Exclusive! Sharmila Tagore: I have never met anyone who knew as much as Soumitra Chatterjee – Times of India


Soumitra Chatterjee, an iconic and legendary actor from Bengali cinema, widely recalled for his 14 collaborations with legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray, passed away today, after a spell of illness in recent weeks. The actor’s legacy includes his seven-decade-long journey with theatre, poetry, cinema and painting. Soumitra was the first Indian film personality to be conferred with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s highest award for artistes. A Dadasaheb Phalke Award recipient, he was also awarded the Legion of Honor in 2017.

Sharmila Tagore, who made her debut in Apur Sansar, Soumitra’s first film in 1959, recalls her co-star as someone who was well-read, well-informed and erudite. She says, “I don’t think we worked in as many films but it’s a very special bond that we shared. We started working in Apur Sansar. It was his first film and mine, too. He was exactly 10 years older than me. He wanted to be an actor and I was an accidental actress. He was 23 and I was 13 at that time. The legacy he has left behind is unparalleled. He has worked with Satyajit Ray in so many films. He was his muse. Soumitra also worked with Tapan Sinha, Ajoy Kar, Mrinal Sen, Asit Sen on several movies. I was just watching Barnali the other day; it took me back in time. Soumitra worked in black and white films also. As an actor, he was not just into cinema. He did theatre, he acted in plays and he directed them, too. He was an exemplary reciter. The way he lent his voice to poems was beautiful. He could sing, he could paint. Lately, he was painting a lot. There was nothing he didn’t know about; sports, politics, literature – he was well-read. He was a hugely talented person and his passing is a great loss for us and the industry. People have made films on him while he was alive. I have never met anyone who knew so much. It was a pleasure talking to him, just like it is to talk to Naseeruddin Shah. It’s enlightening.”

Talking about Soumitra’s unending zest for life and learning, Sharmila says, “He worked on everything including his handwriting, in order to better himself. He had a charming smile and he loved to chat. We called it adda in Bengali. We were shooting Aranyer Din Ratri in a forest, and we could not shoot beyond a few hours because it used to be so hot in the day. It was such a wonderful outdoor, spent listening to Subhendu Chatterjee and Soumitra chatting away about sports, and theatre and the origins of theatre in Bengal. One would stop and the other would start. I wish I had recorded that chat. They covered so many subjects. It was a pleasure to be in Soumitra’s company. He was a well-read, erudite, well-informed and charming person. He enlightened people. He really struggled to become an actor and, today has had a working career stretching into decades. 1959 to now, he has worked all along. In fact, he Soumitra also did Jatra at one time. I asked him, ‘Why are you doing this?’ He said, ‘It’s a great experience, open theatre and performing to an audience in an open space.’ It must have been so tiring to travel all along and perform. But he enjoyed that. Today, commerce has taken over. People privilege money over art but Soumitra didn’t think like that. He did his characters to the best of his ability, he maintained his dignity and that is why we will remember him the way we do. His ethics, his attitude towards life, his recorded words are all so inspiring.”

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