Soumitra Chatterjee, the “class apart” legend of Indian Cinema, was not only an actor of repute on the screen but also performed in theatre. Chatterjee was an extraordinary writer, director, essayist, playwright, editor, painter, and poet. He practiced innumerable poetry recitations that made the craft of Rabindranath Tagore and Jibananda Das come alive. From being just an amateur actor on the screen to a Bengali household name, Soumitra Chatterjee mastered almost every discipline in the field of arts. His charismatic smile and infectious talent made him an asset not only to Bengal but India as a whole.
SOUMITRA CHATTERJEE’S EARLY LIFE-
On 19th January 1935, a hero was born in Calcutta – Soumitra Chatterjee, who later went on to become the icon of Bengali Cinema and more. From his childhood, Soumitra’s culturally active grandfather and father Mohit Kumar Chatterjee, who was a mediocre actor mentored him. When he was a student at Howrah Zilla School, he also played as the goalkeeper in Howrah Union Club.
He spent his time writing poems, painting, and so on. Having a graduate degree in Bengali Honors, he found himself drawn to the theatrical culture and the compelling craft that it was. Soon Chaterjee fostered a keen interest in theatre and started grasping the art of theatre.
Although his theatrical journey commenced from enacting in school plays, it took a more significant shape after he witnessed a play of Sisir Bhaduri. Sisir Bhaduri was the architect of modern Bengali theatre. He was an expert in directing, acting, and designing theatrical acts. He popularised the art of realism and naturalism within the length and breadth of theatre. Being overwhelmed by Sisir’s intricate and in-depth theatrical performance, Soumitra had made up his mind about theatre. But little did he know that he would transpire into a cultural megastar. This individual went on to represent the face of Bengali culture and craft for more than half a century.
SOUMITRA CHATTERJEE’S MOVIES-
It was only in 1959 that Soumitra Chaterjee dazzled onto the silver screen. With his rather handsome and intriguing portrayal of the character “Apu” in Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), he opened new doors in Bengali Cinema. Ray’s Apur Sansar was the third part of the celebrated Apu Trilogy. Although Ray was desperate to cast Soumitra in the very first part of Apu Trilogy as an adolescent Apu but could not because of his age, nevertheless he grabbed onto the opportunity of casting him in the third part where he made justice to adult Apu – a character still deeply engraved in the hearts of Bengalis.
Satyajit Ray never made a mistake in identifying talent. Hence, Soumitra Chatterjee proved his worth when he tirelessly and effortlessly gave incredible performances in his following films with Ray. One of the most striking and noticeable assets of Chatterjee to the Bengali Cinema is undoubtedly his work with Ray including Devi (1960), Teen Kanya (1961), Abhijan (1962), Charulata (1964), Kapurush Mahapurush (1965), Aranyer Din Ratri (1970), Ashani Sanket (1973), Sonar Kella (1974), Joy Baba Felunath (1979), Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980) and Ganashatru (1989). With every passing film in which he performed, he graced the silver screen of Bengali Cinema.
Each time he found a fascinating and exceptional way to breathe life into the baffling roles he played. Whether he was Sandeep, the rebel in Ghare Baire, intuitive Feluda in Sonar Kella, or the passionate Apu, Chatterjee’s intricate demonstration of each character was unlike any other actor. Satyajit Ray certainly played a pivotal part in blessing the Indian Cinema by introducing Soumitra Chaterjee with it and giving him every opportunity to identify his craft time and again.
SOUMITRA CHATTERJEE’S OTHER WORKS-
Not only did Chaterjee stormed the Bengali Cinema fraternity but also worked in multifarious serials, telefilms, and palpably the theatre with Rituporno Ghosh and Aparna Sen. His theatrical contributions include Rajkumar (1982), Tiktiki (1995), Phera (1987), and so on. He was lucky enough to have encountered prominent personalities such as Mrinal Sen, Sharmila Tagore, Tapan Sinha, Uttam Kumar, Tarun Majumdar, and plenty of others in his prolonged and rich career of 62 years.
AWARDS RECEIVED BY SOUMITRA CHATTERJEE-
The sheer heterogeneity of characters that Soumitra Chaterjee rendered flesh and blood to was impressive. Whether it was romantic comedies, political films, contemporary themes, social dramas, or period pieces, Chaterjee was a genius of all genres. Soumitra Chatterjee attained a collection of awards and titles. the Officier des Arts et Metiers in 1999. Not many people are aware that the Officier des Arts et Metiers is the mightiest award for arts given by the French government. Even admirers of Chatterjee do not know that it was he who rejected the Padma Shri award from the Indian government in the 1970s.
Both national and international appreciation greeted Chatterjee because of his irresistible charm and soaring career graph. No wonder he received the Lifetime Award at the Naples Film Festival, Italy. In 2004, he accepted the prestigious Padma Bhushan award. Apart from that, he siezed the National Film Award for Best Actor for Podokkhep (2006) in 2007. Later in 2010 and 2012, he accepted the Best Supporting Actor at 54th Asia-Pacific Film Festival and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award respectively for his dedicated and lifelong contribution to Indian cinema.
Chatterjee even with the advancement of age continued to portray prolific roles on the screen in beloved films such as Bela Seshe (2015), Sesher Golpo (2019) Sraboner Dhara ( 2020). In 2017, Soumitra Chatterjee received the prestigious Officier de la Legion d’Honneur (Officer of the Legion of Honour). In 2018, he became the first Indian actor to acquire the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres which is France’s highest award for artists and many others.
It was on 15 November 2020 that Soumitra Chatterjee took his last breath. His overwhelming demise shook India. He was suffering from prostate cancer and Covid. Although he had recovered from Covid, his body failed to continue because of major organ failure. In a career embodying 62 years or even more, Chatterjee acted in over 300 films, performed uncountable gripping recitations, performed many theatrical acts and so much more.
Not limited by his fame, he always made himself accessible to the common man. The people who knew him called him “unique”. They were aware that Chaterjee was never drawn to the glitz and glamour of being an actor. He yearned for the craft and its bare elements. He was undoubtedly a man beyond the silver screens who believed in the concept of family, friendship, and versatility.
The death of Soumitra Chatterjje has created an eternal void in the hearts of many. “Colossal Loss”: PM Modi pays tribute to Soumitra Chatterjee on his sudden death. “One of the mightiest pillars of the film industry has fallen,” tweeted Amitabh Bachchan. “I know he will live forever in our memories because his legacy is so immense. It encompasses so much,” Sharmila Tagore said about Chatterjee.
On the evening of the 15th of November, people from all walks of life came forward to pay Chaterjee their last respect and love. Even in the ongoing pandemic, hundreds of people including his family, fans, admirers, actors, politicians, filmmakers, and others walked Chatterjee’s last walk with him.
Although people could not make peace with the fact that Soumitra Chatterjee is no more among us, a funeral with Gun Salute for him was the only way of saying “Goodbye Chatterjee, you have done so much, you can rest in peace now”.