Soumitra Chatterjee - A legend departs

Apart from a great actor and star, Chatterjee was actually an enigma or an institution in Bengali life with perhaps each person feeling a direct or indirect attachment to this tall figure.

 

Soumitra Chatterjee was one of those rarest of rare actors in the history of Indian cinema who had excelled himself both in critically acclaimed "arthouse" films as well as in those of "mainstream" vintage. Moreover, he was one of the most malleable actors seen on screen portraying a wide range of characters with utmost conviction.

An urban sleuth to the rural teacher, a struggling swimming coach to the top-end doctor, a romantic hero to unscrupulous villain, comedy to all seriousness --- Chatterjee was at ease with any challenge thrown in.

No wonder why the legendary Satyajit Ray featured him in as many as 14 films with his acting gems liberally showered in films of Mrinal Sen to Tapan Sinha,  Ajoy Kar to Tarun Majumdar, Goutam Ghosh-Rituparno Ghosh to Aparna Sen to name a few. Various memorable characters penned by Rabindranath Tagore Saratchandra Saradindu Bandopadhyay Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay Tarashankar Bandopadhyay and other literary Bengali stalwarts had been successfully transported to the screen by Chatterjee, making it so alive.

Apart from a great actor and star, Chatterjee was actually an enigma or an institution in Bengali life with perhaps each person feeling a direct or indirect attachment to this tall figure.

During my college days in the early 1990s, I had the privilege of receiving as many as three mid to long-sized letters from the legend who had the humility and the decency to reply through his own handwriting numerous postal mails from his innumerable admirers, thereby proving his down to earth attitude.

Once when the over-enthusiastic myself "rebuked him" for working in some meaningless potboilers, the stalwart politely expressed the hard fact of the paucity of good films being churned up with no guarantee that he would necessarily get the call to action in those along with his compulsion to keep the kitchen running and finally asking forgiveness by keeping in mind his vast body of work in memorable films despite several constraints.

Once when I expressed my desire to meet him, Chatterjee agreed to meet me(absolutely unknown to him personally) in a Theatre in particular days of the week and time where he was regularly performing in a play! Also, he gave out his phone number if I wish to call him!  Much later had the privilege of watching him live in a book fair function addressing the audience in such a courteous manner and by divine grace coincidentally my path crossed with him in an afternoon on Kolkata's Park Street in the year 2000 where Chatterjee was giving series of shots as a visually challenged person with calm for Goutam Ghosh's 'Dekha' which would remain etched in my memory throughout life.

No wonder why like Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray or Uttam Kumar; Soumitra Chatterjee has also become an indispensable part in the life of all true-blue Bengalis.

In critical phase of life1, his innumerable admirers will certainly continue to draw inspiration from the inspiring call of Chatterjee's character in the epic film 'Koni' whereas the swimming coach he used to encourage the struggling swimmer of the poor economic ground and paved the path of her success  --- 'Fight Koni Fight'!

 

First Published:Nov. 15, 2020, 5:47 p.m.

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