Uttam Kumar and Satyajit Ray.
Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest directors of the world brought a new dimension to film-making in India, with his first film Pather Panchali, in 1955. As he believed in perfection in realistic approach in story telling, his casting was based on his own illustration of the character that he portrayed in the films. Very significantly a number of unknown faces were given a scope to perform in his films, including Karuna Banerjee, who played the role of the mother of Apu in Pather Panchali and Aparajito.
Critics wondered about the view of Satyajit Ray about the leading matinee idol of Bengali silver screen, Uttam Kumar, who was dominating Bengali commercial cinema in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Satyajit Ray clarified his stand by making a film on the greatest superstar of Bengali Uttam Kumar, titled Nayak, in 1966.
The film was based on the struggle of a middleclass Bengali person and the obstacles he had overcome to reach the number one spot in contemporary cinema. He accepted Uttam Kumar as the uncrowned king of Bengali cinema and showed that he was adored like a son by Bengali mothers, as husband by Bengali wives, as a brother by Bengali sisters. The film had won national and international awards.
In 1967, Satyajit Ray directed Uttam Kumar to play the role of a detective in the film Chiriakhana. The story was related to a number of murders that took place in a zoological area in the suburbs of Kolkata. Uttam Kumar played the role of Satyanyesi, meaning the finder of the truth, and showed his potential in depicting the different attributes of a detective right from level of understanding, analysing events to the skill of examination of witnesses.
Uttam Kumar received the national award for the best actor in that year, for his outstanding performance in Chiriakhana. He proved his metal even in a so called realised film which can be considered a work of art. Just because Soumitra Chatterji had played the role of significant characters in immense number of Ray’s films, there is a misconception that Ray overlooked the talent of Uttam Kumar. Ray never believed in making films which had conventional hero, so his character actors had made major contribution including Utpal Dutt in Agantuk, Tapen Chatterji and Robi Ghosh in Gopi Gayin Bagha Bayin, Chabi Biswas in Jalsaghar, Om Puri in Sadgati. He acknowledged the capability of Uttam Kumar in the two films he had worked with him and agreed that he was indispensable in the Bengali film industry.