An air of unattainability surrounded Suchitra Sen and yet it was impossible to look away from her. For me, Waheeda Rahman and Suchitra Sen define unattainable beauty, Sen more than Rahman. Rahman still has that amiability about her which Sen seemed to have done away with altogether.
In Sen’s passing at the age 82, one has a sinking feeling that age of stately women in Indian cinema has ended. Out of public glare since her retirement in 1978, Sen continued to cast a spell on a legion of movie lovers, especially those in Bengal where she is regarded as an icon. Although she acted in just a handful of Hindi movies—seven by most accounts—she did manage to leave a lasting impression on non-Bengali audiences. I have seen four of them, Devdas, Bambai Ka Babu, Mamta and Andhi. She never failed to captivate.
It is true that even in those chirpy, effusive roles/scenes Sen had a certain aloofness to her. See the first songs above from ‘Bambai Ka Babu’. The second song, supposed to be somber and sad, lets her be her natural self.
I think I have written about this before, the idea that those blessed with natural beauty, particularly women, have a way of appearing distant. It is a force that at once attracts and repels. There is something unsettling about people who are naturally beautiful in the way Sen was.