A leading figure of Bengali cinema. Winner of the Dada Saheb Phalke award (among a slew of other awards). One of the finest actors in the country. On the veteran actor’s 83rd birthday, we take a look at some of Soumitra Chatterjee’s best performances that showcase his versatility as an actor.
Soumitra Chatterjee’s debut film marked the beginning of a long association with Satyajit Ray, another stalwart of the Bengali film industry. Chatterjee, in fact, credits Ray with making him the performer he is today. Debuting as Apurba Kumar Roy ‘Apu’, the film heralded the coming of a capable new artiste, one who would headline every performance with sincerity and naturalness. Watch the scene where he grieves the death of his wife Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) during childbirth. Chatterjee didn’t need words to express his feelings.
Based on Rabindranath Tagore’s novella (Noshtonir), and directed – once again – by Ray, Chatterjee is Amol, Charulata’s (Madhabi Mukherjee) younger (cousin) brother-in-law. The artistic Charulata finds a more compatible companion in Amol, and his appreciation of her literary skills at first encourages, and later attracts her to him. Afraid of his growing attraction to his sister-in-law and not wanting to betray his brother, Amol leaves their home. Charulata is bereft and her husband soon discovers hidden secrets, leading to a surprise conclusion.
Chatterjee reunites with his debut heroine Sharmila Tagore in Ray’s cinematic adaptation of a Sunil Gangopadhyay novel by the same name. The movie focuses on four friends – all different from each other – who take a vacation in the jungles to escape the stresses of urban life. Their unexpected rendezvous with Aparna(Sharmila), Jaya (Kaberi Bose) and Duli (Simi Garewal) has long-standing consequences. Chatterjee’s performance as Ashim – young, affluent, stylish, somewhat a ladies’ man – and his subsequent attraction to Aparna, and his unrequited love for her – was a very poignant one.
Another collaboration with Satyajit Ray, Abhijaan showcased Chatterjee as Narsingh, a Rajput taxi driver who has to come to terms with his loss of honour after his wife leaves him, and he loses his license. Apart from the moral conflict of joining a gang of smugglers, Narsingh also has to deal with his feelings for two women – Neeli (Ruma Guha Thakurta), a young Catholic school teacher who doesn’t return his affections, and Gulabi (Waheeda Rehman), a beautiful young widow, who is being trafficked. Abhijaan was a morality tale, and Chatterjee is the face of that conflict.
If you haven’t already, you should read Satyajit Ray’s tales of Feluda (Prodosh Chandra Mitra), the home-grown detective, and his sidekicks, cousin Tapesh ‘Topshe’ Ranjan Mitra and author, Lalmohan ‘Jotayu’ Ganguli. Though ‘Feluda’ has been filmed many times, Ray adapted two of his stories in Shonar Kella and Joy Baba Felunath, with Chatterjee taking on the role of the celebrated private detective. A bewitching comic thriller meant for kids (or adults who have retained their childish innocence), Sonar Kella takes you on an exciting journey through the heart of Rajasthan. Joi Baba Felunath sees Chatterjee reprise his role as Felu in this sequel to Shonar Kella, this time, travelling to Benares to solve the mystery of a missing statue.