Actor, writer, playwright, poet and legend Soumitra Chatterjee passed away after a 40-day-long struggle at the age of 85 on November 15. The actor’s death, despite the long illness, was a shock and a tragedy for cinema and art industry.
Chatterjee acted in more than 300 films in a six-decade-long period. However, his most influential footsteps on the map of cinema were his 14 films with director Satyajit Ray. While he won many honours in India, like Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1998 and 2011, the Padma Bhusan in 2004 and the National Film Award for acting in 2006, his prowess was well appreciated across borders. He won France’s highest civilian award, Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, (Legion of Honour) in 2012.
The actor’s influence is such that the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee rushed to the hospital as soon as she heard of his demise and reached within fifteen minutes. His daughter Poulomi Basu was grateful for this act of honour to her late father.
Though Chatterjee’s closest mentor and friend Ray is no more, his son Sandip Ray was equally moved by the actor’s demise. He said he has lost a family member. “He shared a wonderful chemistry with my father. He gave a lot of thought to the characters my father created. His most favourite role was that of Gangacharan in Ashani Sanket. He was so involved in the project that he even pushed the trolley when there was a shortage in manpower one day,” Ray said to Hindustan Times.
People consider Ray and Chatterjee duo to be one of the key collaborations of the industry. Some have compared it to other legendary collaborations like Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurasawa (Japan) or Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese (Hollywood). Their collaborative inputs to the Bengali film industry have been fundamental in the development of its art and legacy.
Chatterjee was hospitalised on October after testing positive for COVID-19. Even though he tested negative a week later, the virus had left its damaging mark on his neurological system with Covid encephalopathy. He deteriorated further until organs finally stopped working. According to his doctors, it was impossible to revive him.
His final rites were performed on Sunday evening at the Keoratala crematorium.