Soumitra Chatterjee, the legendary Bengali actor who gave face to auteur Satyajit Ray’s Apu and Feluda, breathed his last at a private hospital in Kolkata on Sunday.
He was 85.
With the death of Chatterjee, the curtains dropped on the last generation of what is heralded as Bengali cinema’s ‘glorious days’.
“We declare with heavy heart that Shri Soumitra Chattopadhyay breathed his last at 12-15 pm at Belle Vue Clinic today (15 November 2020). We pay our homage to his soul,” a press statement from the hospital read.
The actor was admitted on October 6 after he tested positive for Covid-19. He was put on life support in the days leading to his death, as more complications developed.
Born to Mohit Kumar Chatterjee and Asha Chatterjee in Krishnanagar in West Bengal’s Nadia district in 1935, Chatterjee graduated from City College and secured a master’s degree in Bengali literature from University of Calcutta.
He had a penchant for acting and actively participated in theatre from an early age. After encountering pioneer Sisir Bhaduri’s play, a young Chatterjee decided to become an actor under Bhaduri’s tutelage. Chatterjee debuted with Ray’s 1959 film Apur Sansar and collaborated with almost every eminent director in Bengali cinema, except Ritwik Ghatak and Buddhadeb Sengupta. Some of the yesteryear directors he worked with include Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha. In the recent years, he had worked with filmmakers Aparna Sen, Rituparno Ghosh, Goutam Ghose, Shiboprasad Mukhopadhyay and Nandita Roy, etc. to name a few.
Chatterjee was best known for featuring in Oscar Award-winning director Satyajit Ray’s films. The duo collaborated in 14 films including the Apu Trilogy and Feluda films- Sonar Kella (1974) and Joi Baba Felunath (1979). While writing the Feluda series, Ray is said to have modelled the young private detective along the physique of a younger Chatterjee. Ray’s kinship with Chatterjee is often equated to the several collaborations between Hollywood director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo Dicaprio as well as Martin Scorsese and actor Robert DeNiro.
Their collaboration lasted till Ray’s second last film Shakha Proshaka (1990).
With a career spanning over six decades and 300 films, the actor lived through the transition of Indian cinema- from theatre, to black and white films and colour cinema.
The thespian was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third highest award given to a civilian by India, in 2004. He is the only Indian actor to have been conferred with the Ordre dres Arts et des Lettres, France’s highest award for artists.
His last release was the 2019 film Sanjhbati, co-starring Lily Chakravarty, Paoli Dam and Dev.
Even during the pandemic, the artist recorded his voice for the Bengali animated series Abol Tabol. The first episode from the series was released on YouTube on November 14, on the occasion of Children’s Day. The series consisted of a collection of 53 rhymes, written by Ray’s father Sukumar Ray. The collection was first published in 1923.
Chatterjee was reportedly working on Abhijaan, a biopic of his own life directed by Parambrata Chatterjee, when he fill ill. His film Belashuru, sequel 0f Belasheshe, was supposed to be premiering this summer but the release had to be postponed because of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.
Chatterjee is survived by his wife Deepa Chatterjee, daughter Polulami Bose and son Sougata Chatterjee.
Requesting privacy in a Facebook post, his daughter wrote:
Feluda’ is no more. ‘Apu’ said goodbye. Farewell, Soumitra (Da) Chatterjee. He has been a legend in his lifetime. International, Indian and Bengali cinema has lost a giant. We will miss him dearly. The film world in Bengal has been orphaned 1/2
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) November 15, 2020