Covid-19 has snatched yet another stalwart. As the doyen of Bengali cinema Soumitra Chatterjee breathed his last after battling post Covid complications, it’s not just the Bengali film industry that mourns
but the world of cinema stands poorer. Best known for his association with Satyajit Ray with whom he worked in over 14 films, it is believed that Ray especially made the third part of his famous Apu trilogy after having met Soumitra.
Soumitra cut his filmy teeth with Apur Sansar in 1959. So complete
was the director-actor understanding that he was to later earn the sobriquet of alter ego of Ray. But the name that really stuck on Soumitra was Feluda. Indeed, cinephiles would never forget the young
detective Feluda, Ray’s character from his book series which he played in Ray’s Sonar Kella and Joi Baba Felunath. Though he did not consider himself Ray’s equal and in interview after interview spoke about his mentor in glowing terms, in Ray’s penultimate film Shakha Proshakha, they did work as a team.
Besides, Ray, he was directed by other thespians like Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar. Despite feelers from the very best in Hindi film industry, he was not charmed. His pan-India presence may have been felt rarely and as recent as 2015 with short film Ahalya which created a stir and went viral in no time. Director Sujoy Ghosh admitted that the real reason for making the film was to seize the opportunity to work with a great actor like Soumitra. Great he was there is little doubt. A master-class in acting, his performances would inspire generations as his fan list includes brilliant actors like Naseeruddin Shah. If as an actor he could say the same line in 20 different ways, off screen he could not only recite Tagore and other poets at the drop of a hat, but also write many a sterling poem and had dozens of books to his credit.
Versatility not only defined his multifaceted persona (poet, playwright, theatre director, editor) but also his acting. Acting till his last days in his own biopic, the film in the making is likely to throw greater light on his journey and achievements dotted with honours such as the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s highest award for artistes. But that is for
the uninitiated. Those who knew him and saw him onscreen in hundreds of films are well versed with his graph that only saw a natural progression. Much before actors would lend a realistic touch to film
heroes he spoke in the language of real people. Though he would draw from the cesspools of imagination, his style was naturalistic.
Shyam Benegal would compare his dexterity to the intricate weave of a
Persian carpet. So exquisite that few knew the hard work that went in its making.
Padma Bhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke recipient, acting as Soumitra said in an interview was his calling and not a career. That is the very reason why he chose Bengali cinema over the razzmatazz of Bollywood
and precisely why he would forever remain one of Bengal’s significant Renaissance men.