Actor of substance

veteran

Actor of substance

“To me, my mentor Satyajit Ray is the greatest. Without him, I would have never been what I am today,” says Soumitra Chatterjee, who was honoured by the Bengali Association at Mumbai a few days ago, for winning the coveted Dadasaheb Phalke Award.

There is a lot to the iconic actor’s forte; he explains, “I have experimented with cinema, television, theatre and radio. Each medium is interesting and has a language of its own.

I will carry on performing as long as my health permits.”
Soumitra Chatterjee achieved instant fame with his debut Apur Sansar opposite Sharmila Tagore in 1959.

He says, “I have acted in 13 films directed by Satyajit Ray, which include Devi, Kapurush and Charulata. Working under his direction, I have learnt the finer aspects of cinematic acting. Ray avoided melodrama and taught his actors to behave in front of the camera.”

Soumitra Chatterjee has also acted, very effectively, under the direction of Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar. He clarifies, “Ray was meticulous and his observation of characters was fabulous. Mrinal Sen was particular about each of his sequences; Tapan Sinha moulded his actors very well and Tarun Majumdar was objective.”


How does he assess himself as an actor? The legend smiles and states, “I have never assessed myself. I have attempted tragedy, romance and comedy. From the mid-80s, I shifted to more mature characters of substance, which suited both my age and looks. I never wanted to make a fool of myself in front of my audience who respect and love me so much as an actor.”

Khudito Pashan, Jhinder Bondi, Teen Bhubaner Pare and Sansar Simante stand testimony to his versatility and maturity as an actor. What does he feel about his arch-rival Uttam Kumar? Soumitra Chatterjee points out, “Uttam-da was never my rival. He was my genuine competitor. We worked in Aparichito and Stree in perfect harmony. He was the greatest combination of a star and actor. I will never forget him in Nayak and Jatugriha.”

Speaking about his contemporary film Shunya Awnko (‘Act Zero’), Soumitra Chatterjee grows enthusiastic. He says, “I perform the character of a scientist in this film directed by Goutam Ghosh. I am involved with science, but am deeply in love with nature and environment. Konkona Sen Sharma and Priyanshu Chatterjee are my co-stars in the film.”

Soumitra Chatterjee has rubbed histrionic shoulders with all top actresses of Bengal including Suchitra Sen, Sabitu Chatterjee, Supriya Chowdhury, Madhabi Mukherjee and Sandhya Roy.

He confesses, “Sabitri Chatterjee is the most gifted actress I have worked with. Her eyes still speak volumes. Madhabi Mukherjee is the ideal director’s actor, who rises to the occasion when working with an imaginative director. Another actress who had lots of potential was Tanuja, photogenic, effortless and co-operative.”

He continues, “I had received a number of offers to act in Hindi films. But I was never interested as I was content with whatever I did in Bengal. I had refused Shyam Bengali’s Kalyug as I was not convinced by the character of Karan, which he had offered to me. After seeing the film, I felt Shashi Kapoor did true justice to the role.”

Ending the conversation, Soumitra Chatterjee says, “I am not much moved by awards at my age. I remember, with due respect, my illustrious seniors, Chabi Biswas, Pahari Sanyal and Tulsi Chakraborty. Above all, the inimitable Satyajit Ray, to whom I have dedicated my award. I feel no actor is greater than a script or a director.

In Hindi, I have highly appreciated the works of Balraj Sahni, Dilip Kumar and Naseeruddin Shah. I feel there are many other actors with lots of potential who’ve not received their due in the Hindi film industry, as their talent has not been used to the hilt.

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