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh appealing for the recovery of the property from the clutches of religious zealots; and a copy of that letter would be sent to the Chief Minister of West Bengal. We will then pursue the case until we succeed in preserving Suchitra Sen’s home as a Museum for our posterity.

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