Apart from his many achievements, Soumitra Chatterjee will be remembered for being Satyajit Ray’s favourite actor, under whose direction he has delivered some of the gems of Indian — and Bengali — cinema. On his second death anniversary, we pick six films by other directors in which Soumitra raised the bar in acting.
Jhinder Bondi (1961)
In this much lauded period drama by Tapan Sinha, a 20-something Soumitra Chatterjee was pitted against the reigning superstar, Uttam Kumar. When Shankar Singh (Uttam Kumar), the king of Jhind, goes missing, his minister approaches Gauri Shankar Roy, Singh’s doppelganger, to take his place on the throne, much to the dismay of the conspirators. The missing king’s brother Udit Singh wants the kingdom for himself. Along with his friend, the handsome-but-evil Mayurbahon, he conspires to knock Gauri Shankar off.
Soumitra, as the handsome Mayurbahon, won accolades for his scintillating performance in a negative role. Despite the larger-than-life, towering presence of Uttam Kumar, Soumitra’s suave portrayal of an unscrupulous and ambitious man swayed the audience.
Akash Kusum (1965)
In Mrinal Sen’s Akash Kusum, Soumitra captured the essence of the universal young man who dreams big but looks for a shortcut to success. Soumitra’s Ajoy, who is of modest means, sponges off his friend and lives in his fantasy world of being affluent and upwardly mobile. When he meets the rich and sophisticated Monica (played by Aparna Sen), Ajoy tries to impress her by creating an illusive story about himself. While the deception comes to light after a point, their romance is marked by many tender moments underlining Ajoy’s conflicted personality, which Soumitra brought alive with great poignancy.
Soumitra turned in yet another stellar performance in a negative role but one that undergoes a transformation in Tarun Majumdar’s Ganadevata, an adaptation of Tarashankar Bandopadhyay’s novel of the same name.
Set in the pre-Independence period, the film explores how fault lines appear in a close-knit community life in rural Bengal with the change in the traditional socio-economic structures. Soumitra plays the unscrupulous Debu Pandit who, along with other opportunistic, power-hungry men of the village, gang up against Aniruddha (Shamit Bhanja), a blacksmith who protests the systems that favour the upper caste.
In Soumitra’s lone collaboration with Rituparno Ghosh, Asukh tells the story of a retired man Sudhamoy, who is forced to depend on his daughter’s earnings. His life takes a drastic turn when his wife falls ill and gets hospitalised. Soumitra gave a heartrending portrayal of the helplessness and vulnerability that Sudhamoy experiences from being financially dependent on his daughter (Debashree Roy). Long before Belashuru (2022) made headlines for depicting a husband taking care of his ailing wife, Asukh had Soumitra in the role of a caregiver attending to his wife’s daily needs.
Goutam Ghose’s Dekha chronicles the story of a poet, Sashi Bhushan Sanyal, who has lost his eyesight and is disenchanted with life. Long abandoned by his wife for his bohemian lifestyle, Sashi Bhushan’s solo life takes a turn when Sarama, the daughter of his teacher, leaves her husband and takes shelter in his sprawling house along with her young son. On a trip to Dooars, Sashi Bhushan meets a blind young man who leaves a deep impact on him. Soumitra’s portrayal brought out the many layers in Sashi Bhushan’s moral bankruptcy, from recklessness to debauchery, which was symbolic of the times the film was set in. The actor was conferred the Special Jury National Award for this role which he refused as a mark of protest against the alleged lobbyism in the awarding system.
Atanu Ghosh’s Mayurakshi is a nuanced depiction of the relationship between an aged and ailing father and his son who comes to visit him from abroad. Sushobhan (Soumitra Chatterjee) lives alone in Kolkata, in the care of his housekeeper and a domestic worker. Because of his neurological problems, he keeps forgetting the immediate past. Soumitra delivered a restrained performance as Sushobhan, highlighting the predicament of a man fast losing his control on reality.