The actor, even in his mid-eighties, was not solely energetic but additionally extremely sought-after. Phrases like ‘has-been’ or ‘yesteryear’ by no means utilized to him
A bit of knowledge, by itself, is lifeless timber – like a bit from a jigsaw puzzle – which involves life solely whenever you collate it with different items. Take actor Soumitra Chatterjee’s date of the beginning, for instance. The truth that he was born on January 19, 1935, doesn’t say a lot about him. However in case, you place that date in opposition to October 1, 2020, when he finally reported for a shoot earlier than displaying signs of COVID-19, you realize he was no abnormal actor however somebody who was professionally energetic even when nearing 86.
Not many lead actors proceed to work – or get work – at 86. None really, in case you low-cost Clint Eastwood, Kirk Douglas, Christopher Plummer, and possibly a few different names that don’t lend to simple recall. Again dwelling, there was an exception within the type of Dev Anand, who continued to work till he died at 88, however by then he was gone his prime and was making these movies solely to feed his vainness.
However Chatterjee, even in his mid-eighties, was not solely energetic but additionally extremely sought-after. Phrases like ‘has-been’ or ‘yesteryear’ by no means utilized to him. Ernest Hemingway as soon as stated that no author ever produced something worthwhile after profitable the Nobel; the identical holds true for the Dadasaheb Phalke award in Indian cinema, within the sense that it invariably comes at a time when the awardee’s productive years are spoken of prior to now tense. However not for Chatterjee. He received the award in 2012, and ever since then, he received solely busier by the yr. In 2019, he had as many as 15 releases; and within the pandemic-hit 2020, virtually as a lot of his movies both launched or are lined up for launch.
So, how does one outline, Soumitra Chatterjee?
Should you label him as a Satyajit Ray actor – they labored collectively in 14 movies – his educated followers will immediately level out that he labored with quite a few different administrators too and that these 14, regardless that they introduced him acclaim, kind solely a small share of the greater than 300 movies he did throughout his lifetime. In truth, with the notable exceptions of Ritwik Ghatak (whom Chatterjee claimed to have punched as soon as, throughout a debate again within the 1960s) and Buddhadeb Dasgupta, he labored with practically all administrators, together with Tapan Sinha, Mrinal Sen, and Tarun Majumdar.
Should you label him as a cinema actor, folks will remind you that he did theatre too.
Should you label him as an actor, somebody or the opposite is certain to inform you that he was a painter, poet and activist as nicely.
Should you establish him as Feluda, there will likely be somebody disagreeing: ‘No, he was extra standard as Apu.’
Should you classify him as a Calcuttan or a Bengali, they are going to say he was international, embellished twice by the French, with Order of Arts and Letters and with the Legion of Honour.
Extra an actor than a ‘hero’
However, in debate-loving Bengal, one factor stays undeniable: that for a number of generations of Bengalis, the point out of the phrase ‘actor’ immediately introduced two names to thoughts, Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee. There have been 2 colossuses. After Kumar, practically a decade older and way more standard of the 2, died at the age of 54 in 1980, Chatterjee grew to become the lone flag-bearer of significant Bengali cinema.
Chatterjee was a kind of only a few Indian actors who, even whereas taking part in the lead in business motion pictures, was acknowledged extra as an actor than a ‘hero’ – a hero being somebody one who can leap off a tall constructing and not using a scratch and may knock out a dozen dangerous guys along with his naked arms.
Whereas it was solely pretty just lately that some contemporary air swept by way of Bollywood with the arrival of Irrfan Khan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rajkummar Rao – mainstream actors who might draw crowds even without struggle scenes – Chatterjee was all of them rolled into one, proper from the black-and-white period. And contemplating that he was round for 61 lengthy years, virtually each Bengali – from nonagenarians all the way down to youngsters – lovingly preserves in thoughts his or her personal picture of Chatterjee: the harmless Apu; the charming Amal of Charulata; the daring Feluda; the resolute swimming coach in Kony; the middle-aged man subsequent door; the genial grandfather. His very presence on the display screen was assuring: for filmmakers and audiences alike.
His passing is akin to the falling of a historic tree. However, whereas the tree is gone, its shade stays. It wouldn’t be totally mistaken to say that the trunk of the tree was primarily made from the 14 movies he did for Ray. For, one will at all times marvel how Chatterjee’s profession would have fared without Ray. For that matter, one may marvel how Ray’s movies would have fared without Chatterjee.
That’s one thing Bengal can now debate.