Bengali actress Suchitra Sen dead, Mamata orders gun salute

Suchitra Sen, the undisputed 'queen' of Bengali cinema, died this morning and was later cremated in Kolkata amid a gun salute ordered by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The actress, one of the leading lights of Bengali cinema in its 'golden age' who also had a couple of Bollywood hits to her credit, died of a heart attack in Kolkata's Belle Vue Clinic. She was 82.

Mamata Banerjee, a frequent visitor while the actress was in hospital, officially announced Sen's death, saying, "The passing away of 'Mahanayika' (great actress), I feel in world cinema and in Bengali cinema is a big and sad news. Such a talent is born only once and there is no parallel. Today is extremely saddening for us. We have lost someone important today."

Banerjee was the only public figure to have been admitted into the reclusive star's presence in the last 35 years.

She also said that Sen's family had requested that they be allowed to carry out the last rites in peace.

The actress had been in hospital since 23 December, being treated for a respiratory tract infection. She was dependent on oxygen support and grown very weak over the last few days.

Sen began her career with the unreleased Bengali film Shesh Kothai in 1952 and is known to Hindi film audiences for her roles in Bimal Roy's Devdas (1955) and Gulzar's Aandhi (1975).

With actor Uttam Kumar, she made up one-half of Bengali cinema's most beloved screen couple, delivering hit films such as Harano Sur, Sagarika, Chaowa Paowa and Agnipariksha.

Suchitra Sen's most acclaimed performances were in the Bengali films Dweep Jele Jaai (1959), in which she played a psychiatric nurse involved with a male patient, and Uttar Falguni (1963), in which she played the double roles of a courtesan and her lawyer daughter.

Sen was also the first Indian actress to be awarded at an international film festival, winning Best Actress for Saptapadi at the Moscow Film Festival in 1963.

After her 1978 movie Pronoy Pasha flopped, Suchitra Sen retired from public life, living so reclusively that she allegedly refused the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2005 because it meant making a public appearance.

Suchitra Sen was married to Dibanath Sen, scion of one of Kolkata's most prominent business families. She is survived by her daughter Moon Moon and granddaughters Raima and Riya, all three actresses.