The 50’s down 70’s is often considered as the “Golden Era” of Bengali Cinema, with the famous trio(Ray-Ghatak- Sen) are in full swing, Bengali culture quite successfully and diligently carried forward the nascentfervour of Bengal Renaissance for a long time to come. In an age of complete decadence, the void created by these giant figures of quintessential Bengali heritage remains unattainable. Soumitra Chatterjee,the name every Bengali, cutting across generations swearby, is no more with us and that unfortunately, adds up to the number of the departed legends!! The quintessential Bengali bhadrolok(gentleman), one of the finest actors Bengal has ever produced, truly like his eminent predecessors,( starting from Rabindranath Tagore,Satyajit Ray,Swami Vivekananda,Pandit Ravi Shankar) acted as a bridge between the local/regional with the universal context of Globalcinema, a rarity of the present time.Chidananda Dasgupta,once commented “Ray has found his man in Soumitra”.Often considered as a muse of Satyajit Ray,Soumitra Chatterjee truly represented the finesse of Bengali intelligentsia. The eternal debate of Uttam Kumar,the Superstar Vs. Soumitra Chatterjee,the actor defined the eternal cultural conflict of the community. He was the face of urban middleclass intelligentsia and their earnestness.
2 The characters immortalised by him, areApu in Ray’s Apur Sansar(The world of Apu, 1959) andthe canonical sleuth Feluda in Ray’s Jai Baba Felunath(The Elephant God,1978) and SonarKella(The Golden Fortress,1971)and series of other films like Charulata(The Lonely Wife,1964),Abhijan(The Expedition,1962),Aranyer Din Ratri(Days and Nights in the Forest,1969),AsaniSanket(Distant Thunder,1973), HirakRajarDeshe(The Kingdom of Diamonds,1980), GhareBaire(The Home and the World,1984), Ganasatru(An Enemy of the People,1990),Sakha Prashakka(The Branches of the Tree,1990). Although mostly remembered for his finest performances under Ray’s auteurship,he is often eulogised as the epitome of suave urban youth in Mrinal Sen’s Akash Kusum(Up in the Clouds,1965),Ajay Kar’s SaatPakeBadha(The Marriage Vows,1963), as deviant youth in Teen Bhubaner Pare(On the shores of the worlds,1969), in a hilarious comedy penned by Satyajit Ray Baksha Badal(1970),BasantaBilap(1973), Tarun Mazumdar’s Ganadevata(The People,1978),Sansar Simante(1975) and Tapan Sinha’s JhinderBandi(the prisoner of Jhind,1961),Atanka(1986),Antardhan(1992), Bijay Bose’s Baghini(1968),Inder Sen’s Pratham Kadam Phool(1969), Salil Dutta’s Stree(1972),time and again, he proved his versatility as a stupendous performer. Even in the otherwise stagnant 80’s he left his mark as an extraordinary character ‘Khidda’(a swimming coach)with a prodigiousperformance, which kept on lifting our dying spirit even today. Besides Ray, he performed brilliantly in
3 Rituparno Ghosh’s Asukh(llness,1999), Aparna Sen’s Paramita r Ek Din(One day of Paromita’s,2000),Gautam Ghose’s Dekha(2001), Anjan Das’s Saajhbatir Roopkatha(Strokes and Silhouttes,2001), Sekhar Das’s Kraantikaal(Critical Encounter,2006),Suman Ghosh’s Padakheep(Footsteps,2006), BasuParibaar(The Bose Family,2019), Atanu Ghosh’s Angsumaner Chobi(2009),and Mayurakkhi(2017). His effervescent presence simply uplifted numerous potboilers, otherwise negligible in its form and content. His nuances, sensitive portrayal of myriad human characters had charmed audiences all over the world for decades. Not only a prolific actor, he is emblematic of Bengal’s alignment towards literature and other artistic issues of life. He is eponymously gigantic in the theatre world also, his live performance in Tiktiki(1995),Homapakhi(2006) and Suman Mukhopadyay’s King Lear(2010) is historical. His recitation is ephemeral, he has also penned down 12 poetry books. He edited a famous little magazine named “Ekshan”(Now) for quite a long time. His global recognition is aplenty. In 1999, he was awarded with ‘Officers des Arts et Metiers’ by the French Government, followed by the highest civilian honour by French Government ‘Legion of Honour’ in 2019, Padma Bhusan in 2004, Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1988, and Dadasaheb Phalke for his lifetime achievement in cinema in 2013. Interesting to note, he had to wait more than two decades for the National Award in the role of a Best Actor. Finally, he was awarded for Padakheep in 2007.
4 Soumitra Chatterjee,in one word, symbolized Bengali middle class’s trajectory as a community and their agony,joy,pathos,crisis and despair over three decades. Kolkata’s cultural legacy and heritage is in eternal loss without him.