As the title indicates, the book reviewed here is about Uttam Kumar, the legendary superstar of Bengali films. The author’s website <sayandeb.in> describes it as the ‘first definitive cultural and critical biography’ of the actor. The descriptor may not be strictly accurate. A cursory reading indicates it is anything but a biography in the everyday sense of the term: indeed, it defies most conventional classifications. Which makes it incumbent on us to dwell briefly on what exactly the book stands for, and what it intends to secure. To this end I begin with another quote from the author’s website, which describes the book as ‘engag(ing) meaningfully with his life and his cinema, revealing the man, hero, and actor from various, often competing, vantages’. Another quote, this time from the last two pages of the book, posits: ‘Freud, Bangshi-da or Ray, in their own way, and in spite of their individual brilliance, never managed to get beyond the skin of genius. This book, naturally, makes no such claim’ (pp. 282-83). The first of the two quotes suggests an exegesis from multiple external points of view; the second represents an explicit eschewal of the internal. And so it is in these terms that we must perceive the book.
March 2023, volume 47, No 3