Suchitra Sen, India’s Greta Garbo, dies aged 82

Rich tributes paid to screen idol of Bengali and Hindi films who became a recluse after retiring in 1978.

The Indian actress Suchitra Sen, known for her memorable roles in both Bengali language and Bollywood films, died in Kolkata on January 17, 2014, at the age of 82. AP Photo
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MUMBAI // Suchitra Sen, the actress often described as India’s Greta Garbo after she quit acting at the height of her career to lead a hermit-like existence, died on Friday. She was 82.

Sen was hospitalised in Kolkata more than three weeks ago for treatment of a respiratory infection and died following cardiac arrest, said her daughter, Moon Moon Sen, who is also an actress.

She was to be cremated later on Friday.

Prime minister Mamohan Singh led the tributes to a woman who “carved a special niche in the hearts of millions of Indians through her graceful cinematic presence”.

“Ms Sen’s versatility and range of performances, in a career spanning nearly three decades, mark a unique contribution to Indian cinema, and to Bengali films in particular,” he said.

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, 71, said she “adorned the film world of Bengal with exquisite performances ... She graced Hindi films too!”

Sen started acting in 1952 and reigned supreme for 26 years. She won fame in Bengali films, especially co-starring with actor Uttam Kumar. The two become icons for Bengali melodramas and romantic movies through the 1960s and the 1970s. Her most memorable Bengali films included Agnipariksha and Saat Paake Bandha.

The doe-eyed beauty acted in 57 Bengali and seven Hindi films.

She made her debut in Bollywood with the 1955 film Devdas, co-starring with Dilip Kumar, another legendary actor, and won the best actress award for the movie. Another big Bollywood hit was Aandhi, in which she played the role of a politician inspired by the life of the then-Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

Sen was the first Bengali actress to be honoured at an international film festival, when she won the best actress award at the 1963 Moscow film festival for her role in Saat Paake Bandha. The Indian government honoured her with a Padma Shri, a top civilian award, in 1972.

She left the acting world in 1978 and subsequently lived in quiet seclusion.

The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, reportedly the first public figure to meet the actress in 35 years, described Sen as a “colossal figure”.

“She was a wonder. She was not just a legend,” Ms Banerjee said.

Sen married Dibanath Sen, an industrialist, in 1947 before launching her acting career. Her husband died in the early 1970s.

Her granddaughters Riya and Raima are also actresses.

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press