An actor - when shooting his debut film - starts writing a psychological biography of the character he is playing. He writes a whole personal diary of the character. Surprisingly, the young actor does this just for recognising and realising the essence of his role better.
The actor was Soumitra Chattopadhyay. The director was Satyajit Ray and the film was ‘Apur Sansar’. Since this very first film, Chattopadhyay had shown his persistent dedication and passion for acting. Now, as the legendary actor expired on November 15 due to severe post Covid-19 complications, the film fraternity is mourning in deep grief.
Soumitra Chattopadhyay’s career initially started with theatre and a job at the All India Radio. He had successfully bridged his career between acting and writing-editing. He edited a magazine, ‘Ekkhon’, with his writer friend Nirmalya Acharya, published his collection of short stories-poems and books like ‘The Master and I’ regarding his experience with Satyajit Ray.
Ray and Chattopadhyay have worked together in 14 films and the director successfully used his versatility. He played the character of a revolutionist, romantic hero and probably the most renowned detective role in Bengali cinema - ‘Feluda’. Ray initially created the character of ‘Feluda’ to feed young minds and readers of ‘Sandesh’. But Chattopadhyay’s presence only in two ‘Feluda’ films gained immense popularity - breaking the boundary of age. This actually fortified his path of becoming the ‘intellectual star’. Chattopadhyay himself said that his intriguing diction in Bengali had also made Ray cast him for the roles of Sandip (in Ghare-Baire), Udayan Pandit (in Heerak Rajar Deshe) and essentially secured his career in recitation.
With a simplistic approach to a naturalistic acting, he had influenced everyone from common audiences to cinephiles. Even after being a so called ‘romantic hero’, he had an extravagant capability to de-glamourize himself to suit his characters in films like ‘Koni’ or ‘Atanka’. His emotional and social empathy towards these characters must have helped.
Beyond acting in films, Chattopadhyay was largely influenced by the acting method of theatre artist Sisir Bhaduri and left great contributions to public and group theatres. He staged plays like King Lear, Phera, Nilkantha, Atmakatha, Tiktiki and Boshtomi and so on. His oeuvre includes original plays and some adaptations of foreign plays. Interestingly, Chattopadhyay created his own detective character in his original play’ Tiktiki’.
He has been considered as a sublime actor on the world stage. In 2017, he was honoured with France’s highest civilian award - the Legion d’Honneur - which was also received by Ray. His firmament of awards includes Dadasaheb Phalke (2012), Padma Bhushan (2004), Sangeet Natak Akademi Tagore Ratna (2012), Special Jury Award of the National Film Award (1991, 2001), Silver Lotus Award for Best Actor (2006), Best Actor (Critics) of Filmfare Awards (2013, 2017). But he protested against alleged biased judgement and refused to accept Padma Shri and the National Film Award more than once.
Soumitra Chattopadhyay has been vocal about socio-political issues. Recently, he also engaged in the protest against the CAA-NRC and wrote a letter to the Indian Prime Minister expressing his dissent.
After the death of Satyajit Ray, Chattopadhyay had contemplated leaving the film industry. However, he had later lamented to filmmaker Rituparna Ghosh, “But even if I wish to, the industry won’t let me go. Also, what will I do if I leave this?” The decaying glory of Bengali films since the 90s had upset him but it certainly helped him to pay more attention to theatre acting.
Chattopadhyay’s death is a curtain drop for an era of ‘method acting’. He now rests in peace as his audience continue to give him a standing ovation