Suman Ghosh directed Soumitra Chatterjee in five movies, two picked up national awards, and would routinely visit the star for conversations that Bengalis very fondly call adda.
Filmmaker Suman Ghosh’s Soumitra Chatterjee: A Film-maker Remembers is a well designed book that talks about the genial star who styled himself on the lines of British actor Ronald Colman. Chatterjee relied more on style, voice and thinking eyes like James Dean. When he was in his prime, women in Bengal found Chatterjee and Uttam Kumar two very sexy stars.
Ghosh directed Chatterjee in five movies, two picked up national awards and would routinely visit the star for conversations that Bengalis very fondly call Adda. Ghosh is perfectly on the ball when he says Podokkhep, directed by him, highlighted Chatterjee’s unique chemistry of artistry when the star was halfway through his prime. Directing Chatterjee – who acted in over 200 movies mostly shot in black and white – was a matter of pride for Ghosh. Satyajit Ray did 14 films, Ghosh did five and was almost halfway through the mark. The book – Ghosh makes it clear – says Chatterjee was his favourite star, and one without any tantrums.
So let’s run through the 160-page book. Ghosh feels Chatterjee’s best performances came after he turned 60. I tend to agree with the author. In the eyes of Ghosh, Chatterjee was a very, very devoted artiste, also a generous soul. The book, published by Om Books, meticulously offers an intimate record of Chatterjee’s acting process and his wonderful relationship with both cinema and theatre. Ghosh, time and again claims in his book that details sought by him from Chatterjee is undiluted truth, pure honey from the hives. The book is dotted with countless examples of Chatterjee’s self-awareness, his mental agility, and his ability to recognise brilliance. Ghosh worked with Chatterjee for a period spanning ten years, almost a decade. Ghosh worked with the actor in five films: lead roles in Podokkhep (2008), Dwando (2009), Peace Haven (2016), and Basu Paribar (2018), and a small role in Nobel Chor (2012).
“Bengalis of our generation do not even recollect when we first became conscious about personalities such as Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Uttam Kumar, or Soumitra Chatterjee. Soumitra Chatterjee’s Feluda was a part of our psyche while growing up,” Ghosh wrote in the book.
Ghosh says Chatterjee – who was definitely a Left leaning actor – had all the qualities of a “Renaissance man,”. Chatterjee left his brilliant mark on his works (read writings, paintings, poems, theatre, and films). Chatterjee was always aware that the film was always larger than himself.
Chatterjee survived without Bollywood and never rolled in cash. Many in Kolkata had wondered why he had to work at 80 plus. But those close to him said work was his best medicine. For over three decades, he had worked non-stop in films and plays. He had his graceful agility and easygoing charm, and also a bit of irreverent attitude, he was almost like a Jean Paul Belmondo in Kolkata. He shifted roles like changing shirts.
He once told me that he loved family values, reminding me of the Maria Puzo dialogue from the 1972 Bollywood crime drama Godfather: “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” I remember one incident when a female physician found Chatterjee chatting with his camera unit – some of them boisterous men – in a first class railway compartment. She asked him why Chatterjee was sitting with his unit staff, Chatterjee replied he was a human first, and then a film star. Chatterjee’s sexy, wounded stare impressed the woman and she loved the star’s bad boy company and sat down for almost an hour to listen to some intense conversations on films. Interestingly, the camera crew was a part of a unit of Satyajit Ray, which was on his way to Rajasthan to shoot Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) that got Chatterjee the tag of Feluda, Bengal’s thinking detective. The character turned him into a cult figure among Bengalis.
Ghosh’s book is an interesting read.