Soumitra Chatterjee lived a full life beyond the screen
Soumitra Chatterjee, a giant of Bengali, Indian and World cinema lost his fight with Covid-19 on 15th November 2020. Some of us celebrated the life of this great actor by watching our favourite Soumitra movies that day. Others participated in processions in Bengal where his favourite poems were read. Still others, we presume, must have played a highlights reel in their head of their favourite Soumitra moments because it is hard to grow up as a Bengali in any part of the world without having seen the Apu Trilogy, Aranyer Deen Ratri, Teen Kanya, Charulata and Ghare Baire – classics of world cinema directed by Satyajit Ray with Soumitra in the lead role. This piece in the Indian Express celebrates the life of a legend who inspired several of the concepts behind Saurabh’s latest book ‘The Victory Project: Six Steps to Peak Potential’.
As the Express points out, the most interesting thing about Soumitra’s career was his range of interests beyond cinema: “While Uttam Kumar was the matinee idol of Bengali cinema, Chatterjee remained the bhadralok actor whose interests ranged beyond acting such as writing, theatre, music and painting. Chatterjee epitomises an erudite actor — perhaps, a Balraj Sahni would come close to his literary and scholastic achievements. Chatterjee wrote around a dozen volumes of poetry, several prose collections, plays and translations. In the introduction to his collected plays, Chatterjee confessed that life without theatre was unimaginable. He was involved with every aspect of stage theatre. Bengali theatre legend Sisir Kumar Bhaduri was a major influence.
He continued writing, directing and acting in plays even at the peak of his film career. He was unhappy with the state of contemporary Bengali theatre in 1950s and ’60s, which made him explore playwrights from far and wide. These resulted in several landmark productions such as Rajkumar (1982), inspired by the writings of several French and German playwrights, amongst others. The plays he wrote and directed reflected contemporary social concerns. This also went in tandem with his belief in left-wing politics.
A voracious reader, Chatterjee read Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Romain Rolland, Joseph Conrad amongst several others with equal interest. Upon the insistence of legendary Bengali poet and close friend, Shakti Chattopadhyay, he agreed to publish his first book of poems. While preparing to play Apu, he even wrote a fictional biography of the character. For Charulata (1964), he learnt a special calligraphic handwriting. Chatterjee also founded and co-edited Ekshan, a pioneering journal of culture that published Satyajit Ray’s screenplays for the first time. Few Indian actors can rival such a literary graph.”
Inspite of his broad range of extra-curricular interests, Soumitra remained a focused professional actor determined to be the best in the business as this second piece in the Indian Express illustrates: “But there was no doubt in his mind, as well as ours, that his work with Ray is what gave him wings, and that’s the body of work we remember him most for. There was just one role that got away from him, though: he didn’t get the coveted lead in Nayak, which went to Uttam Kumar, whose pole position as Bengal’s hugely popular star remained unchallenged by Chatterjee’s strong but quieter presence. If you had to cast someone whom delirious young women would throw themselves at, whom would you choose? Ray was right to opt for Uttam Kumar as the charismatic matinee idol, and though Chatterjee always claimed he understood why, his words were laced with a tinge of regret.” (Source: https://indianexpress.com/