Bengali matinee idol Uttam Kumar is widely acknowledged as one of the best actors India ever had. In a career spanning more than three decades, Uttam Kumar appeared in 211 films, a number of which released after he passed away in 1980.
Pijush Bose’s 1975 film Baghbondi Khela is often considered the actor’s first appearance in a negative role. Uttam played an aspiring politician involved in cross-border smuggling, money laundering, illegal grabbing of property, and prostitution. The film, based on a story by popular author Prafulla Roy, performed below par at the box office since the Bengali audience couldn’t accept their favourite actor in an out and out villainous role.
But not many are aware that 12 years before Baghbondi Khela released, Uttam played the main antagonist in Sesh Anka, directed by Haridas Bhattacharya. The film was a taut thriller with an ensemble cast that included Sharmila Tagore, Bikash Roy, Sabitri Chatterjee, Kamal Mitra, Pahari Sanyal, and Utpal Dutt.
Uttam played Sudhanghsu, a widower, in Sesh Anka. He was engaged to Mala (Sharmila) and was about to marry her. He claims his first wife Kalpana committed suicide by jumping in front of a moving train in Burma. When his marriage rituals with Mala are underway, a lawyer named Suren Banerjee (Kamal), appears on the scene with a woman (Sabitri) who claims to be the real Kalpana. Suren alleges Sudhangshu to be an imposter. In the meantime, a mysterious man Karanjakkho Samaddar (Bikash), breaks into Sudhanghu’s home and steals the ornaments belonging to his first wife. The marriage is called off.
The case moves on to the courtroom where it’s revealed that Sudhanghsu murdered his first wife and dumped the body on the railway track to grab her property. The entire drama to expose Sudhanghsu was staged by Samaddar, who was a private detective, with help from Suren and others.
Uttam Kumar was already an established star with several hits like Agni Pariksha (1954), Sagarika (1956), Jhinder Bandi (1961), Bipasha (1962) and others to his credit. But he took a calculated risk to appear in a negative role at the height of his career. Sesh Anka was loosely based on Michael Anderson’s 1958 whodunit Chase a Crooked Shadow.
Sesh Anka was a box office hit and also won critical acclaim for Uttam’s performance.
Three years later, Uttam Kumar appeared in Satyajit Ray’s Nayak, the film which has since been stamped as the actor’s career-defining performance. Uttam’s role in the film had a fair dose of negative shades. Perhaps he was now more open to challenging roles having already tasted success as an antagonist in Sesh Anka.