The Artist & ‘I’
He has been called the ‘Thinking Actor of Bengali Cinema’ but has exhibited supreme artistry in both critically acclaimed and commercial films. And despite a half-century innings on stage and celluloid, age has dimmed neither his enthusiasm nor energy. Partho Mukerjee and Priyanka Mukerjee ask Soumitra Chatterjee to share the secret of his boundless energy. Photographs by Shilbhadra Datta
Raised in a family where idealism and a taste for the best in culture went hand in hand, Soumitra Chatterjee was steeped in art, learning and humanity from an early age. He would read Rabindranath Tagore voraciously; the more he related to Tagore, the more he gave to his acting — he went on to act in 14 Satyajit Ray films. Pauline Kael described him as Ray's “one-man stock company”. He was to Ray what Toshiro Mifune was to Akira Kurosawa, Marcello Mastroianni to Federico Fellini, and Robert de
Niro to Martin Scorsese. It was even suggested by critic Chidananda Das Gupta that Ray cast Soumitra every so often because of his distinct resemblance to the young Tagore.
In a career spanning more than 50 years and 200 films, Soumitra has also worked under Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha, Tarun Mazumder and Goutam Ghosh. Such was his acting prowess that he defined a new dimension in acting. Indeed, his accolades are many and they have come from different quarters: foreign governments, international film festivals and the Indian government (Padma Bhushan). Ironically,
Soumitra was conferred the Best Actor National Award in 2006. But to the actor himself, the appreciation of his audience is the best recognition.
Theatre continues to be his first love, though, having been initiated into the art by legendary director-producer-actor Natyacharya Sisir Kumar Bhaduri. As playwright and actor Monoj Mitra once said, “The audience readily relates to the characters he creates.” That’s not all. Ask Soumitra about the poet in him and the artist confesses,
“Poetry that can moisten my heart with emotions I am sure can whet my feelings as an actor.”
New season: Soumitra Chatterjee on stage
in Tritio Önko, Ötoéb (2010), an autobiographical play that
he has also directed
We met Soumitra on a sweltering morning at his home in Golf Green, Kolkata. He had returned from Santiniketan only the night before. Prior to that, he had toured England and shot at many outdoor locations. At 75, Soumitra’s energy still knows no bounds. But in him, we meet a star who doesn’t scorch by his stellar glare but leaves one enlightened by his wisdom. His home welcomes us with calmness typical of simplicity and taste. The curios reflect the delicate taste of the lady who holds the fort — his wife Deepa, an ace badminton player and former state champion.
Paintings by Jamini Roy and Robin Mondal catch the eye as Soumitra draws our attention to a painting of blue waves by Mondal that he used as a prop in Chandanpurer Chor. A Rajasthani carpet with cushions casually tossed on it and the ocean blue sofa with his handy belongings resting on it speak of an artist’s carelessness for the trivialities of life. Against the diffused sunlight filtering in through a huge door, which reminds one of the entrance to an inner sanctum, Soumitra invites us to begin the interview over sandesh followed by tea and snacks.