The Thinking Actor of Bengali Cinema - Soumitra Chatterjee

The Thinking Actor of Bengali Cinema

Chandi Mukherjee27 Aug 2008

The legendary Soumitra Chatterjee is in his 50th year in Cinema. Award winning cinema author and historian Chandi Mukherjee analyses this thinking actor of Bengali cinema Soumitra Chatterjee (or Chattopadhyay) was born on 19th January in the year 1935. He turned 73 this year. His first film Apur Sansar directed by Satyajit Ray was released in the year 1959, which means this is his 50th year in the film industry. During last 50 years he acted in more than 200 films out of which 14 films were directed by Satyajit Ray, 4 films by Mrinal Sen, 5 films by Tapan Sinha and 10 films by Tarun Majumdar.

The legendary Soumitra Chatterjee is in his 50th year in Cinema. Award winning cinema author and historian Chandi Mukherjee analyses this thinking actor of Bengali cinema

Soumitra Chatterjee (or Chattopadhyay) was born on 19th January in the year 1935. He turned 73 this year. His first film Apur Sansar directed by Satyajit Ray was released in the year 1959, which means this is his 50th year in the film industry. During last 50 years he acted in more than 200 films out of which 14 films were directed by Satyajit Ray, 4 films by Mrinal Sen, 5 films by Tapan Sinha and 10 films by Tarun Majumdar. But this year only he first received the National Award for best acting for a very significant Bengali cinema. But Soumitra could have been early a successful poet, or a successful dramatist or a stage actor if he was not a film actor. Beside his film acting career for the last 50 years Soumitra sincerely maintained writing poetry and producing drama. Very recently he is busy rehearsing his stage play with co-actor Lily Chakraborty, his leading lady.

Though Soumitra came at least 12 years after Uttam Kumar, ultimately he became the only competitor of the legend hero for long 25 years till his death. Though Soumitra does belief that creative art is not a horse race and artists should not have any rating, still he felt competition in him was there when Uttam Kumar around. According to him, it was a healthy competition, trying to surpass the other only by sheer acting.

They both acted in 4 films. They were Jhinder Bandi, Aparichito, Stree & Debdas. Jhinder Bandi was directed by Tapan Sinha and was made in 1961. Debdas was directed by Dilip Roy and was made in 1979. Within a spam of 18 years, the two giant of Bengali cinema challenged each other in the same film. Their acting style was different. While Uttam Kumar was a stylist actor, Soumitra believed in doing minimal acting. Actually when we see both these giants in the same frame, we understand they were not competitor they were actually complimentary to each other. Actually they both with their huge continuation elevated the mundane standard of acting of Bengali cinema.

Soumitra came directly from theatre. He was a student of Sishir Kumar Bhaduri. Soumitra acted in the role of Suresh in Bhaduris drama Prafulla. Stage acting was Soumitras first love then.

But when he started acting in Bengali cinema he deliberately deleted all the tricks of theatre-acting which were basically a bit loud and gesture-dependant. From the word go Soumitra relied on the low-key under acting.

Soumitra knew from day one the different stage acting and cinema acting. But he utilized his stage experience and sense in creating the time and space in front of a camera lens.

When Soumitra started acting in Tollygunge Studio in the early 60s, the mindset of the directors of that period was peculiar. In most of the time the directors were not completely aware about what were they going to do? They even didnt have a clear idea about the characters. Clearly speaking they did not want anything from the actors. The directors were supposed to follow a formula. So, in that situation how did Soumitra cope with and survived for last 50 years. He answered to this question thus: It was very difficult because the directors couldnt explain anything to me. So, I designed the character as per my own imagination and did the acting accordingly. A question always used to come to my mind was that did the director want the same characterization as I did?

But inspite of this Soumitra acted in the film of the best of the director of those days like Ajoy Kar (Atal Jaler Ahawan, Saat Pake Bandha, Kanch Kata Hire, Datta, Pareenita etc), Salil Sen (Manihar, Ajana Sapath, Chutir Phande), Salil Dutta (Aparichito, Stree, Khunje Berai, Babu Moshai etc), Ajit Sen (Swaralipi, Swambara, Aagun etc), Bijoy Basu (Baghini,Matir Swarga), Dilip Roy (Debdas, Darpa Churna), Raja Mitra (Ekti Jiban), Saroj De (Koni), Dinen Gupta (Basanta Bilap,Indira) & (Uttaran).

But he gathered the finest things of screen acting from Satyajit Ray. He felt full freedom while acting in any of the Rays film. Only here he found the characters and the incidents were very crystal clear, the logistics of the characters were simple, nothing had fallen from sky so he knew what was expected from him and what was to be done.

Apart from minimalism and under acting, one important aspect of his cinema acting is addition of manse in his acting which created a deeper meaning. His other weapon in the acting armory is controlled gesture and its meaningful application. There are all exceptional qualities available in the Bengali cinema industry. Here, where the acting style emerges out of the South Indian movie, one wonders how an intelligent and sensitive actor like Soumitra Chatterjee survived for lone 5 decades. According to him, I always tried to meet up the demand of the industry. But I also tried to give something more than that which comes out of my sensitivity and intelligence. Probably the blending of the two has helped me to survive in the industry.

Soumitra has acted in more than 200 films and portrayed at least fifty memorable characters. Which are the best five?

According to me: - 1. Ashani Sanket, 2. Ekti Jiban, 3. Koni, 4. Wheel Chair & 5. Baghini.

This is my choice, but some body may differ, because Soumitra has given us many options.

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The phrase, used as compliment "The thinking actor..." may leave a reader at a loss,. All the great actors used to master "thinking" then stood before the camera for "acting". , Soumitra is, undoubtedly, an outstanding artiste, and his profile has been nourished with his cultural activities. He was paired with Uttam Kumar in one more film unpronounced "Jadi Jantem".
Posted by Dipen on  Oct 11 2009 8:27PM

Soumitra Chatterjee is the Actor par Excellence while Uttam Kumar is the Superstar!

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