‘Lost a family member’: Satyajit Ray’s son pays tribute to Soumitra Chatterjee

Legendary Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee died at 12.15 pm at a private hospital in south Kolkata on Sunday, losing a 40-day battle with Covid encephalopathy. He was 85 and is survived by his wife Deepa, who was also an actor, son Sougata and daughter Poulomi Basu.

Known for an illustrious career that spanned over 61 years and around 300 films, Chatterjee is best known for playing the protagonist in as many as 14 films made by the legendary Satyajit Ray, a feat no other actor could match.

Chatterjee received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1998 and 2011, the Padma Bhusan in 2004 and the National Film Award for acting in 2006. The highest honours, however, came rather late in his life. In 2012, Chatterjee received the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award and, in 2018, the government of France honoured him with the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, (Legion of Honour) the highest civilian award of the country.

Gloom descended on the movie industry and among Chatterjee’s countless fans in the country and beyond as the news flashed on television screens. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee rushed to the hospital within 15 minutes of his death.

“We lost a gem today. Chatterjee was not just a memorable actor on screen and stage. He took part in many movements for the sake of humanity. Today we lost a part of history,” said the chief minister.

“I am extremely grateful to the chief minister, the doctors and all those who took such great care of my father. I would like to ask everybody not to grieve. Let us celebrate his life,” said Chatterjee’s daughter.

Chatterjee was admitted in the hospital on October 6 after he tested positive for Covid-19. He tested negative on October 14 but his neurological system was affected by Covid encephalopathy. As a result, Chatterjee’s condition drastically deteriorated. He was in a drowsy state over the past three weeks. His condition deteriorated further on Friday with neurological functions reaching its worst state.

On Saturday night, Chatterjee’s organs stopped responding to life support therapy and Dr Arindam Kar, head of the team of doctors that treated Chatterjee, said his revival was nearly impossible.

Ray’s son and director Sandip Ray said, “I lost a member of my family. 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.”

Also Read: Soumitra Chatterjee, the doyen of Bangla cinema, dies at the age of 85

Aparna Sen, Chatterjee’s life-long friend and co-actor, said, “He was my first hero. I was only 14 when we first met. I used to call him uncle at that time. He and his wife were friends of our family. I became his friend too as I grew up. I can’t believe he is no more.”

Chatterjee made his debut in 1959 with Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), the third in Ray’s internationally recognised Apu Trilogy, as the husband of another debutant, 15-year-old Sharmila Tagore.

Also Read: End of an era: Soumitra Chatterjee, Ray’s all-time favourite protagonist in iconic films will live on

Reacting to Chatterjee’s death, Tagore told a television channel, “We were hoping that he would recover. I lost a very old friend, a very dear friend and a very loyal friend. He left a legacy. He is associated with Ray but he gave wonderful performances while working with other directors as well. He was a very erudite person. I remember listening to him and actor Subhendu Chatterjee as they discussed politics and literature for hours when we were shooting in the outdoor location for Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri.”

Chatterjee’s body will be taken to his home in Golf Green and the Technician Studio in Tollygunge before the last rites are performed at the Keoratala crematorium on Sunday evening. The state government will honour him with a gun salute.

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