He might be the biggest superstar Tollywood has produced, but that didn’t mean Bengalis would tinker with tradition on a day which marks the beginning of Devi Paksha – when Durga Puja is all set to begin. The Bangla film Mahalaya, starring Jisshu Sengupta and Subhasis Mukherjee, directed by Soumik Sen, recreates the time when matinee idol Uttam Kumar, the biggest superstar of Bangla films, replaced the iconic Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s immensely popular programme Mahisasuramardini which is broadcast on All India Radio (AIR).
In the film, Jisshu plays the role of Uttam Kumar while Subhasis plays the character of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. So what happened in the year 1976? Well, AIR wanted to redo the programme which was made hugely popular by Birendra Krishna Bhadra, to the extent that people would set up alarms (they still do) to wake up at 4 a.m. to listen to the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra recite the Chandi Path, along with devotional songs.
As a result, they redid the programme, called it Debing Durgatiharinim and got Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar to do the narration. It was broadcast on September 23, 1976 and immediately invited huge backlash from the audiences who, despite all their love for Uttam Kumar, could not take him as the replacement for Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Huge protests erupted, AIR offices were stoned and flooded with calls from angry listeners. The original programme was run on Shosthi that year.
The likes of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Sandhya Mukherjee, Manabendra Mukherjee and Manna Dey were roped in. Uttam Kumar came on board after much convincing. It is reportedly said that Uttam Kumar himself was apprehensive about taking up the programme. He was paid Rs 250 for it. However, it fell flat. Therefore, AIR was forced to run the original programme from the next year onwards. Debing Durgatiharinim is broadcast on shasthi every year.
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