KOLKATA: On-screen chemistry is a strange phenomenon. It works magically for certain screen couples such as Nargis and Raj Kapoor or Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen or, in more contemporary times, for Kajol and Shahrukh Khan.

And then there comes a break for reasons as personal as marriage or a rift in the couple for professional or personal reasons when they make their intentions clear about not working together in any film.

Often however, market forces and their own downswing from young romance due to time and age bring them together for a film or two. Does this recreate the old magic? Or has the nostalgia of the crackling chemistry fade away as new young screen pairs have taken their place?

These questions assume significance in the light of two recent films – Dilwale in Hindi that brought together the hit pair of Shahrukh Khan and Kajol after many years and Praktan (Bengali), about to be released, which feature the two numero unos of Bengali cinema, namely Prosenjit and Rituparna Sengupta who fell off 14 years ago after having given a string of jubilee hits some of which will remain archived in the annals of Bengali mainstream cinema.

They were rumoured to have been romantically linked off screen also, a rumor the stars neither confirmed nor denied. Besides, they were already married to other partners. Says Reshmi Sengupta, “October of 2006 witnessed them making a last-ditch effort to finish Laatsaheb, a casualty of their cold war. Shooting was underway at Technicians Studio. Prosenjit sat alone on a chair and waited as the lights were being set up. Rituparna camped on the opposite end of the floor, with her people. The entire set felt polarised. That was north pole-south pole.”

"We did 52 or more films together. Now it is in the fitness of things that we work together since we owe it to the audiences what we have become,” says Rituparna. Why is the new film directed jointly by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee, the hottest directors in Bengali cinema, named Prakton meaning “ex”?

Prosenjit says “ You must watch the film to know who is ex to whom and how but ‘ex’ does play a significant role in the film. Whether the title has been given with the relationship factor in mind or whether it is a box office gimmick will be known only after the film is released. True that we fell apart in working terms 14 years ago but we never said we would never work together again.”

Raj Kapoor and Nargis fell off the magic romance loop when Nargis left the RK fold to work in other productions, the most famous of them being Mehboob’s Mother India. Her performance in Raat Aur Din fetched her coveted National Award for Best Actress. They never paired together again because Nargis married Sunil Dutt who portrayed her screen son in Mother India.

Their films did not narrate their real life love story but offered a tribute to screen love in every single film except Jagte Raho where they were not paired as a romantic couple. Other magic screen pairs of the time were – Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman, Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala, Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore and so on.

Running almost parallel to the Nargis-Raj Kapoor romance was the immortalised screen pairing of Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen in Bengali cinema that holds a record for the maximum hits in Indian cinema. Till this day, theatres screening films starring Uttam Kumar draw full houses. All Bengali channels thrive on films starring Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen. Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen formed one of the most formidable romantic pairs in the history of Bengali cinema. At their best, the pair made the likes of Raj Kapoor-Nargis, Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn pale in comparison, such was the luminosity and chemistry between them on screen.

Together, the Uttam-Suchitra pair heralded the golden age of Bengali cinema. They brought spring, and a breath of fresh air that lasted over two decades. Every member of the audience would wait with bated breath for the typical climax of a Suchitra-Uttam film with the two embracing each other. Between them, the two wrote a new chapter in the history of Bengali cinema. They acted together in 32 films spanning two decades. They created a distinct genre of romance that acquired the label of the Uttam-Suchitra romance.

It is a romance that has never known anything remotely close to this celluloid chemistry either before or after. They had split within cinema after Saptapadi. When they came back, the films did reasonably well but the magic was missing. Their last film Priyo Bandhabi (1975) was a flop.

In Bollywood, contemporary cinema has not produced too many romantic pairings who have brought off hits one after another except films that paired Kajol with Shahrukh Khan. Anwesha Madhukalya in an article on screen pairs (Scoop Whoop, Nov 18, 2015) writes: “Kajol and SRK make dancing around trees look like a dream. Half of the country's population still has hope that they will find the love of their lives in a train or even in a mustard field. This couple also ensured that people never believe that a guy and a girl can be friends (especially if they play basketball). They have set the bar so high that it is almost impossible to match.”

They together have made celluloid history with Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (1995). The film remains one of the biggest hits of the 20th century. The chemistry began negatively with Baazigar in which Shahrukh played villain but somehow, they struck lightning when paired together. Adjusted for inflation, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is believed to be among the five highest-grossing Hindi films; The film won a National Film Award and 10 Filmfare Awards, setting the record at the time for the most Filmfare trophies.

Kajol’s marriage to Ajay Devgun put a semi colon to this pairing that finally made a disastrous comeback with Dilwale after two long decades. “The deliberate attempt to repackage and sell the Kajol-SRK romance of yore backfires, seeming like a pale shadow of the magic there once was. The two seem like caricatures of Raj-Simran. Much water has flown under the bridge and all that. Yes, nostalgia can, at times, suck. So Gerua can’t be a patch on Sooraj hua maddham. And (Rohit) Shetty can’t a Chopra-Johar be,” stated Namrata Joshi (The Hindu, January 1, 2016).

Fans of Prosenjit and Rituparna, both Bengali and non-Bengali, waited with bated breath for the thumping release of Prakton on the very day the new CM Mamata Banerjee will take the oath in front of an audience of 20000 people. Will the sparks fly again? Will they go on to become a hit screen couple once more? Will this be a one-off affair, or will there be another long-term liaison after over a decade?

No one can predict for sure because an entire movie watching generation has grown over these 14 years. It has never seen them romancing together on screen. The definition of screen romance has changed. Time has taken its toll over their youthful looks. They have matured as actors who have grown separately and created individual identities for themselves. Each of these factors will play its own role in attracting footfalls in the theatres jostling with younger actors like Jeet and Dev and Abir, all current heart-throbs for generation Y.