Actor-Legend Soumitra Chatterjee Passes Away In Kolkata!

 


Legendary actor Soumitra Chatterjee passed away in a Kolkata hospital today after fighting with COVID-19 for nearly one and half months. He was tested positive on the 6th of October 2020 and was promptly admitted to a hospital considering his age and vulnerability. The actor was on and off ventilator support as he developed a range of other infections. Great hopes were generated when he tested negative on October 14; but his COVID-related complications dashed all expectations of his final recovery. He continued to be on life support, and despite the best efforts of the team of doctors we have lost one of the greatest actors of Indian Cinema. He was 85, but still had enough ammunition to surge ahead with his creative pursuits, encompassing a saga of over five decades in Bangla movies. But for the deadly pandemic virus!

 

Soumitra Chattopadhyay has been one of my all-time favorite actors of world cinema, and living in Assam, I began to realize his immense contribution to cinema only in the eighties when the Doordarshan National channel opened up for the country, unleashing a wave of regional movies on its regular movie-slots day and night. As I watched more and more of his movies and his incredible range of roles, my bond with the legendary actor grew stronger and stronger, loving his natural acting, his lovable personality and handsome appearance: tall, imposing yet tender and with sharp features. Although I could not have much of him in the big-screen theatres, his acting aura remained with me, always.    

 

While working in Kolkata I was desperate to meet him, and possibly have an interview with him. I requested several friends to arrange an appointment. Unfortunately, it did not materialize due to various unforeseen reasons and circumstances. And then the pandemic came which locked us up away from the city of joy for months, and I could not proceed with my plans. This ‘miss’ will remain in me as one of the most regrettable things in life. The news of his illness caused pangs of pain in my heart. Finally, the legend is gone from the material world, but his images would always adorn the hearts of millions, forever.

 

Soumitra Chatterjee is best known for his long association with another legend of Indian Cinema, Satyajit Ray. The overwhelming critical acclaim received from the world over for Ray’s debut film ‘Pather Panchali’(1955), hailed as the first Indian classic and the pioneer of the Indian parallel or new-wave cinema movement, encouraged him to make a sequel which finally came to be known as the Apu Trilogy, Apu being the central character in the movies, from his childhood to adulthood. Soumitra came for an audition for the second film of the Trilogy, Aparajito (1956). Satyajit Ray understood his potential as an actor immediately, and although Soumitra was not selected for that movie as he proved to be too old for the adolescent Apu, Ray never forgot him. For the last film of the Trilogy, Apur Sansar (the World of Apu, 1959), Ray finalized Soumitra to play the role of adult Apu. And history was made.

 

Soumitra Chatterjee went on to act in as many as 14 films made by Ray, and then a few more with Ray’s son Sandeep. Soumitra also immortalized the character of Feluda, a private investigator or detective created by Ray in his short stories, in two films made by the legendary filmmaker. The Feluda Series, as it came to be known popularly, continued to flourish with more movies made by other Bengali directors and actors too. Few of the evergreen Ray films featuring Soumitra include Abhijan (1962), Charulata (1964), Aranyer Din Ratri (1969), Ashani Sanket (1973), Ghare Baire (1984) and Ganashatru (1989). He also acted in memorable films by Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, Asit Sen, Tarun Mazumdar, Ashutosh Bandyopadhyay among others, and also in films made by modern-day filmmakers like Aparna Sen and Gautam Ghose. He was believed to have given tough competition to the reigning superstar of Bangla cinema, Uttam Kumar, in the sixties and seventies. The legendary actor played roles in more than 210 films, and was active till the end of 2019.

 

Soumitra Chatterjee was born in 1935 in a cultured Bengali family that had theatre links, his grandfather being the president of a local theatre group and his father an amateur actor despite his government job. Therefore, Soumitra developed skills in the finer arts from childhood days, learnt acting from school days and played a significant role in a play while as a college student. He did his BA with honors in Bengali literature from City College, the University of Kolkata. He started his career as an AIR announcer while pursuing his main interest of a career in films, and came into contact with Satyajit Ray.

 


Naturally, awards and accolades showered on him throughout his career. Apart from the innumerable State awards Soumitra Chatterjee won several National Film, BFJA and Filmfare awards; Padma Bhushan in 2004 even as he rejected Padma Shri in the seventies; the highest award for arts given by the French Government Officier des Arts et M├ętiers; and the highest award of Indian cinema Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2012. Apart from being an actor of the top order Soumitra was also a poet and a playwright. He also tried his hand in film direction. And of course, he was amiable, modest, soft-spoken and a normal family man.

 

At this painful hour of his irreparable loss to Indian cinema, we pray for the eternal bliss of the noble soul of Soumitra Chatterjee. The rich images he has given to the silver screen and the small screens will be eternally and fondly preserved in public memory. A legend lives on…

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