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Larger Than Life

The phrase ‘Irreparable Damage’ has been rendered as cliché due to overuse. However, the loss – felt after the demise of some – seems indeed irreparable. Those personalities create not Personal, but Social Wealth through their lives. That wealth enriches the inner existence of many. Soumitra Chatterjee (January 19, 1935 – November 15, 2020) was one such personality. Chatterjee – the Bengali Film Actor, Theatre Director, Playwright, Writer and Poet – won the heart of millions in India and neighbouring Bangladesh not only for his brilliant presence on the silver screen for more than six decades, but also for the scope and depth of the characters portrayed by him in more than 350 movies. From popular romantic hero to respected character-actor, the Bengali Society became accustomed to his multidimensional talent over time. It seems that the glory of his talent may not have been fully understood by all

Soumitra Chatterjee

After his death due to post-COVID complications on November 15, 2020, a sense of deep emptiness has been created in the Indian (read Bengali) society. Once the transient wave of the surging emotion subsides, it will intensify over time. The expression of restrained pain on his last journey has fascinated and revered many in the eastern Indian Province of West Bengal. Perhaps, it comes from the feeling of that emptiness

As a community, Bengalis are fortunate enough to get many such Larger than Life personalities. What is unfortunate is that the number of such personalities is decreasing, fast. One may consider Chatterjee as one of the brilliance of the treasure! Many believe that the virtuoso actor was the Alter Ego of Satyajit Ray (May 2, 1921 – April 23, 1992), the famous Indian Film Director, Writer, Illustrator and Music Composer. Ray was one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th Century… he had received an Honorary Academy Award in 1992, thus, becoming the first Indian to receive an Honorary Oscar. He had received the Award for Lifetime Achievement. Ray was also awarded the Legion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) by France in 1987. Chatterjee had acted in a total of 14 films under Ray’s direction, and all of them attained the status of Classics in celluloid! The Actor-Director Chemistry between Chatterjee and Ray could be compared with that of Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa, Marcello Mastroianni and Federico Fellini, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese. Ray correctly analysed and ascertained that Chatterjee’s greatest asset, apart from his looks and acting capabilities, was his quest to learn and modify himself, intelligently. It is to be noted that Chatterjee was the first Indian film personality who was conferred with France’s highest award for artists, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1999). He was also awarded France’s highest civilian award Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur (2017), exactly 30 years after his mentor Ray had received the same from the Government of France.

Chatterjee (L) with Ray (R)

Chatterjee used to believe that Life itself gives proper answers to the questions raised in our walks of Life. Once, he had said: “The world is not a place to live, but a place to spend some time between our births and deaths.” He also believed that a person – who failed to innovate things, as well as lacked proper initiatives to nurturing the culture he belonged to – was as good as dead. To him, only physical survival was worthless!

The individuality of a person does not develop out of the blue, as one has to cultivate it. The distinctiveness of Chatterjee’s individuality or personality – gradually exposed and imprinted in the Bengali Society – was its multi-faceted nature! He was not only a great actor, but also a talented stage artist. His style was unique, as far as recitation was concerned. He also served as an Editor of a cultural magazine. In other words, he had a mind of renaissance! Chatterjee possessed a deep consciousness about the world and life. His conscious and active role in the social sphere was significant. Hence, the departure of such a person has created a huge void.

Chatterjee was also a Workaholic. The word tireless was literally true in his life. He worked tirelessly till the last day of his professional life. Of course, there were worldly responsibilities behind it. At the same time, he was a devoted person. Characters, portrayed by Chatterjee, would make him immortal, because he successfully imbibed those roles in him, when he played them. An artist or a performer should be intellectually deep, cerebral, with an emotional depth and an ability to think like the character he would portray… these would tantamount to possession of a rare empathy. Chatterjee was a world-class artist, endowed with these qualities. One has also to be a Leftist, when s/he possesses these qualities. Naturally, he was so… hence, it is a great loss for the Left intelligentsia of West Bengal, which badly needs proper flag-bearers of the newer generation. Usually, the society stresses on the natural genius while judging one’s success. However, dedication and hard work, too, are equally important factors. His life is one of fine examples of this. Chatterjee was an extraordinary star, rooted in the ordinary

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