Kolkata, Jan 17: From matinee idols to seasoned politicians, well-heeled socialites to faceless homemakers, West Bengal wept for reclusive cine goddess Suchitra Sen, as thousands turned out on the streets to bid adieu on her final journey Friday.
Saluting Sen, who captivated generations of Bengali speaking people with her grace, beauty and restrained performances, the actors of the regional film industry termed her death as the end of an era.
Apart from the hundreds who had been gathering daily before the city nursing home where the "Mahanayika" was admitted with a serious respiratory problem 26 days ago, a large number of fans were seen at her residence where the body was taken for a brief five minutes after she died of cardiac arrest this morning.
There was a deluge of admirers around the Keoratala crematorium when Sen's body was brought in a coffin inside a hearse fitted with dark glasses and covered with floral wreaths. But the most popular actress in Bengal's history remained virtually invisible to her adoring fans even after her death, after shunning the spotlight for three and half decades, and remaining fiercely protective of her privacy to her last days.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee personally supervised the funeral arrangements through the day after reaching the nursing home minutes after Sen's death. She officially announced the sad news, and accompanied the body to the actress' house and finally to the crematorium where she stood by the family till the final rites were complete.
"The passing away of 'Mahanayika' (great actress), I feel in world cinema and in Bengali cinema, is a big and sad news. Such a talent is born only once and there is no parallel. It would be wrong to address her as a legend. She was a god," said Banerjee.
"Her immortal roles in innumerable cinemas would treasure her in our hearts with eternal perpetuity," she said.
Politicians, senior police officials and doctors who treated her -- all were present at the crematorium as Sen was given a gun salute, before her daughter Moon Moon lit the funeral pyre.
Bengali superstar Prosenjit solemnly stood by the family - Moon Moon and Sen's granddaughters Raima and Riya - during the last rites.
"Indian cinema will truly miss the eternal beauty. Mohanayoker por amader chere chole gelen Mohanayika. (The Mahanayika has left us after the Mahanayak Uttam Kumar). It's a great loss for Bengali Cinema and Indian Cinema Mahanayika is no more...Mrs. Sen. RIP," he tweeted.
Flanking him was heartthrob Dev, who watched the proceedings silently with his head bowed down.
Actress Deboshree Roy, who joined in later, as well as veteran actor Bishwajit conveyed their condolences to the family.
Veteran actress Madhabi Mukherjee said: "It is said that she shunned the limelight, but she had reached the zenith of her film career and therefore, she left the field and then pursued her spiritual interests. After that she never returned."
Sen's sincerity in her work and her spiritual pursuits, later in her life, was a "mark of her dedication" to whatever she did, felt actress Moushumi Chatterjee.
Filmmaker Buddhadev Dasgupta commented on the hit pairing of Uttam Kumar and Sen that spawned the golden era of Bengali cinema.
"We don't know if it can be repeated by any pair."
Actor Mithun Chakraborty wondered "what is the magic" that she created through the decades.
Referring to her as 'Madame', he asserted, "She is the undisputed Number 1 actress. Her personality, her talent, and the way she carried herself...undoubtedly, without any prejudice, she is the number one."
Celebrated Bengali actor Ranjit Mullick said Sen's death is "heartwrenching" for him.
"All those memories of us chatting after shooting came flooding back," said Mullick, who had acted with the film icon in "Debi Choudhurani" (1974).
Filmmaker Aparna Sen said she was "mesmerised" by her immense screen presence and beauty.
"It is the end of an era. I wanted to make a documentary film on her, but she had refused...I knew she would not accept."
Actress Rituparna Sengupta said Sen remains an inspiration to actresses, not only for her talent, but for cutting through a male-dominated film industry and "ruling" it.
Fans took to social networking sites to express their sorrow.
"With the demise of Suchitra Sen, a generation witnesses sunset in the most depressing manner. An era simply ends, without a whimper," said Nilanjan Nandy on twitter.