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Satyajit Ray's muse Soumitra Chatterjee passes away

Many a character—our very own <em>Apu,</em> <em>Feluda</em>, <em>Amal</em> and <em>Sandeep </em>—died today as the iconic Soumitra Chatterjee stepped into the other world. Undoubtedly, a part of Bengal died today. Chatterjee, who was the last of the survivors of an era which epitomized the beginning of new Indian cinema, was an eclectic mix of new wave and neo-realism. While the 85-year-old thespian acted only in Bengali movies, his personality cut across the country and the globe.
Chatterjee despite being a celebrated actor somehow touched the life of almost every Bengali–old and young—as if he was an integral part of every family.

A brilliant actor, his contribution to society will remain unmatched. He will also be remembered for his exceptional skills in recitation and paintings. He acted in serials and telefilms. The actor, who died of Covid-19 and complications arising out of the virus, acted in more than 200 movies of which 14 were directed by none other than Satyajit Ray. Besides Ray, he worked with other eminent directors, including Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha.

“Shri Soumitra Chatterjee’s death is a colossal loss to the world of cinema, cultural life of West Bengal and India. Through his works, he came to embody Bengali sensibilities, emotions and ethos. Anguished by his demise,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

Chatterjee, the quintessential bhadralok representative, started his film career in 1958. Though a contemporary of another legendary Bengali actor Uttam Kumar, Chatterjee’s style was distinctly different from that of Kumar. Chatterjee found his own strength and carved out his own unique style and genre. Ray had described him as an “intelligent actor.” Interestingly, Chatterjee shifted gears as he grew older, comfortably adjusting to roles that demanded a different veneer.

Recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke award, Chatterjee was conferred with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s highest award for artists. He also awarded the Padma Bhushan and Banga Bibhushan.

<em>The Times of India</em> quoted veteran actor Sharmila Tagore as saying, “The legacy he has left behind is unparalleled. He has worked with Satyajit Ray in so many films. He was his muse.”

While his earlier movies will be etched onto every Bengali’s memory, his more recent films—which include <em>Shunya Awnko, Ahalya</em> and <em>Bela Sheshe</em>—have had an equal impact on the state and indeed the subcontinent.

Chatterjee was an indelible part of Bengali and Indian cinema for a long time, instrumental in the birth of a movement which echoes in cinema today, and an icon of the screen. His movies were not only carefully crafted, but also unabashedly a commentary on society around us, beautifully illustrating Indian society and its many facets. Perhaps this is why, while his work speaks in Bengali, every Indian understands.

His loss is undeniably a heavy one, however his films and performances will live on, serving as a reminder of the ability cinema possesses in changing people’s lives..