Soumitra Chatterjee: Acting titan who took Indian cinema to the world

By: PTI | Kolkata |

November 15, 2020 3:09:18 pm

Soumitra Chatterjee was admitted for greater than a month in a Kolkata hospital after having contracted Covid-19. (Photo: Express Archive)

He was the actor who epitomised the better of world cinema, transcending the boundaries of nation, state and language to give expression to Satyajit Ray’s cinematic imaginative and prescient and get framed in celluloid greatness. But the legacy of Soumitra Chatterjee, who died on Sunday at the age of 85, will not be restricted to the Ray firmament, simply as he was by no means solely a Bengali star of Bengali cinema.

The suave actor of the world, generally referred to as final of the Mohicans and acquainted to college students of cinema anyplace in the globe, acted in 14 Ray movies and over 300 others, gracefully transitioning into business cinema in quite a lot of roles. He made his presence felt on the stage too – as actor, playwright and director.

One of the performing world’s biggest luminaries slipped away only a day after the pageant of lights — and greater than a month after he was admitted to a Kolkata hospital with COVID-19.

READ | Soumitra Chatterjee: Legendary actor passes away at 85 in Kolkata

The actor is lifeless, his work lives on.

As debuts go, his was one for the historical past books, the picture of a bearded younger man along with his son on his shoulders in that also from “Apur Sansar” imprinting itself in filmic greatness. His portrayal of a grieving widower who in the end reconnects along with his estranged son in the 1959 movie that accomplished Ray’s well-known Apu trilogy made him the toast of world cinema group. And the relaxation as they are saying is historical past.

According to movie lore, Chatterjee auditioned for Ray’s “Aparajito” in 1957, the second film in the trilogy that started with “Pather Panchali”, however the director discovered the actor, then 20, too previous to play the adolescent Apu.

IN PHOTOS | Soumitra Chatterjee (1935-2020): A pictorial tribute to the legendary actor

Chatterjee, nonetheless, remained in contact with Ray and ultimately landed the function of Apu. His bearded look, it’s stated, reminded Ray of a younger Tagore. In the a long time that adopted, Chatterjee turned the go-to actor to play characters of sure age and intelligence in films and theatre whereas additionally writing poetry and performs. It was a lifelong pursuit of the arts that ended at the moment.

Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1935, Chatterjee, spent his early years in Krishnanagar in Nadia district the place he accomplished his education.

He was launched to performing by household stage performs by his grandfather and lawyer father, each novice theatre actors. Chatterjee did his masters in Bengali literature from Calcutta University. Interested in the arts from a younger age, he noticed a play by Bengali theatre doyen Sisir Bhaduri. It was a turning level, making him realise he wished to be an actor. However, it was solely when he reached the units of “Apur Sansar” on August 9, 1958 for his first day of capturing that he knew he had discovered his calling. There was no trying again after that and Chatterjee turned an integral a part of Bengal’s artwork and cultural life along with his films. But he represented India too on the world stage.

A black and white {photograph} of a dapper Chatterjee in a white Nehru jacket and black trousers — with Shashi Kapoor and Madhur Jaffrey and Felicity Kendall between them — at the Berlinale in 1965 the place his movie “Charulata” gained Ray the greatest director award resurfaced lately and was extensively shared on social media with women and men young and old sighing at the class and attraction of the days that when have been.

But copybook good-looking Chatterjee might not have agreed. In a 2008 interview with CNBC he described himself as the ugly duckling of his household. This insecurity, he stated, helped him focus extra intently on his craft.

“And my substantial work in theatre has established that I am not just a Satyajit Ray puppet,” he added famously.

After all, Chatterjee was usually referred to as Ray’s “alter ego”, their cinematic relationship giving expression to one in all the biggest eras in the historical past of world cinema.

The maestro’s favorite actor performed the lead in masterpieces corresponding to “Devi” (1960), a taxi driver in “Abhijan” (1962), “Arayner Din Ratri” (1970), “Ghare Baire” (1984) and “Sakha Prashakha” (1990). The three-decade camaraderie ended solely with the movie maestro’s dying in 1992. Their collaboration has usually been in contrast to celebrated actor-director pairings corresponding to Toshiro-Akira Kurosawa, Marcello Mastroianni-Federico Fellini and Max von Sydow-Ingmar Bergman, “… he influenced me enormously. He was one of my mentors I would say. I would not be here had he not been there,” Chatterjee advised PTI in 2012. He additionally labored with different greats — Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar. His function as the swashbuckling villain Mayurbhan in Sinha’s “Jhinder Bondi” noticed him workforce up with the legendary Uttam Kumar. They labored collectively in eight movies and have been recognized for his or her totally different approaches to cinema – Kumar, the romantic hero of the plenty, and Chatterjee the mental, possibly the extra cerebral star. Chatterjee was additionally thought-about one in all the first proponents of the naturalistic model of performing in Bengali cinema – a trademark of Ray’s films. His function as Kshit da, a swimming coach in the film “Kony”, with the dialogue “Fight, Kony, fight!” remains to be remembered for example of indomitable spirit and inspiration in opposition to all odds. Known to be a perfectionist, Chatterjee in his later years labored with Goutam Ghose, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh. The consummate actor, a pancreatic cancer survivor, saved going even in his 80s — in the National Award movie “Mayurakshi” (2017), “Bela Sheshe” (2015) and “Posto” (2017).

ALSO READ | Soumitra Chatterjee dies at 85: Celebrities mourn demise of the veteran artiste

Standouts in his theatre profession embrace his rendition of Shakespeare’s King Lear in Suman Mukhopadhyay’s play that earned him accolades each nationally and globally. He additionally wrote over 15 performs and directed greater than 30 stage productions. Despite a number of affords, Chatterjee by no means ventured into Bollywood as he felt he wouldn’t get the freedom to pursue his different literary genres. A yoga fanatic, he edited the journal Eksan (Now) for greater than 20 years. But Chatterjee was not nearly cinema and theatre. Unlike many celebrities, the die-hard Marxist was vocal about his views and spoke out on controversial points corresponding to societal intolerance and the 2016 demonetisation train. And he by no means hungered for awards, in truth usually demonstrated his aversion for them. He turned down the Padma Shri twice. In 2001, he additionally refused the National Award to protest the alleged “biased attitude” of the Awards committee which gave his movie “Dekha” a Special Jury honour whereas giving the fundamental award to Hindi movie “Pukar”. However, he later acquired the Padma Bhushan in 2004. In 2006, he gained the National Award for “Poddokhep”. He turned the first Indian actor to obtain the ”Officier des Arts et Metiers”, the highest award for arts given by the French authorities in 1999. He additionally acquired a Lifetime Achievement Award from Italy. In 2012, he gained the Dadasaheb Phalke Award and in 2018 Légion d’ honneur, the highest civilian award in France. French filmmaker Catherine Berge had directed a full-length documentary named “Gaach” on life and work on Chatterjee.

Chatterjee is survived by his spouse Deepa Chatterjee, daughter Poulomi Basu and son Sougata Chatterjee.

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