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Home >Industry >Media >Veteran Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee passes away at 85 after battling covid-19

NEW DELHI : Veteran film actor Soumitra Chatterjee, the face of Satyajit Ray’s Apu and Feluda, universally considered a doyen of Bengali cinema, passed away in Kolkata on Sunday. The 85-year old actor had been hospitalized on 6 October after testing positive for coronavirus. He tested negative a few weeks later but his condition deteriorated by the end of October when he had to be put on ventilator.

A winner of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the Padma Bhushan and two National Awards, Chatterjee had already worked with All India Radio as an announcer and in Bengali theatre (his grandfather was president of a theatre group in then-Calcutta and his father an amateur actor) when Ray offered him the role of Apu in Apur Sansar (1959), the third part of the Apu trilogy, considered one of the greatest Indian films of all time today. Interestingly, Chatterjee had met the legendary filmmaker when he was making the second part Aparajito (1956) but was then deemed too tall and old for the adolescent Apu. Three years later, however, fate came calling.

Chatterjee went on to work on 14 films and two documentaries with Ray eventually, including Devi (1960), Abhijan (1962), Charulata (1964), Aranyer Din Ratri (1970), Hirak Rajar Deshe (1980), Ghare Baire (1984), Ganashatru (1989) and others, besides playing the iconic private investigator Feluda in Sonar Kella (1974) and Joi Baba Felunath (1979). Collaborations with other filmmakers also brought him much acclaim, Mrinal Sen's Akash Kusum (1965) and Tapan Sinha's Jhinder Bandi (1961) catapulted him to superstardom, positioning him as arch rival to then numero uno Uttam Kumar.

Chatterjee began working with contemporary directors like Goutam Ghose, Aparna Sen, Anjan Das and Rituparno Ghosh in the 1980s and 90s, and churned out hits till the very end, including Bela Seshe (2015) and Mayurakshi (2017) as well as short films like Sujoy Ghosh’s Ahalya (2015). His last screen appearance was a drama called Sanjhbati that released in December 2019.

Chatterjee, however, remained prolific even outside of cinema, he continually brought out theatre productions such as Naam Jiban, Rajkumar (1982), Phera (1987), Nilkantha (1988), Ghatak Biday (1990), Nyaymurti (1996), Tiktiki (1995), and Homapakhi (2006), many of which he not just acted in but also wrote and directed. Since November 2010, he has been regularly performing the title role in Raja Lear, based on King Lear by William Shakespeare. He is also known to have painted, edited literary magazines and published over 12 books of poetry. He remained one of the few Indian film personalities to register his support to the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) last year.

“I was an avid cinema goer from an early age. But theatre was my first love. I still work in plays…physically, I do feel tired these days. But I’ve no option. This is my work, this is my life, this is how I’m made," he had said in a 2017 interview to Filmfare.

Film actors, directors, writers and critics across the country mourned the loss of the actor.

“Feluda’ is no more. ‘Apu’ said goodbye. Farewell, Soumitra (Da) Chatterjee. He has been a legend in his lifetime. International, Indian and Bengali cinema have lost a giant. We will miss him dearly. The film world in Bengal has been orphaned," West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted.

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