How do you describe someone like SoumitraChatterjee? A great actor? A thespian? A cultural icon of Bengal?The alter ego of Ray?Yes, he is all this, but no, he is not only all this. For the Bengalis – and for those who understand the language – he was a cultural consciousness who could answer to the identity of a poet, a playwright, a director, a painter, and a writer.
He straddled the hearts of Bengalis like a colossus of culture for 61 years.But across the world, for those who did not understand the language, he was limited to being someone who could own any character he essayed on the big screen –and that has been his overarching and most-overpowering image. And he straddled their hearts too, like a colossus of acting.
Today, all these hearts are heavy with the realization that the man who could effortlessly switch over from being the sensitive Apurba Kumar Roy aka Apu, to being the romantic Amal to the dashing Feluda to the villainous MayurBahan and much more, has passed on to another realm.
Since he first appeared on the big screen as the gangly, young Apu – in Satyajit Ray’s “ApurSansar” in 1959, a collaboration that continued thorugh 14 films over 31 years till the maestro’s penultimate film “ShakhaProshakha” – Chatterjee worked with every prominent filmmaker from Bengal across generations, be it MrinalSen, AjoyKar, TapanSinha to RituparnoGhose and AtanuGhosh (the only filmmaker he did not do a film with was RitwikGhatak).
It was, of course, his personal choice that he never worked in any film in any other language, including Hindi (except for the 2002-made “Hindustani Sipahi”, which for all practical purposes was a Bengali film made in Hindi, given that the makers and the rest of the cast were all from Bengal!).
How does one even write a tribute to such a giant who had become a habit for generations of filmgoers not only in Bengal and India but across the world? An impossible task that is, except saying that, artistes, like art, never die.
Soumitra Chatterjee will live on in the conscious and subconscious of all of those who value the artistic merits of cinema.
As Apu, As Feluda, as Amal, and as many other characters who became alive on the screen in front of us, thanks to his malleable face that dissolves into them.