Apu departs
THE WEEK|November 29, 2020
As the face of Satyajit Ray’s classics and as an actor true to his art, Soumitra Chatterjee leaves behind a rich legacy
RABI BANERJEE

SOUMITRA CHATTERJEE 1935-2020

In 2012, when legendary Bengali writer Sunil Gangopadhyay died of cancer, I called his dear friend Soumitra Chatterjee. “I am feeling down, and do not know how to react. Almost all of my friends have left me. I feel really lonely,” the actor said.

Perhaps he became indifferent to the idea of death after the loss of so many friends, because at the age of 85, he chose to return to the film set while Covid-19 was reaping lives in the hundreds every day. His argument was that Covid-19 would stay but life could not stand still. Sadly, fortune did not favour this brave man; he died on November 15, a month after being infected.

Chatterjee was theatre’s gift to the silver screen. Mentored by Sisir Bhaduri—the father of modern Bengali theatre—Chatterjee was a theatrical prodigy as a student of Calcutta University. His talent caught the attention of many luminaries, including actor Utpal Dutt.

In 1957, when Chatterjee was 22, he was called up by Satyajit Ray, who was scripting Apur Sansar, his third film of the Apu trilogy. Soumitra fit the role of Apu—he was tall with attractive eyes and an innocent but intelligent look. His performance and the film attracted much critical acclaim from around the world. In 1960, when it was screened in Washington DC, US President John F. Kennedy was in attendance as he had read glowing reviews of the film in British newspapers.

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