Ruma Guha Thakurta was an actress active in Bengali films, a singer and founder of the song and dance troupe, the Calcutta Youth Choir. Born in 1934, she studied dance at the Almora Academy of Uday Shankar, going on to train in music at Swarabitan in Kolkata, followed later by Abdul Rehman Khan of the Patiala gharana. Niece of the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray, she made her debut in films at the age of 10 in Amiya Chakravarty’s Jwar Bhata (1944), and went on to essay a blind girl in Mashaal (1950). Her performance in Rajen Tarafdar’s Ganga (1960) won critical acclaim; the film itself won the National award for Best Feature Film that year. Acting in Personal Assistant (1959) and Tapan Sinha’s Khaniker Atithi (1959), she also garnered attention in Benarasi (1962), which told the tale of a courtesan who attempts to lead a respectable life. She acted in several films over the decades, including Personal Assistant (1952), Nirjan Saikate (1963), Antony Firingee (1966), Balika Badhu (1967), Asha O Bhalobasha (1989), and 36 Chowringhee Lane (1980), ending with the role of Ashoke’s mother in The Namesake (2006). She also enjoyed a successful career as a playback singer, rendering songs for films such as Lukochuri (1958), Tin Konya (1961), and Baksho Badal (1970).
Born on 3 November, 1934 into a family culturally inclined to the Brahmo Samaj, a societal component of Brahmoism, her parents were Satyen Ghosh (Monty Ghosh) and singer Sati Devi. Sati, a trained vocalist, was the elder sister of Bijoya Ray, wife of Satyajit Ray. Starting her career as a dancer, she later attended the Almora Academy of Uday Shankar at Lahore to study dance. Learning music at Swarabitan in Calcutta, which had been established by her parents, she later trained under Abdul Rehman Khan of Patiala gharana.
Ruma Guha Thakurta started her career in films as a child artiste debuting in Amiya Chakravarty's Dilip Kumar starrer Jwar Bhata (1944) at the age of 10. She was credited as Ruma Ghosh in Nitin Bose's Hindi film Mashaal (1950), in which she essayed a blind girl, Sarla. She also appeared in its Bengali version Samar. Rajen Tarafdar’s Ganga (1959) made waves upon release. Based on Samaresh Bose’s cult novel, the film won the National award for Best Feature Film while Ruma's portrayal of Himi received critical acclaim. Working with well-known directors such as Satyajit Ray, Tapan Sinha, Tarun Majumder, and Rajen Tarafdar among others, she acted in approximately 60 films in the course of her career. Her subtle style of acting and expressive eyes found favour with both filmmakers and audiences.
Among her standout performances, she won appreciation for her character of a folk singer in the musical drama Antony Firingi. Essaying the role of a widow in Tapan Sinha’s Nirjan Saikate, based on Samaresh Basu’s novel, she bagged a coveted National Award for her impeccable performance. She starred in Benarasi (1962) which told the tale of a courtesan who tries to lead a life of dignity and respect, when her childhood sweetheart, Ratan, takes her away from her terrible environment. The film won the BFJA Award for Best Feature Film. Her chemistry with Bhanu Bandopadhyay in Ashite Ashiona (1967) was applauded; her portrayal is still cherished by Bengali cine-goers. Making her mark with her acting skills in Satyajit Ray’s highly coveted Abhijaan (1962), she essayed diverse roles in films like Ganga, Personal Assistant, and 36 Chowringee Lane (1980). The last film she acted in was Mira Nair’s The Namesake, playing the role of Ashoke’s mother.
A student of legendary singer Debabrata Biswas, she also lent her voice as playback singer in films like Palatak (1963), Baghini (1968) and Amrita Kumbher Sandhane (1982). Guha Thakurta had founded a song and dance troupe called the Calcutta Youth Choir in 1958, with Salil Chowdhury and Satyajit Ray. The choir was known for its performances of folk and mass songs. Under Ruma’s direction, the choir performed songs by Dwijendralal Ray, Rabindranath Tagore, Rajanikanta Sen, Nazrul Islam, Prem Dhawan, Sudhin Dasgupta, Salil Chowdhury and Sibdas Banerjee. She achieved international fame in 1974, when she led her troupe to the Copenhagen Youth Festival and received the First Prize at the event.
Married to Kishore Kumar in 1951, they had a son Amit Kumar. After they divorced in 1958, Ruma married filmmaker Arup Guha Thakurta in 1960, and had two children, Ayan and Sromona. Both Amit Kumar and Sromona are singers.
Ruma Guha Thakurta passed away on 3 June, 2019 in Kolkata.