Soumitra Chatterjee: Enigmatic Apu, Feluda of Bengali films no more

Kolkata: Legendary Bengali actor and Dada Saheb Phalke Award winner Soumitra Chatterjee, known for his collaborations with Oscar-winning film director Satyajit Ray, has passed away in Kolkata, at the age of 85, on Sunday.

Chatterjee became synonymous with the detective character ‘Feluda’ created by Ray. Though Feluda’s first appearance was in a series of detective books written by Ray, later the maestro decided to give it a celluloid format and Chatterjee played the lead role in all the movies made by Ray on Feluda.

Later on, Ray started making illustrations of Feluda in his books based on Chatterjee’s figure.

A winner of India’s highest award for cinema — Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 2012, Soumitra during his acting career had worked with Ray in more than 14 movies.

Chatterjee is also the first Indian film personality conferred with France’s highest award for artists — the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

In 2018, thirty years after Ray was honoured with France’s highest civilian award, the coveted Legion of Honor, thespian Soumitra Chatterjee, also received the prestigious award as the first-ever Indian actor.

Born in Calcutta, West Bengal, in the year 1935, Chatterjee graduated from the City College, Kolkata with honours in Bengali literature, post which he did an M.A. in Bengali from the University of Calcutta. The thespian learnt his acting skills under noted actor-director of Bengali theatre Ahindra Choudhury.

Apart from his movies, in his over six decades-long career, Chatterjee was also known as a noted stage actor, poet and reciter.

His physical age could not slow his mental growth. He had transformed his acting skills, his thoughts and presentations completely keeping pace with the changing times and demands.

The turning point of Chatterjee’s career came when he saw a play by theatre director Sisir Bhaduri. The idea of becoming a professional actor germinated in his mind after watching that play.

Ironically, Chatterjee who was known for his stunning sharp looks was himself not confident about his appearance in the initial years!

Chatterjee debuted in the film world with Ray’s Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) in 1959. This was the third part of Ray’s famous Apu trilogy. He played the lead role of ‘Apu’ opposite veteran actor Sharmila Tagore.

Later he acted in 14 Ray movies including Charulata, Abhijan, Aranyer Din Ratri, Ashani Sanket, Sonar Kella, Jai Baba Felunath, Ghare Baire and Ganashatru.

Chatterjee had also worked closely with another famous Bengali director Mrinal Sen in his movie Akash Kusum.

His stellar performance with Tanuja in the movie Teen Bhubaner Parey and the rocking song “Jiboney ki pabone” where he was seen performing twist dance steps is still considered one of the best performances by him.

He was very often compared with Bengali megastar Uttam Kumar. Both the actors, known for their individual distinct acting abilities, acted together in Tapan Sinha’s Jhinder Bandi and the rest is history.

Chatterjee did not retire nor his fan following let him hang up his boots. He had never let his fans down. He kept acting till the very end. His last movie was Sanjhbati in 2019.

Considered a living legend, the Bengali film fraternity craved for his august company to learn about movies and acting.

After giving two decades of performances to Bengali cinema he returned to stage theatre in 1978. Some of his very well known theatres were Ghatak Biday, Rajkumar, Phera and Tiktiki. His performance of Raja Lear (based on King Lear) since November 2010 had received widespread critical appreciations.

Chatterjee was an exponent in reciting poems by Bengali bard Rabindranath Tagore.

He fell sick in October 2020 and tested coronavirus positive. Later it developed into multiple complications, which led to his demise.

With him, an era in Bengali movies came to an end.