New Delhi: Actor Soumitra Chatterjee passed away Sunday morning, over a month after he had tested positive for Covid-19. The 85-year-old’s health had deteriorated in the last two days as Covid started affecting his nervous system, a condition known as encephalopathy.
A recipient of the Padma Bhushan and France’s highest order of merit Legion d’Honneur, Chatterjee was a four-time National Award winner, and is regarded as one of the finest actors in the Indian film industry. He acted in over 300 films over six decades, and is most well regarded for his collaborations with the legendary Satyajit Ray. It is often said he was to Ray what Marcello Mastroianni was to Federico Fellini, Robert De Niro was to Martin Scorsese and Mifune Toshiro was to Akira Kurosawa.
Among Chatterjee’s myriad performances, there are some that stand out as highlights that will remain long in public memory. ThePrint picks a few.
Apu in Apur Sansar
Soumitra Chatterjee’s debut film, and the first of his many collaborations with Satyajit Ray, was the final instalment in the ‘Apu trilogy’, considered one of the greatest achievements of Indian cinema.
The film follows the story of Apurba Kumar Roy (Chatterjee), an unemployed graduate, and his travails with love, marriage and parenthood.
Feluda in Sonar Kella and Joi Baba Felunath
For at least three generations of Bengalis, the mere mention of Soumitra Chatterjee is likely to conjure up an image of Ray’s Charminar-smoking answer to Sherlock Holmes — Feluda.
Though the role has been reprised by many talented Bengali actors under the direction of Ray’s son Sandip in modern times, Satyajit Ray only made two Feluda movies out of the dozens of stories he wrote — Sonar Kella (1975) and Joi Baba Felunath (1978). And Soumitra brought the genius detective to life, ably supported by Santosh Dutta as Jatayu and Siddhartha Chatterjee as Feluda’s cousin and the Watson to his Holmes, Topshe.
Sonar Kella, an adventure that takes Feluda and his associates to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, in search of the ‘Golden Fortress’ while fighting off criminals, and Joi Baba Felunath, in which they take on the dreaded criminal mastermind Maganlal Meghraj in Varanasi, are etched in viewers’ minds.
Asim in Aranyer Din Ratri
An “adventure drama film” released in 1970, Aranyer Din Ratri was about a group of four friends and their visit to a forested countryside, populated with tribals. In the movie, Chatterjee played Asim, the leader of the pack, whose character undergoes a change-of-heart as he attempts to woo Aparna, played by Sharmila Tagore.
Amal in Charulata
Considered one of Ray’s crowning achievements, Charulata was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s story, The Broken Nest. The film revolved around the intelligent and lonely Charulata, portrayed by Madhabi Mukherjee, the wife of Bhupati, an upper-class Bengali intellectual. Chatterjee played Amal, Bhupati’s cousin.
The dream-like story about the forbidden love between Charulata and Amal is remembered fondly to this day.
Shyam in Basanta Bilap
By 1973, when Basanta Bilap was released, Soumitra Chatterjee was at the peak of his career. But the romantic comedy was unlike most other films he had acted in.
The film’s plot revolves around a group of women who live in a working women’s hostel, and their hilarious face-off with a group of four boys from the neighbourhood. This was Chatterjee’s third film with Aparna Sen, who later went on to become a director of note.
Sushovan in Mayurakshi
Four decades after the prime of his career, and well into his 80s, Chatterjee once again proved to cinema-lovers why he remained one of India’s finest in the profession with the 2017 film, Mayurakshi.
The movie explored the tender and terse relationship between father Sushovan (Chatterjee) and son Aryanil (Prosenjit Chatterjee).
The film received the Best Bengali Feature Film honour at the 65th National Film Awards.