Kolkata: Star of Bengali mainstream and art films, Soumitra Chatterjee has left the industry in shock with his demise. The iconic personality breathed his last at the Bell Vue Clinic at 12:15pm on Sunday.
The 85-year-old Dadasaheb Phalke awardee had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Kolkata’s Belle Vue Clinic for almost 40 days. He was admitted to the hospital on October 6 after having tested positive for COVID-19.
Our beloved Apu (from Apu Trilogy), and for a few generations, the one and only Feluda, has not only been a favourite for Satyajit Ray, who discovered him but with the Bengali audience in totality as well.
From romantic hero to villain, comic roles to that of the rebel — the array of work he did to hypnotise the generations, one after another.
And that with the élan and trademark intellectual brilliance that set Chatterjee apart from his peers — beyond acting (on-screen and stage), he is well known as a poet, writer, and elocutionist.
It’s the time to pay homage to Chatterjee’s performances in mainstream films, which did much to showcase his indisputable skills as an actor who can grab the eyeballs of the masses.
While his work with Ray won over the world, it’s these characters that won him that permanent place in the hearts of the Bengali audience. His on-screen brilliance made him what they used to call a “matinee idol”, and we call “superstar”.
There have been countless roles of the octogenarian that are etched in the memory of movie buffs as well as critics. Let’s list the most popular ones which can be recalled even in sleep:
Apu: Chatterjee’s association with Satyajit Ray started with Apur Sansar (1959) – the last film in the Apu Trilogy. His camaraderie with Ray spanned over three decades till April 23, 1992, when Ray breathed his last.
All the things that described Apu in the recommendation letter also applied to Chatterjee. His forte was naturalism — he was a director’s actor to be precise.
Feluda: Chatterjee without a doubt was the pinnacle of all the actors who have tried their hands in portraying “Feluda” on-screen.
Besides astute acting skills, the mixture of maturity, grace, poise and perfect balance and mix of mature with excellent clear delivery of dialogues made him one of the top two hero-cum-actors in the history of Bengali cinema.
Chatterjee restored Feluda to the truly unique detective that he is, in his own right.
Feluda cannot be reduced to a mere shadow of Sherlock Holmes. If that’s not apparent when reading the stories, Chatterjee makes it apparent on screen.
Chatterjee constantly found ways to externalise the intensity of Feluda’s thinking without rendering him eccentric.
Kshit Da: Saroj De’s Kony (1984) where Chatterjee played Kshit da, a swimming trainer with indomitable spirit and inspiration. Kshit da’s rousing call, ‘Fight, Kony, fight!’ is referenced in Bengali mass culture even today.
For Chatterjee, the role is close to his heart since at times of personal crisis and mental turmoil (including the depressing times when he was fighting cancer) he would tell himself – ‘Fight, Soumitra, fight!’
He could and has done it all — a man struggling to make his marriage of unequals work in Ajoy Kar’s Saat Pake Bandha (1963), a middle-class man with dangerous aspirations in Mrinal Sen’s Akash Kusum (1965), the sensitive pack leader in Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri (1970), the intelligent and thoughtful detective in Joy Baba Felunath (1979), a swimming coach who does not give up in Kony (1986), and a grandfather who is bringing up his grandson in Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s Posto (2017) in recent past.
Over his six-decade-long career, Chatterjee has embodied the typical Bengali middle-class man — sensitive, vulnerable and intelligent. Matching him in any of the genres and filling up the void is not only difficult, it’s an uphill task for the newbies.
The last superstar of Bengali cinema may have left us, but his legacy and taste will linger for till the Bengali cinema lasts!