fbpx
Monday, October 25, 2021

Soumitra Chattopadhyay: Bangla cinema’s Alt Superstar

He was the ultimate 'phenomenon' for the sheer ease with which he defied the cliches of image, writes VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY

Reading Time: 4 minutes 

He was the alt superstar of Bangla cinema in its glory years, the affable Bhadralok icon who crafted a towering stature ironically banking on down-to-earth, believable characters that represented middle-class Bengal. The brand of stardom was in stark contrast to the other shining luminary of contemporary cinema in the state — Uttam Kumar — whose position as Mahanayak in the Bengali psyche was primarily cemented in idol worship and mass hysteria.

Soumitra Chattopadhyay — Chatterjee to anglicised India — answers to the term ‘phenomenon’ as absolutely as few actors do, for the sheer ease with which he defied the cliches of image. His stardom was sensational, and yet born out of realism. He was the mascot of the peerless Satyajit Ray’s oeuvre, having worked with the maestro in 14 films, and yet he scored with the same assuredness in works of contemporary commercial powerhouses as Ajoy Kar and Tarun Mazumdar. He is the Dadasaheb Phalke Award (2012) and Padma Bhushan (2004) recipient who was also honoured with the Legion d’Honneur (2018) in France for his contribution to world cinema.

- Advertisement -

Importantly, Soumitra Chattopadhyay’s greatness as a screen icon will survive the test of time in Bengali pop lore because he had something for everyone. For, he was not just Satyajit Ray’s Apu. Beyond such a nuanced portrayal, he could also simply become Ray’s Feluda and reach out to every audience, eight to 80.

It took a Ray to bring to life Soumitra’s greatness, and yet the account of their first meeting is a well-known story in Bengal. Ray was looking for his adult Apu in Apur Sansar, final part of the Apu trilogy that started with Pather Panchali. A friend introduced Soumitra to the master filmmaker who promptly declared the budding actor looked too old to be Apu, a college student according to his script. Soumitra would eventually bag the role opposite Sharmila Tagore, of course, and the rest is history.

Soumitra’s cinematic fate is overwhelmingly dictated by the great cinema of Satyajit Ray, so much so the maestro’s filmography through his most important phase outlines the actor’s career graph.

Soumitra made his debut with Apur Sansar (1959) and, over the next three decades, would work in Ray projects as Devi (1960), Teen Kanya (1961), Abhijan (1962), Charulata (1964), Kapurush O Mahapurush (1965), Aranyer Din Ratri (1969), Ashani Sanket (1973), Sonar Kella (1974), Joy Baba Felunath (1978), Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980), Ghare Baire (1984), Ganashatru (1989) and Shakha Proshakha (1990).

It was a filmography that Ray, one of the world’s greatest filmmakers ever, shared with his chosen on-screen emissary. But if Ray worked with Soumitra 14 times, almost every major filmmaker the actor collaborated with also tended to repeat him. If anything, beyond underlining his credential as an artiste that fact stands a testimony to his professionalism and disposition as a human being.

Consider a few other diversely prolific filmmakers beyond Ray who worked with Soumitra, and you get the picture.

Soumitra Chattopadhyay'
Source: Wikicommons

Mrinal Sen, another global icon of Bangla cinema of the era, directed Soumitra for the first time in Punascha (1961), and then again returned to collaborate with the actor in Pratinidhi (1964), Akash Kusum (1965), and Mahaprithibi (1991). The iconic Tapan Sinha directed him in projects as Kshudhita Pashan (1960), Jhinder Bandi (1961), Atanka (1984) and Antardhan (1992).

Mainstream titans of his era loved working with the affable Soumitra, too. Asit Sen directed him in Swayambara (1961) and Swaralipi (1961), while Ajoy Kar made Otol Joler Ahoban (1962), Saat Pake Baandha (1963), Barnali (1963), Kaanch Kata Heere (1965) and Parineeta (1969). Tarun Mazumdar directed the actor over the years in Ektuku Baasha (1965), Sansar Simante (1975), Ganadevata (1978), Agomon (1988) and Path O Prasad (1991).

Most of his directors have often spoken about the insatiable passion he had for his craft. It was something that ensured he would stay busy as ever till his last days, essaying character roles with the same enthusiasm with which he executed starring roles in his heydays.

His 300-plus film career probably can be explained by his highly adaptable quality as an actor. He was at home working with new-age Bengali filmmakers as Atanu Ghosh (Mayurakshi), Suman Ghosh (Podokkhep, Peace Haven, Dwando, Basu Paribar), Partha Chakraborty (Samantaral) and Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee (Posto).

He did move outside Bengal into Bollywood domain twice. In 1986, he acted opposite Roopa Ganguly in the Hindi short film Nirupama, based on Tagore’s story Dena Paona. He also had a role in the 2002 release, Hindustani Sipahi, based on Utpal Dutt’s renowned Bangla play Pherari Fauj.

These though were temporary departures. For most parts, his staggering career is based on his Bengali filmography. It is a body of work that has given him recognition beyond the National Award as Best Actor (Podokkhep). He also received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1998.

Although his greatness lies in his body of work before the camera, Soumitra did try his hand at filmmaking, too. His directorial effort Stree Ki Patra, a telefilm based on Rabindranath Tagore’s Streer Patra released in 1986. The film starred Roopa Ganguly and Usha Ganguly.

That the legacy of Bangla cinema’s Grand Old Man was established in his lifetime is obvious from the number of GenNow actors who have followed in his footsteps. Young talents in the Bengali film industry of today such as Parambrata Chattopadhyay and Abir Chatterjee have fashioned their careers in the lines of Soumitra, seeking stardom without losing connect with Bengali middle-class realities. These are actors who have carved a niche in what is today known as the multiplex cinema circuit, catering content-driven entertainment of refinement, removed from the cliches of kitsch. It is something Soumitra relished doing all those decades ago.

Vinayak Chakravorty, IANS

READ MORE: Chronicler of everyday stories: Basu Chatterjee (1927 – 2020)

- Advertisement -

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Podcasts

Ep 9: What do young Indians want from love?

0
  Growing up in Indian culture, most of us know that love has never been as popular as marriage. Even in the movies, the main...

Ep 8: Indian links in Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann’s...

0
  To celebrate NAIDOC week 2020 (between 8-15 November) I spoke to Yakunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann about her time in India where she taught...

Ep 7: In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput

0
  The torrid and high-octane Sushant Singh Rajput case has been fodder for Indian people and press for the last few months. The actor’s tragic death...
- Advertisement -

Latest News

school kids

Celebrating the social importance of schools

0
  With the reopening of schools, it has become very evident that the social utility of schools is understated. As students are returning to schools,...
shah rukh khan and kajol in ddlj

DDLJ to be adapted into Broadway musical

0
  Filmmaker Aditya Chopra's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, commonly abbreviated as DDLJ, is a story that continues to inspire generations and has set a benchmark...

Woolworths helps customers celebrate Diwali with expanded Indian product range

0
  Like all of Australia, Woolworths has gained an understanding of the special place that Diwali holds in the hearts of the Indian people. The...
pakistan cricket

India V Pak T20 World Cup: India’s meek surrender is cause...

0
  Watching the India V Pak match in the T20 World Cup end like it did, was hard to comprehend. Never having lost a World...

Being a ‘Chutney Mary’ and an unlikely romance with India (Book...

0
  For Melbourne-based social and political researcher Valerie Britton-Wilson, India has long held inexplicable allure. In her latest book A Touch of India she details...