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Goodbye, Apu. Goodbye, Feluda

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With the disappearance of Soumitra Chatterjee, we are witnessing the departure of the last of Bengal’s cultural legends. But, while he has had a long, successful and hugely popular film and stage career, his collaboration with Satyajit Ray and the way the duo immortalized various characters onscreen – and the Chatterjee acting masterclass that comes with each film – remains their greatest contribution. to this country’s cinematic heritage, and a treasure for Bengalis to cherish forever.

If you are Bengali, “Shoumitro” is a member of the family. You talk about him like he’s a buddy, even though he’s old enough to be your grandpa (which, if you’re a ’90s kid, he actually is). You grew up watching him in movies. Your parents grew up watching his movies. At the age of 84, last year he had four outings. Shoumitro was still there. For many, it had been their first crush on movie stars, when he did the strapping-like twist, outrageously handsome, twenty, in Teenager bhubaner pare, woo Tanuja, lip sync with Manna Dey with romantic ballads that are popular even today. Others remember him as perhaps one of this country’s most evocative, emotional and expressive actors on screen. For many he defined Satyajit Ray Could Trilogy, although it only appeared in the last movie, Apur Sansar. For others, it is Chatterjee’s filmography Ray that is sufficient proof of his explosive reach and interpretive capacity. But above all, dominating all of this, he will always be Feluda, the best Indian example of a private investigator in literature, and the two films in which Chatterjee played the role of detective. Although a few other actors have donned the mantle after Ray quit making films on Feluda, for generations to this day, Shoumitro has been Feluda.

Chatterjee debuted with the latest episode of Ray Could Trilogy, Apur Sansar. It was also the debut of Sharmila Tagore, someone with whom he shared fantastic chemistry on screen. Apur Sansar and other subsequent films. Each of his performances in Ray’s films has been remarkable, especially Samapti, Charulata, Heerak Rajar Deshe, Aranyer Din Ratri, Ashani Sanket, Shakha Proshakha, and of course, the two Feluda films, Sonar Kella and Joi baba felunath.

Chatterjee as Feluda

Besides Ray, he collaborated with almost every other great filmmaker who was his contemporaries and was a favorite of filmmakers of every generation who sat behind the camera. He delivered playoff performances in Kshudhito Pashan (Tapan Sinha), Akash Kusum (Mrinal Sen), Baghini, Basanta Bilap, Parineeta, Teenager bhuboner paare, Kony, Asukh (Rituparno Ghosh), Paromitar Ekdin (Aparna Sen), Hemlock Society (Srijit Mukherjee), and Posto. This is of course extremely featured filmography, but it’s a fantastic introduction to Chatterjee. His career spanned 60 years and is a body of work that cannot be matched by any player in the Bengali industry today.

A photo of Apur Sansar

I have seen each of his films. Even the trash he did in the 90s. I tracked down those movies once the streaming platforms got there. Of course, I laughed at them, but I couldn’t hate him. A few years ago I saw him on stage in Mumbai, the Chembur auditorium overflowing with Bengalis from as far away as Kalyan, dressed as if it was Durga Puja (it wasn’t, it was in June), to watch “Shoumitro”. The films of this man are part of the Bengali identity. I liked him in his recent films like Moinak Bhowmik’s Maach Mishti and more, where he plays the cool grandpa trying to keep the nostalgia alive in the WhatsApp days. I still believe in Chatterjee Apur Sansar and Samapti is one of the most memorable romantic representations in the country. His flamboyance in Charulata – this breathtaking sequence of him singing a flirty Tagore song is one of the most famous scenes in Indian cinema – makes you want to fall in love with him every time you watch the movie.

A still of Charulata

In Heerak Rajar Deshe, he is the voice of revolution and of reason. And then, he’s Feluda. In my family, if you’re Bengali and haven’t read Feluda’s novels and watched the two movies starring Chatterjee as a sleuth, we can’t be friends. Whenever my parents and I want to feel good and happy, we look Sonar Kella or Joi baba felunath. I can literally tell the two films like a radio play, with background music, pauses and breaks in shots. No Feluda has ever matched the charisma, screen presence and impeccable delivery of Chatterjee. No Feluda looked so handsome and smart. No Feluda has made you want to aspire to be like him, the quintessential Bengali gentleman who is socialite, knows everything, has read everything but is also deeply rooted in Bengaliness. And not just the other Feludas who followed, but no actor did the kurta-chador looks as irresistible on a Bengali as Chatterjee as Feluda. Even today, when schoolchildren want to shoot a “traditional”, they fall back on the brown and gray kurta. chador combo, with side wavy hair. From theater, speech, film, to politics and cultural impact and commentary, Soumitra Chatterjee has left an indelible imprint on all aspects of Bengali tapestry.

The poster for Maach Mishti & More

If one had to choose a voice that defines Bollywood, most of us would always choose Amitabh Bachchan. If one voice defines the Bengali industry, it is that of Soumitra Chatterjee. In recent years he has been the lovable grandfather or patriarch on screen – that silky, familiar voice, enriched by years of theater, always steeped in humor and sarcastic bite, has been the resplendent voiceover that introduced many opening montages of the familiar Kolkata cityscape films. In a way, he is the voice of this city, a reminder of Kolkata’s past glory, a reminder that the last bright and shining flame is still burning, like a candle in the wind of modernity, of technology, of the moment and the OTT. The flame is not here today. Kolkata is darker, darker.

Goodbye Apu. Goodbye Feluda. Mogojastro forever.

(Header credits: Wikimedia Commons)

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