MUMBAI: Veteran actor Sharmila Tagore finds it difficult to come to terms with iconic Bengali star Soumitra Chatterjee's demise, as with him, she has lost one of her oldest friendships, which began when she was a teenager.
Chatterjee, 85, died on Sunday after an over-a-month-long battle with post COVID ailments.
The legendary actor was admitted to hospital on October 6 after he tested positive for the infection.
He was later shifted to ICU as COVID encephalopathy set in, affecting his central nervous system and causing renal dysfunction.
He recovered from the infection subsequently, but his condition did not improve.
Tagore and Chatterjee began their career with filmmaker Satyajit Ray's final installment of the "Apu" trilogy, "Apur Sansar" in 1959.
Theylater featured in acclaimed films, including Ray's 1960 directorial "Devi", filmmaker Ajoy Kar's drama "Barnali" (1963) and "Aranyer Din Ratri" in 1970.
In an interview with PTI, Tagore, 75, said she still hasn't processed the loss of Chatterjee, with whom she shared a connection beyond films.
which was organic, non-judgmental and existed beautifully without the need to prove a point.
"I was 13 years old and he was 10 years elder to me when we started working in 'Apur Sansar.' In the film, those beautiful dialogues that we spoke to each other also endeared us to each other. That was the beginning. I really respected, admired him and for what he stood for."
"He was one of my oldest friends, after my husband Tiger (cricket legend Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi) and actor Shashi Kapoor. He has been such a loyal and fun friend," she added.
Tagore said Chatterjee's non-judgmental nature only strengthened their relationship.
Their bond, as she described, wasn't transactional.
"We could lead our parallel lives and yet have a connection, somewhere because our thoughts, depth, and loyalty were the same. Soumitra knew I'd never speak ill of him. There was no questioning of what we shared, we didn't have to prove it."
"If I didn't talk to him or if he didn't talk to me, I wouldn't feel 'Oh God he hasn't wished me, he doesn't remember my birthday'. It was just so organic. I can't give it any name."
The multiple National award-winning star said they grew fond of each other over the similarity in the way they viewed the world.
One of her most cherished memories with the star were their wide-ranging discussions on everything under the sun.
Chatterjee was a wonderful companion, Tagore said, which ensured that their banter would be endless.
Sometimes he would understand her point of view, other times she would agree with his belief, she recounted.
"We would talk for hours on sports, history, our vision of India. I find him irreplaceable that way because there's nobody else I can share so much with. If I expressed a certain point of view, he'd agree and expand or shoot it down and give his reasons. That kind of friendship is so rare. To lose that is huge."
Tagore noted his personality was so well-rounded, it reflected in all aspects of his life.
She recalled shooting for Ray's "Aranyer Din Ratri", where she shared a bungalow with Chatterjee and her other co-star, Subhendu Chatterjee.
One of Tagore's strongest memories of their time together is of her sipping her morning coffee and listening to the actor sing outside while doing yoga.
"Soumitra's interests went beyond acting," she said.
"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 and that's what made him who he was - a man of all interests, a powerhouse talent."
"I know he will live forever in our memories because his legacy is so immense. It encompasses so much," she added.
Chatterjee is survived by wife Deepa Chatterjee, daughter Poulomi Basu and son Sougata Chatterjee.