The best and probably the most consistent level of connection that one can draw up with Soumitra Chatterjee is humour. I have come across few people more gifted in this arena or as skilled a craftsman as he is. He possesses the rare blend of instinctive humour – which comes out spontaneously at the most appropriate moment. Months back, a gallery in Kolkata hosted his first painting exhibition. Hours before the official inauguration, few of us were there, when suddenly the lights went off. “This is the perfect ambience to view my paintings !” he quipped instantly, “The amateurish strokes no longer bother me as they are left at the mercy of darkness”
The lights came back shortly. And there was the typical impish smile on his face. And that candid transparency is distinctive of the living legend that he is. Most actors are pleased to have just one or two acclaimed roles. But with Soumitra Chatterjee, over the last 50 plus years, there’ve been so many memorable moments, so many extraordinary performances. As he steps into eighty today, he is concurrently doing no less than four plays on stage, acting in quite a number of films, writing articles, translating plays, reciting poems, and re-discovering his old passion of painting. “I am a self-taught amateur who has the courage to dabble one colour over another, quite non-chalantly till I am fed up”. That is how he defines his role in front of the canvas. He attributes his tryst with colours to his first exposure with Chinese paintings during his college days, which curiously taught him quite a contrasting theory – “less the number of strokes, more the expression”
And that is what Soumitra Chatterjee clings to in acting – to express less in order to have more impact. But he is not the one who surrenders to absolute realism. He seems to believe, like Will Smith, that being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity. And so he designs his actions. But that devise is so subtly etched that it seems he is literally doing nothing.
Coming from a generation when every nuances of acting had to be learnt and mastered under the tutelage of illustrious teachers, Soumitra Chatterjee has an incredible emotional range, which he fine-tunes even today towards perfection. Still bitten by the acting bug, he is left restless and craving after watching Jean-Louis Trintignant get the role of his lifetime in ‘Amour’. “Pray someone gives me something like that”, he says with a gleam in his eyes that always looks forward to the best that is yet to be.
Earnestly hope Soumitra Chatterjee gets more coveted roles right now. Else, we could be held responsible for putting someone alive and kicking in a glass colonnade carved with glories he touched upon 25 years back and ignoring the fact that he is still eager to come to terms with new challenges. Quite like a Renaissance personality he has the irresistible urge to express himself in so many forms of artistic expression at eighty plus. And that certainly calls for celebration. Salute you, Sir.
Atanu Ghosh is one of the most celebrated directors in the Bengali film fraternity and has given the Bengali film audience masterpieces like Takhan Teish, Angshumaner Chobi and the recent blockbuster Rupkatha Noy