Legendary Indian actor Soumitra Chatterjee, best known for his work with Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray, has died from Covid-19 complications at the age of 85.
The 85-year-old actor was admitted to hospital in Kolkata city on 6 October after he tested positive for the coronavirus but later succumbed to complications that eventually led to his death.
Chatterjee was a famous and well-known actor of the Indian film industry and had been an actor for over six-decades with most of his movies being in the Bengali language. He starred in more than 300 movies and was also an accomplished playwright, theatre actor and poet.
After spending some time in the hospital, Chatterjee had tested negative later on but his condition soon deteriorated and he was put on a ventilator in the last week of October. He died on Sunday morning.
He was best known for his role in the Apu Trilogy, where we worked together with Satyajit Ray, an influential Indian director. The famous series followed the story of a man who grew up in a Bengali village. The films themselves garnered critical acclaim, winning many awards worldwide, and put Indian cinema on the global map.
The third movie of the trilogy, Apur Sansar, which released in 1959, was also Chatterjee’s debut film. He would go on to star as the lead actor in 14 of Ray’s films.
Pauline Kael, one of America’s most influential and respected film critics, called Chatterjee Ray’s “one-man stock company” who moved “so differently in the different roles he plays that he is almost unrecognisable”.
Chatterjee was awarded the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the highest honour in Indian cinema, in 2012 and in 2018, he was given France’s highest award, the Legion of Honour.
Soumitra Chatterjee was one of the best actors India ever had and put the country on the map
Chatterjee began his acting career while still in school, and starred in several plays before a close friend introduced him to Ray, which later on led him to the film career that earned him so much fame when he made his first movie debut.
“I didn’t know what to do when Mr Ray first asked me. I didn’t know what was the real difference between stage and screen acting. I was afraid I’d overact,” he told Marie Seton, film critic and biographer, in an interview.
Chatterjee’s career grew exponentially after that, amassing world fame as he starred in dozens of movies. Some of his popular acts include Sonar Kella, Devi, Abhijan, Aranyer Din Ratri, and Ashani Sanket.
He also played what Seton called a “thinly veiled portrait” of Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore in Charulata, one of Ray’s most admired films though sadly, the director passed on in 1992 after training him to be the best actor there is.
“His chief asset was the natural sensitivity of his appearance,” Seton wrote of the actor.
Ray mentored his favourite actor, lending him books on cinema and often taking him to watch Sunday morning shows of Hollywood films in Kolkata. “The entire exercise he did with a purpose, it was not as if he was taking me out on Sundays for entertainment,” Chatterjee once said.
Over the years, Chatterjee worked with leading directors like Tapan Sinha, Mrinal Sen, Asit Sen, Ajoy Kar, Rituparno Ghosh and Aparna Sen. In 1988, he worked with John Hurt and Hugh Grant in The Bengali Night, a film set in Kolkata. For all his popularity, Chatterjee stayed away from Bollywood, preferring to act in Bengali language films.
“Soumitra is the finest actor in the land today, but totally unheard of outside Bengal. It’s a loss for India, Bollywood and I guess, a bit for Soumitra,” Pritish Nandy, poet, journalist and filmmaker, said of the actor in 2012.
Chatterjee will surely be missed, and may his soul rest in peace.
Author: Allan Bangirana
Allan Bangirana is a freelance writer for Newslibre & Spur Magazine. He is passionate about tech, games and occasionally writes about entertainment, lifestyle and so much more.