No personal feelings

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Veteran: Soumitro Chatterjee.
Veteran: Soumitro Chatterjee.

Soumitro Chatterjee accepted this year's Best Actor award because his fans wanted him to.

Who knows? Soumitro Chatterjee,largely Ray's man, mighthave got the National Awardway back in 1964 if he had acceptedthe role Rajendra Kumar eventuallyplayed in "Sangam". But theveteran doesn't regret that at all. Afterall, what mattered to him was hisroots, his Calcutta of those days and ofcourse his very dear "friend and mentor"Satyajit Ray."Raj Kapoor offered me this role.But I refused, as I didn't like to live in anerve-wracking place like Mumbai,"says the veteran of over 100 films andtheatre productions, without even ahint of remorse.Mellow reactionThe veteran has received the NationalAward for Best Actor in "Poddokkhep",a Bengali film directed bySuman Ghosh, in which he plays alonely, retired widower "who is fightinghis age regression and ego". Theman who turned down the Padma Shriin 1970, indicating it was offered toolate, is definitely a shade mellower;what with the Padma Vibhushan in2004 and the National Award thisyear.Yet the 74-year-old clarifies,"Awards or no awards, it doesn't matteras I am internationally knownthrough Ray's films. This award toohas not come with any personal feelingsor value to me. I accepted it becausemy fans and admirers wantedme to," says the veteran.Ask him why Ray liked him somuch, and notice a sudden chirp in hisvoice. "Some heavenly connection?"he retorts, adding, "We shared a specialbond. He told me often that Iunderstood his mind before he spoketo it to me, and he did mine. In my30-year association with him, not onlydid he teach me a lot but also gave meimmense freedom in my roles. I wentto see him when he was making `Aparajita'.He liked me but told me that Iwas too grown up for Apu, so he tookme in the third film. At that time I wasa radio announcer. He did a voice andscreen test, pasted a moustache andsaid, `Your face should look changed'."Apart from doing "routine films"that have "no great roles", he now prefersto "immerse" himself in theatreproductions under the banner of`Mukho Mukhi'. "We do translationsand adaptations of literary works," heshares.And Bengali films? "They are becomingvery bad. They are now copyingthe South and Mumbai. They seemto have given up on our literary traditionof making films. We don't havewriters who can make good comedy,"he sounds grim.So how many more Hindi films washe offered? The question does thetrick. Laughing he answers, "I wouldhave played Manoj Kumar's role in`Aadmi' and Hrishida's AmitabhBachchan (`Anand') you know? I canspeak good Hindi. But why do theylive in Mumbai?"RANA SIDDIQUI



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