KOLKATA: A great cultural icon, a loyal friend and a cerebral personality with varied interests is how is politicians, colleagues and fans of his cinema remembered legendary actor Soumitra Chatterjee, who died in a Kolkata hospital on Sunday after a long battle with multiple ailments.
He was 85. Chatterjee was admitted to the hospital on October 6 after he tested positive for COVID-19.
He recovered from the infection, but his condition did not improve.
Chatterjee made his debut in 1959 with Satyajit Ray's "Apur Sansar", the third film in his famous Apu series, and went on to enjoy a great actor-director relationship by starring in Ray classics like 'Charulata', 'Ghare Baire', 'Devi and 'Aranyer Din Ratri.
Tagore, who was the late actor's first co-star in "Apur Sansar", "Devi" and other films, said Chatterjee was her closest friends.
"I was 13 and he was 10 years elder to me when we started working in 'Apur Sansar'. I really respected and admired him for what he stood for. He was one of my oldest friends, after Tiger (husband) and Shashi Kapoor. He has been such a loyal and fun friend," Tagore told PTI.
"But I know he will live forever in our memories because his legacy is so immense. It encompasses so much. He wasn't only an actor. He would paint, sing, was well read, had immense knowledge of theatre, he would write poetries and short stories for his grandchildren. His interests were vast."
Tagore said 'Apur Sansar' was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
"The loss is tremendous but his legacy will live on forever."
Sandip Ray, son of film maestro Satyajit Ray, said he had interviewed Chatterjee on September 30, a week before his hospitalization, for a documentary.
"He sounded so alert. He sounded so excited. He could very well remember minute details of his shooting experiences with father including his Feluda films," he recalled.
Sen recalled her first meeting with Chatterjee at the age of 14 at his residence.
"I used to be in awe of Soumitra Kaku during the early phase of my career in films like 'Aparichito' and 'Akash Kusum'," she said.
"Despite his hectic schedule in films, he could write poems, recite, draw sketches and edit little magazines like Ekshan," Sen recalled.
Actor Barun Chanda said Chatterjee had a different passion for the stage.
He said more than matinee idol Uttam Kumar, Chatterjee was more approachable as an actor, had typical Bengaliness and used to portray different shades.
From "Hemlock Society" to his last "Borun Babur Bondhu", he revealed himself as a versatile actor. He never shied away from shooting even at an advanced age, Chanda said.
Actor Parambrata Chattopadhyay, who collaborated with Chatterjee on films like "Hemlock Society" and "Samataral", said he was his "very own 'Udayan Master'" but beyond all of this he was a "dear dear friend".
"Last one and half years had us grow fond of each other, not as if there weren't minor disagreements now and then, like the way it happens between friends but respect and love only grew abundantly."
"A big piece tears away from my existence today, a precious tie severed. Impossible to articulate how it feels to lose a friend Who also is a teacher," he wrote.
"This year will take it all. Parents, legends, childhood, nostalgia. All of it Merciless year," Swastika Mukherjee, who had worked with the legend in films like "Rupe Tomay Bholabo Na" and "Hemanter Pakhi", wrote.
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Director Goutam Ghosh told PTI Chatterjee had a renaissance mind.
"He was the combination of a cerebral actor who would effortlessly sink into the character."
Filmmaker Onir took to Twitter and posted movie stills of the screen icon, saying "world cinema will celebrate this beautiful man and his art for eternity".
Actor Rahul Bose, who worked with Chatterjee in Aparna Sen's "15 Park Avenue", said it was a "privilege" to work with the man whose films he grew up watching.
"Tragic loss!! Rest in peace Sir!! Your contribution to the Indian Cinema will always be remembered and inspire the generations to come!" actor Manoj Bajpayee said.
Writer-lyricist Varun Grover said the world will keep revisiting Chatterjee's eyes, stories, and gentle mystery - "as if they are an ancient Mantra".
"Science can explain how we evolved from just another hunter-gatherer species to creators of abstract art in a span of ~50k years and still, nothing can explain the sublime magic some artists manage to ignite in just ~50 years," Grover tweeted.
"You tried to find meaning. Sometimes by being Ray saab's alter-ego and sometimes the viewer's. Go well & thanks for stopping by," he added.
Actor Richa Chadha shared a black-and-white picture of Chatterjee and Ray engrossed in a conversation.
"RIP Soumitra Chatterjee! You live on through your work for eternity! Thank you for the movies. A big, big loss to the world of cinema and art. An era has indeed ended with no one in sight to fill the void," Chadha said.
Chatterjee, who starred in more than 300 films in his career, was a three-time National Award winner who enjoyed huge popularity as a matinee idol in Bengal after Uttam Kumar.
He was honored with Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India's highest award in cinema in 2012.
The actor was also known for playing iconic Bengali private investigator Feluda in Ray's "Sonar Kella" and "Joi Baba Felunath".
His storied filmography in his twilight years features titles, including "Bela Sheshe" (2015), short film "Ahalya" (2015), "Samantaral" (2017), National Award-winning "Mayurakshi" (2017), "Sanjhbati" (2019), among several others.
Chatterjee is also the first Indian film personality to be conferred with the Commandeur de l' Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France's highest award for artists.
He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Italy.