Since the inception of talkies in Bengali cinema, the ‘wedding’ has been one of the most predominant themes in Bengal’s filmography. Be it a romantic saga ending in a wedding, a loveless marriage or the poignant tale of a child bride in a morally bankrupt society, the Bengali bride was a recurring face in movies. Decked in the characteristic red saree, with simple motifs in Chandan adorning the face and a Rajanigandha garland around the neck, almost all major Bengali actresses essayed the quintessential bride on the silver screen more than once.
We decided to take a tour down the memory lane and revive the iconic scenes that captured the Bengali bride at her most vulnerable, untethered and cherished moments.
1. Sharmila Tagore as ‘Aparna’ in Apur Sansar (1959)
This scene has earned a place in the international cinematic hall of fame for its brilliant portrayal of a plethora of emotions in a single frame. Conceived by none other than Satyajit Ray, with Subrata Mitra’s cinematography, the scene shows a young, newlywed Aparna after arriving at her accidental husband’s shabby rented cabin in Calcutta. Hailing from an affluent family in East Bengal, Aparna has never seen poverty as starkly as evident inside Apu’s room. Indeed, a confused Apu did warn her on their wedding night about his financial constraints, but reality struck Aparna more deeply than she imagined. Here, the unpleasant tear in the curtain resonates with the teardrop trickling down her tired, kohl-lined eyes.
2. Suchitra Sen as ‘Rama’ from Harano Sur (1957)
The graceful Mahanayika won accolades and hearts for playing the resilient doctor and lover Rama Banerjee in Harano Sur, opposite Alok played by Uttam Kumar. Rama and her amnesiac patient Alok fall deeply in love and get married in a simple ceremony. This scene is a snapshot from the mellifluous number ‘Tumi Je Amar’, sung by Geeta Dutt and picturised on Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar, seated romantically beneath a flowering Champaka tree on a moonlit night. Suchitra here is seen as the blushing bride, lost in the arms of her lover and dreaming of a lifetime together.
3. Kabori Sarwar as ‘Rajar Jhi’ in Titash Ekti Nadir Naam (1973)
The underrated brilliance that was Ritwik Ghatak’s silent frames in between heavy dialogues or turnaround scenes is evident in this forgotten moment. A newlywed Kishore steals a romantic glance at his wife Rajar Jhi en route his hometown. Tucked carefully under the boat deck, Rajar Jhi returns a shy smile, probably remembering the passionate wedding night. Seconds later, Rajar Jhi is abducted by bandits from another boat – the event that sets the course of the story.
4. Jaya Bhaduri (Bachchan) as ‘Mansa’ in Dhanni Meye (1971)
This classic comedy brings together the two ultimate love of Bengalis – football and Uttam Kumar. One of Jaya Bhaduri’s (before she became Bachchan) very few Bengali films, her character here is that of the mischievous village girl Mansa, who falls for the opponent football team captain Bagala, essayed by a young and charming Partha Chatterjee. An orphan Mansa’s uncle forces her into a sudden wedding. This is the scene at the altar when Mansa is relieved and happy to see her crush Bagala as her would-be husband.
5. Maushumi Chatterjee as ‘Rajni’ in Balika Badhu (1967)
A rather curious take on a social curse, Balika Badhu depicts the blooming friendship and love between two youngsters forced into a child marriage. Maushumi Chatterjee as the beautiful Rajni is seen here on her wedding night, anticipating a lifetime’s journey with her young husband Amol. Aglow in crimson glory of a newlywed bride, Rajni smiles shyly while a confused Amol waits behind.
6. Suchitra Sen as ‘Archana’ in Saat Pake Bandha (1963)
The movie that earned the unparalleled Suchitra Sen The Best Actress honour at the Moscow International Film Festival, shows a tumultuous marriage between Archana and Sukhendu (Soumitra Chatterjee) that leads to eventual separation. This scene from their wedding captures the bold and fearless Archana caught in a moment of introspection – possibly torn between her heart’s calling and the red flags in Sukhendu’s nature that she lovingly ignored. The moment shows Archana calmly entering into the lifetime bond of matrimony, while perhaps somewhere in her subconscious her mother’s strong disapproval about Sukhendu rings aloud.
7. Shampa Ghosh as ‘Yashobati’ in Antarjali Yatra (1989)
The movie poignantly portrays the brutal medieval custom of getting a young girl married to a Kulin Brahmin on the deathbed, and later hail her into the burning pyre of her late husband as a ‘Sati’. Shampa Ghosh arrests the young Yashobati’s lifeless expression brilliantly after being forced to marry a senile Seetaram, left to die on the river bank. While her remorseless family rejoices her sacrifice, bride Yashobati slips into the nightmare of being burnt alive soon.
8. Sohini Sengupta as ‘Khuku’ in Paromitar Ekdin (2000)
Although technically not a bride, this scene from Paromitar Ekdin is heartwrenching, credits to Sohini Sengupta’s splendid portrayal of a schizophrenic Khuku. On her elder brother’s wedding day, Khuku is enamoured by the beautiful bride (Rituparna Sengupta) and fantasizes her own wedding. She pesters everyone asking about her own wedding when her heartbroken mother Shanaka (Aparna Sen) strikes her with the harsh reality – her psychological disorder would never let her become a bride. Later that night, Khuku emerges from her room dressed as a bride and confronts her inebriated brother on the staircase. The scene is heartwarming yet haunting at the same time.
8. Aishwarya Rai as ‘Binodini’ in Chokher Bali (2003)
The poster of Rituparno Ghosh’s 2003 masterpiece Chokher Bali is iconic given that we see Binodini as a widow almost throughout the entire film. Widowed prematurely, Binodini still craves to be a wife – loved, pampered and cherished by a husband – which makes her envy Ashalata and Mahendra’s blissful marital life. She still wants to dress up in red saree and jewellery which was forbidden for a widow in 19th century Bengal. The blink and miss scene of Binodini as a resplendent bride stays in the audience’s heart all along the movie as her attitude and actions reaffirm her deep yearning to be a wife.