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The ray is still glorious

You don't quite see Soumitra Chatterjee on screen because he lives the character he plays

"IF NO one responds to your call, walk alone my friend... " (Tor daak shune keyu na aashe tobe aikla cholo re...) These words from a song by Rabindranath Tagore, in some way, epitomise Soumitra Chatterjee, renowned Bengali actor. He may not be alone, but he has walked much ahead of others in the realm of Indian cinema. And at 70, he is still tirelessly going on.

While Bengali cinema has deteriorated over the years, with not much trace now of the excellence that marked Tollywood during the time of Ritwik Gathak, Satyajit Ray, and Mrinal Sen (of course, there are exceptions — we still have Goutam Ghose and Rituparno Ghosh), Soumitra Chatterjee lends it immense credibility.

The actor and poet was in the city to participate in the Bangla Utsav, currently on at the RBANMS grounds, and recited some of his poetry there, casting a spell on the audience.

The brilliant actor, known widely for his portrayal of Apu in Satyajit Ray's Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) — the movie that kick-started his career in Bengali cinema in 1959 and his long relationship with Ray — has been referred to by many as Ray's alter ego. In fact, he has acted in 15 of the maestro's 34 films. The moment captured in reel, where Apu reunites with his son and is seen walking away with him on his shoulder, is one that has remained forever in the minds of hardcore Chatterjee and Ray fans.

But my personal favourite among his films, however, is his performance as Sandip in the film Ghare Baire (Home and the World). Who can forget the charismatic nationalist leader during the British Raj in India that Chatterjee portrayed in the film?

The movie, directed by Satyajit Ray and based on Tagore's eponymous work, is set in 1905 and has some beautifully shot scenes of long conversations. And not to forget Feluda, the detective in Sonar Kella and other thrillers by Ray, which made him particularly popular among children.

Well, Soumitra Chatterjee is known for that — be it commercial or parallel cinema, he has always given his best in every film. That is why you never see him on screen, but only the characters he plays.

Before his tryst with cinema, Chatterjee was a radio announcer and was dabbling in theatre. He is still actively involved on stage and also performs in jathras (Bengali folk drama).

Somebody who has always spoken his mind, the thespian has been dogged by controversies. He refused the Padmashree in the Seventies, and more recently, he declined the National Award for his role of a blind poet in Dekha in 2001. "Awards do not haunt me," he had said once when asked why he refused to accept the award. He will soon be awarded the Padma Bhushan.

Perhaps, the most internationally acknowledged Indian actor, Chatterjee received The Officier des Arts et Metiers, the highest award for arts from France. His popularity outside his country can be judged by the fact that he has a full-length documentary dedicated to him entitled Tree, made by French director Catherine Berge.

It does not look like he is anywhere close to retiring — and his biggest award is perhaps the immense admiration of his fans.


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