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Uttam Kumar: A Life in Cinema

Sayandeb Chowdhury (Author)

'There is none like Uttam and there will be no one to ever replace him. He was and he is unparalleled in Bengali, even Indian cinema.'-Satyajit Ray, Oscar-winning Indian film-maker


Actor and screen icon Uttam Kumar (1926-1980) is a talismanic figure in Bengali public life. Breaking away from established codes of onscreen performance, he came to anchor an entire industry and led the efforts to reimagine popular cinema in mid-20th-century Bengal. But there is pitifully less knowledge about Uttam Kumar in the learned circles-be it about his range of style and performance; the attractions and problems of his cinema; his roles as a producer and patriarch of the industry; or his persona, stardom and legacy.


The first definitive cultural and critical biography of this larger-than-life figure engages meaningfully with his life and cinema, revealing the man, hero and actor from various, often competing, vantages. The conceptual aim is to locate a star figure within a larger historical and cultural context, and to enquire into how a towering image was mobilised for an ever-greater, wholesome, popular and even, at times, radical and progressive entertainment. A complimentary métier of this work is to explore why and how this star persona would go on to reconstitute the bhadrolok Bengali visual and cultural world in the post-Partition period.


But above all, this is the story of a clerk who became an actor, an actor who became a star, a star who became an icon and an icon who became a legend.

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About the author

Sayandeb Chowdhury

Sayandeb Chowdhury teaches in the School of Letters at Ambedkar University Delhi and is a doctoral fellow in the Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. His research and teaching interests are in colonial and postcolonial visual modernisms, cinema and photography studies, adaptation studies and city studies. His essays have been published in Film International, Journal of South Asian History and Culture, South Asia Review, European Journal of English Studies, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), and scholarly collections Rituparno Ghosh: Cinema, Gender and Art (2016), Sea Narratives: Cultural Responses to the Sea 1600-Present (2016), L'entrée en ville: Aménager, Expérimenter, Représenter (2017), Mistrust: Developmental, Cultural, and Clinical Realms (2017), On the Politics of Ugliness (2018) and Ideas of the City in Asian Settings (2019). He was a UKNA Fellow at the International Institute of Asian Studies, Leiden, in 2015, and a Charles Wallace Fellow in 2016. He has written on art, books, politics and cinema for Huffington Post, The Monthly Review, Art India, Caravan Magazine, Café Dissensus, Outlook, Biblio, Indian Express, Critical Collective, TheWire, Scroll, Business Standard, The Hindu, Anandabazaar Patrika and others.

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Bibliographic information

Title Uttam Kumar: A Life in Cinema
Format Hardcover
Date published: 09.09.2021
Edition 1st ed.
Publisher Bloomsbury
Language: English
isbn 9789390358854
length 320p.