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A life re-lived

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Interview Veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee brings to stage his autobiographical play Tritiyo Anko, Otoeb P. ANIMA

Deconstructing himself Soumitra Chatterjee in Tritiyo Anko, Otoeb
Deconstructing himself Soumitra Chatterjee in Tritiyo Anko, Otoeb

H e is every Bengali's personal pride. A stalwart of Bengali films for over half a century, actor Soumitra Chatterjee gave a glimpse of a different self — a playwright and director. At the 13th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, Chatterjee will stage the Bengali production “Tritiyo Anko, Otoeb,” a play he prefers to call an “autobiography in itself.” The veteran known to the world as a vital part of 14 of Satyajit Ray's movies, before leaving Kolkata, takes time out from a packed itinerary to talk about his theatre. Excerpts from the interview:

“Tritiyo Anko, Otoeb,” is autobiographical. Is it a deliberate attempt to pen such a play at this point of your life or is it the possibilities of the genre that lured you?

Instead of autobiographical, I would call the play an autobiography in itself, which has one character played by three actors. I have been often asked to write an autobiography and I think it is worthwhile. But to write an autobiography, one needs to be much more a writer. I thought it interesting to point out through theatre the milestones of my development, mental make-up and attitudes.

I was quite influenced by the play “The Last Cigarette” which I watched at the London theatre, where three actors played one part. That form sort of provoked me to write my character which is played by three people. Playing it myself would have been boring and three actors make it dramatic.

How difficult was it to be detached and look back at your life, picking out instances of joy and pain and putting them together? Could you approach it impersonally?

I didn't want it to be impersonal. I narrate a few things from my childhood, those with a lyrical quality, I narrate a few bitter experiences too, also chapters from history including the 1946 riots and the Bengal famine. It finally comes to my old age and facing death.

What are the dynamics behind three actors playing a character?

Among the three actors, I play one character myself, while one is played by my daughter and the other by another actor. We decided to have a woman actor as there are snippets of scenes where the particular thrust is on my wife or mother and we thought it better and easier to have a female actor. The incidents are all from the past and have elements of the nostalgic.

You have been in films for the past 50 years, but it is only in the 1970s that your engagement with theatre became constant. What was the reason for this disparity?

I started doing theatre much early, but it is not till the 1970s that I started being in theatre constantly. In the ‘60s, I used to do theatre occasionally. It was because my screen career had become so big, I became a successful actor and hero and there was big pressure to take up acting assignments. But I was hungry for stage roles and came back to theatre.

Do you disassociate or carry your influences as a film actor when you are doing theatre?

I don't think it is necessary to disassociate, actors like Lawrence Olivier did both. A person who paints miniatures can also make large oil paintings.

You have been associated with Satyajit Ray for a long time. Do you apply any of the nuances of the master which you imbibed to your theatre work?

Satyajit Ray has surely influenced me a lot and mentored me too. But when it comes to theatre, it is a great actor and director of Bengal, Shishir Kumar Bhaduri, who was loved even by Tagore, and whom I saw in the last three to four years of his life, who made me make up my mind to become an actor, and also write and direct.

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