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Soumitra Chatterjee: Nation Reveres Legendary Actor, Wakes Up to a World Without Apu

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Veteran Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee died on Sunday at a private hospital in Kolkata, ending a brilliant six-decade-long career of stellar performances in notable films. The 85-year-old actor, who debuted in master filmmaker Satyajit Ray‘s Apur Sansar (1959), was considered to be Ray’s favourite actor and had acted in 14 of the auteur’s films. The thespian was often termed as the ‘thinking man’s actor’, who attained critical acclaim both in parallel and well as in commercial films.

As news of his death spread, people took to Twitter to mourn the death of one of the last cinematic legends.

Condoling Chatterjee’s death, President of India Ram Nath Kovind tweeted that he would be “specially remembered for the ‘Apu’ trilogy and other memorable performances in Satyajit Ray’s masterpieces”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote that he was “anguished” by the demise of Chatterjee and offered his condolences to the actor’s family and admirers.

Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee had visited Chatterjee’s family at the Belle Vue Hospital, where he was undergoing treatment, on Sunday afternoon. Addressing media persons, she had announced that the actor would be given full state honours at his funeral. Chatterjee’s body was kept at Rabindra Sadan for the public to pay their last respects and was then taken to the Keoratola crematorium for his last rites. On Sunday evening, Banerjee walked along with a procession that led his body to Keoratola from Rabindra Sadan. Tweeting her condolences for the actor, Banerjee wrote “the film world in Bengal has been orphaned”.

Sharing her anecdotes of working alongside Chatterjee, actor Sharmila Tagore– who had also debuted in Apur Sansar- said she was yet to come across a person as learned as Chatterjee.

“I’ve lost a very dear, old and loyal friend… He didn’t just act in films, he worked in theatre, painted, did elocution. I’m very sad today. He may have left us but he will be with us forever,” she told a news channel.

She recalled the “lovely memories” of long chats with him and the rest of the cast during the outdoor shoots of Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri (1970) and filmmaker Goutam Ghose’s Abar Aranye (2003). “He was so learned, regarding so many things- cinema, theatre, books, politics. I would only listen and learn. I regret not recording all those conversations,” she added.

Actor and filmmaker Aparna Sen, who debuted in Ray’s Samapti (in 1961, opposite Chatterjee), which was part of the three-film anthology Teen Kanya, recalled him as her first co-star and said she would initially call him ‘Soumitra Kaku’ (uncle). Sen went on to direct Chatterjee in her National Award-winning films Paromitar Ek Din (2000) and 15 Park Avenue (2005).

“He would tease me saying ‘here’s our famous director, why don’t you cast me in one of your films?’. He has given several notable performances but I consider his performance in Paromitar Ek Din as one of his career best… We bonded over talking about our respective siblings. He was our family friend and was a good friend of my father’s,” Sen said.

Filmmaker Sandip Ray, who is also Satyajit Ray’s son, recalled the veteran actor as a family friend.

“I’ve lost a family friend whom I’ve known for 60 years. He was suffering for a long while. I last met him in September, when he was working on an archive of his acting, elocution, theatre and painting. He had a long association with my father and loved my father’s techniques,” he said.

Sharing a photo of Chatterjee and himself, veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan wrote that the “mightiest pillar of the film industry has fallen”.

Chatterjee was known for being a staunch supporter of the Left Front and never shied away from making political statements. In 2007, when the state’s intelligentsia were voicing their opinions against the then CPI(M) government’s land acquisition in Nandigram, Chatterjee stood by the state government, despite facing criticisms. An open critic of Rightist politics, he had publicly criticised Modi for introducing the Citizenship Amendment Act. Earlier this year, the thespian had penned an article for the Durga Puja edition of Ganashakti, the Bengali mouthpiece of the CPI(M), titled Ekhono Biswas Kori Bamponthai Bikolpo (I sill believe Leftist ideology is the alternative).

On Sunday evening, as hundreds of people walked behind Chatterjee’s hearse led by the chief minister, Left Front chairperson Biman Bose, CPI(M) state secretary Surjyakanta Mishra and CPI(M) leader and MLA Sujan Chakraborty walked along with the crowds to pay their last tributes to their comrade.

In a statement, former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya wrote: “The death of Soumitra Chatterjee is deeply tragic. Bengali cinema will forever be indebted to him. Condolences to his family and well wishers.”

Congress MP and senior leader of the party Shashi Tharoor wrote on Twitter: “A legend is lost to #COVID19, but for those of us who admired his work, Soumitra Chatterjee remains immortal. I had the privilege of meeting him in his prime & was struck by his grace & humility, so rare in the megastars of today. Kolkata mourns its fav son.”

Sharing a photo of Chatterjee, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “It’s sad to hear of the demise of Dadasaheb Phalke awardee Shri Soumitra Chatterjee, an actor par excellence who the nation has revered over the years.”

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