POST TIME: 19 November, 2020 06:55:25 PM
Soumitra Chatterjee, the iconic artist
This politically-conscious actor was a declared leftist. Soumitra Chatterjee, a vocal opponent of the politics of orthodoxy and division in the name of religion, was a supporter of the Communist Party of India.
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed

Soumitra Chatterjee, the iconic artist

Soumitra was born on 19 January 1935 in Nadia district of West Bengal. However, his ancestral home is at Kaya village in Kushtia district of Bangladesh, where the river Garai flows. His father was a lawyer in the Calcutta High Court. He used to act in the drama team, Soumitra made his acting debut in the drama as a child according to family sources. Soumitra's mother Ashalata Chatterjee was a housewife. Soumitra studied up to class five at St. John's School in Krishnanagar. Then his school changed due to his father's job and he completed his schooling from Howrah District School. After passing ISC and later BA Honors (Bangla) from City College, Calcutta, he studied at Post Graduate College of Arts. His family members are Deepa Chatterjee, wife of Soumitra Chatterjee, son Saugat Chatterjee and daughter Paulmi Basu. There is deep relationship of the Soumitra family with Rabindranath Tagore, as it is known from a book called 'Family Memory'. Soumitra's grandfather Madhusudan knew good acting. Son Mohit Kumar Chatterjee got it from his father. He also loved to act like his father and recited wonderful poems. Son Soumitra got all these from his father. He was able to establish himself as a legendary actor of India.

After studying Bengali literature at Calcutta City College, Soumitra was admitted to Calcutta University. During the time he was acquainted with Shishir Bhaduri. Soumitra used to consider Shishir Bhaduri as his guru. Once he got acquainted with Ray. Soumitra got his hands on acting in the film through Ray. He became Apu in the movie 'Apur Sansar'. ‘Apur Sansar' was released in 1959. In the first film, the beauty of simple acting came up in the discussion. With Ray's hand, not only Bengali or Indian films, but world films get a new artist. Soumitra Chatterjee has acted in 14 of Ray's 34 films. After his first work in Apur Sansar, he later worked with famous directors like Mrinal Sen, Tapan Singh, and Ajay Kar. He had previously been a radio announcer. The most popular of his characters is Feluda. In contrast, Suchitra Sen, Savitri Chatterjee, Madhavi Chakraborty, Sharmila Tagore, Aparna Sen, Sumitra Mukherjee, Wahida Rahman Tanuja and other prominent actresses have played the lead roles. He has acted with Uttam Kumar in several films. In addition to movies, he has acted in many dramas and TV series. Apart from acting, he has written plays and poems. He was also the editor of the literary magazine 'Ekshan'. In 2015, he performed 'Gangachhari' at the Ganga Jamuna Drama and Cultural Festival in Bangladesh on behalf of his team. He believed that creative life is life. The legend has acted on the silver screen for over 60 years.

Beyond Apu-20 favourite film roles of Soumitra Chatterjee he acted in at least 14 films directed by Satyajit Ray. Prominent among the films which Chatterjee acted in and was directed by Satyajit Ray are Apur Sangsar, Aparajito, Abhijan, Charulata, Aranyer Din Ratri, Ashani Sanket, Sonar Kella, Joy Baba Felunath, Hirak Rajar Deshe, Ghare Bahire, Gana Shatru, Shaka Prosakha, Ganadevta and Samapti. Apart from the fourteen films being directed by legendary Satyajit Ray, he also acted under other directors Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, Shibaprosad Ray and Nandita Ray. Other films which he acted were Kshudito Pashan, Jhinder Bondi, Monihar, Tin Bhubaner Pare, Prothom Kadam Phul, Akash Kusum, Baksho Badal, Basanta Bilap, Kony and Bela Seshe. Soumitra Chatterjee, apart from being a prolific actor, was a person of tremendous versatility.

Academically, he did his Masters in Bengali language and literature from Calcutta University way back in the year 1959. It was quite interesting to note his erudition in all branches of literatures and other subjects was really unique. He was a poet of repute plus a poignant elocutionist not only at the national level but also in the international level.

This politically-conscious actor was a declared leftist. Soumitra Chatterjee, a vocal opponent of the politics of orthodoxy and division in the name of religion, was a supporter of the Communist Party of India. He was one of the strongest critics of the BJP government. His last article was published in the Sharad issue of CPM. Although he has doubts about the Left, he still sees the Left as an alternative. Soumitra Chatterjee was also friend of Jyoti Basu, the leader of the CPIM and the longest serving Chief Minister in the history of India. Soumitra was not just a film actor; he left his mark on all aspects of Bengali culture. He was a playwright. He has not only acted in plays, he has written and directed plays. The actor started his career as an announcer of Akashvani. His recitation has filled the minds of our Bengalis for decades. There are instances where he has recited poems of Rabindranath, Jibanananda, Sunil, Shakti as well as newcomers. He has written poems and edited magazines. He also loved to draw in his spare time. The French government has awarded him the country's highest civilian award for his outstanding contribution to the industry. In India, he has been honoured with many awards including Padma Bhushan, Dadasaheb Phalke. This exceptional man will live in the heart of man through his creative works.

Soumitra Chatterjee came to Dhaka some years back. He was interviewed by a well-known daily. There was a question like this: if you were offered to play the role of Lalon Sai, would you accept it? In reply, he answered the question by mentioning Kaya village as his village. The answer was, 'It's an honour to be offered. In my body, I get the flavour of the soil Kaya village. My ancestors are from Kaya village. Kaya and Chheuriya are side by side. So I love to think myself a Bangladeshi. I can assimilate Lalon's character best. But I have to think about my age as well.

Soumitra Chatterjee, an iconic figure in the world of Bengali culture, passed away in the afternoon hours of November 15, 2020 after a prolonged 40 days illness at South Kolkata's Bellevue Hospital. He was admitted to this hospital on October 6, 2020 on account of Covid-19. Though he recovered from Covid-19 but subsequently there were complications which cropped up in his body. Now Soumitra Babu has departed to a new world from where he will never come back. His demise will be an irreparable loss to the cultural world of Bengal but somebody has to take the responsibility in the regard. I am sure that his talented daughter Poulumi Basu will uphold the noble legacies of her erudite father so that he remains vivid among us in the upcoming days of our life. Lastly, it is expected that Soumitra's noble and golden legacies should not be dwindled at all by the next subsequent generations. May God give Mrs Deepa Chatterjee, Sougata Chatterjee and Mrs Poulumi Basu all the courage and fortitude to overcome the huge loss.

The writer is former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar and VDP.