Supriya Choudhury – Interview
IT’S Burma. The time: the last world war. The Japanese army was coming in, and so was panic. Refugees were pouring out of the country — people of many nationalities, mostly Indians. A dispossessed, frightened mass of people, pursued by hunger, typhoid, bandits, they moved through jungle, swamp and slush. Ahead lay Calcutta and India—a place of no war yet, of sanctuary.
Many of the moving mass of humanity fell by the wayside, but those who stayed on their feet clung grimly to hope. At least this Indian family did so. There was the father who was leaving his all behind. And among his children — it was a large family — there was Supriya, a little girl of attractive dark complexion, with a pert nose and pixie features.
People who have really been seared by suffering seldom talk of it. Supriya Choudhury doesn’t often talk of her Burmese travail. And when she does so, it isn’t with any lingering bitterness. But it must have been a great traumatic experience, the shattering of her gay, protected, exotic childhood. Possibly it determined the tenor of the fine screen career that awaited her years later — in Bengal, where she is a top star, Supriya’s forte is the playing of “sober” roles, of portraying the suffering, patient young Indian woman.
Supriya is proud of Bengali films. Brilliant stories come up for filming, she says. And there is a small nucleus of equally brilliant directors. But recently she came to Hindi movies because of the obvious challenge and attraction — these movies are apt to be bigger, more varied. “In Calcutta I have to shed tears by the gallon,” she says. “Over here I want to play gay roles.”
The young Bengali actress will be seen in the Hindi films, “Dur Gagan Ki Chhaon Men” (produced by Kishore Kumar) and “Beganna” (produced by Sadashiv J. Row Kavi). She plays a country girl in the first — possibly a real departure from routine for Supriya — and a “sober” girl in the second, a girl loved by one man but married to another.
According to composer Hemant Kumar, a family friend, Supriya would have made her debut in Bombay films a little earlier, but certain deals initiated by some enterprising Bombay producers failed to come through. As in those deals, in the one leading to the actress being signed for “Dur Gagan Ki Chhaon Men,” Hemanta assisted.
Hemant (“Supriya’s husband Debu is as close to me as a brother,” he says) cites the actress’ essential simplicity and large-heartedness off screen. At least two films in which she was a hit had Hemanta’s music — “Swaralipi” and “Agni Sanskar.” In the first film, incidentally, Supriya played a singer, singing in playback Hemanta’s compositions. Supriya and Debu have a little daughter Soma, schooling in Darjeeling. Supriya loves her game of tennis, Hemanta says, and both she and her husband love music.
Supriya loves, too, dancing. For a while she trained in Bharat Natyam under a South Indian teacher.
The actress’ first loyalty is to acting. She was introduced to films by Chandravati Devi, the Bengali actress. Supriya made her debut in “Basu Parivar.” Then, for a while she went into oblivion — her father is said to have opposed her continuing in films.
Supriya married. Soma was born. Supriya’s centre of interest necessarily was her home — her husband and her new-born. Then as the child grew up, was able to withstand separation from her mother while she was working, Supriya returned to films. Her husband let her do so.
Films like “Amarpali,” “Swaralipi,” “Meghe Dhaka Tara” and “Agni Sanskar” established her as an actress of caliber. Though a logical choice for “sober” roles, Supriya has worked in a variety of films ranging from mythologicals to socials.
An expert swimmer, dancer, cyclist and “front-seat” driver, Supriya believes in actresses being versatile, in being accomplished at all the little practical graces of life. If there is something she doesn’t know, she says charmingly, she would go ahead and learn it. For example, she applied herself to learning Hindi and Urdu for her break into Bombay films — surprised colleagues by greeting them in chaste Urdu when she reported for shooting.
Supriya likes Bombay — its cosmopolitan outlook, the friendliness of the film fraternity here. She wants to do many more Hindi films — but only in really good roles. “My aim,” she smiles, “is not money. It’s art for art’s sake.” (This interview was conducted in 1963)