Soumitra Chatterjee (Photo: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images).
LEGENDARY ACTOR Soumitra Chatterjee has been hailed as one of Indian cinema’s leading lights after his death at the age of 85 from health complications after he contracted the coronavirus.
Chatterjee appeared in around 300 films over six decades but was best known internationally for his work with Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray.
He was admitted to a Kolkata hospital after testing positive for Covid-19 last month and was kept there as he suffered further ailments linked to the virus, according to local media.
The acting icon’s condition deteriorated and he died on Sunday(15), his daughter Poulami Bose wrote on Facebook.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said Chaterjee’s death was “a colossal loss to the world of cinema” and India’s cultural life.
“Through his works, he came to embody Bengali sensibilities, emotions and ethos. Anguished by his demise. Condolences to his family and admirers. Om Shanti,” Modi tweeted.
“International, Indian and Bengali cinema has lost a giant. We will miss him dearly,” said West Bengal state chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
“Feluda’ is no more. ‘Apu’ said goodbye. Farewell, Soumitra (Da) Chatterjee. He has been a legend in his lifetime. International, Indian and Bengali cinema has lost a giant. We will miss him dearly. The film world in Bengal has been orphaned,” she paid homage to Chatterjee on Twitter.
Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who suffered his own bout of Covid-19 earlier this year, tweeted that Chatterjee was “one of the mightiest pillars” of India’s film industry and “a gentle soul”.
Veteran actor Sharmila Tagore said that she has lost one of her oldest friendships, which began when she was a teenager.
Tagore and Chatterjee began their career with filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s final installment of the ‘Apu’ trilogy, ‘Apur Sansar’ in 1959. They later featured in acclaimed films, including Ray’s 1960 directorial ‘Devi’, filmmaker Ajoy Kar’s drama ‘Barnali’ (1963) and ‘Aranyer Din Ratri’ in 1970.
“He was one of my oldest friends, after my husband Tiger (cricket legend Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi) and actor Shashi Kapoor. He has been such a loyal and fun friend,” Tagore, 75, told PTI.
“We would talk for hours on sports, history, our vision of India. I find him irreplaceable that way because there’s nobody else I can share so much with. If I expressed a certain point of view, he’d agree and expand or shoot it down and give his reasons. That kind of friendship is so rare. To lose that is huge.”
Chatterjee appeared in 14 of Ray’s films and made his debut in the third instalment of the director’s acclaimed Apu Trilogy.
He was in 2012 presented with Indian cinema’s highest honour, the Dadasaheb Phalke, and France awarded him the Legion of Honour three years ago. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Italy.
Thousands of mourning fans gathered in Kolkata near the crematorium where his body was taken late on Sunday, carrying candles and photographs of the actor.
Chatterjee made his debut in 1959 with Satyajit Ray’s ‘Apur Sansar’ and went on to enjoy a great actor-director relationship by starring in Ray classics like ‘Charulata’, ‘Ghare Baire’, ‘Devi’ and ‘Aranyer Din Ratri’.
A three-time national award winner, he enjoyed huge popularity as a matinee idol in Bengal after Uttam Kumar.
The actor was also known for playing iconic Bengali private investigator Feluda in Ray’s ‘Sonar Kella’ and ‘Joi Baba Felunath’. His storied filmography in his twilight years features titles, including ‘Bela Sheshe’ (2015), short film ‘Ahalya’ (2015), ‘Samantaral’ (2017), national award winning ‘Mayurakshi’ (2017), ‘Sanjhbati’ (2019), among several others.
Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1935, Chatterjee, spent his early years in Krishnanagar in Nadia district where he completed his schooling.
He was introduced to acting through family stage plays by his grandfather and lawyer father, both amateur theatre actors. Chatterjee did his masters in Bengali literature from Calcutta University.
Interested in the arts from a young age, he saw a play by Bengali theatre doyen Sisir Bhaduri. It was a turning point, making him realise he wanted to be an actor.
However, it was only when he reached the sets of ‘Apur Sansar’ on August 9, 1958 for his first day of shooting that he knew he had found his calling. There was no looking back after that and Chatterjee became an integral part of Bengal’s art and cultural life with his movies.