When Soumitra Chatterjee, one of India’s phenomenal actors, becomes a memory, it is impossible to talk about his legendary life without remembering Satyajit Ray, the maestro. Starting from Soumitra’s debut movie ApurSansar in 1959, he had collaborated with Satyajit Ray in 14 films, probably the most enduring artistic collaborations in the history of Indian cinema. It was bliss for a movie lover to watch the Satyajit Ray- Soumitra Chatterjee combo on screen, and that ‘beauty’ could be why the rapport continued to excite the audience.
Coming from a Bengali middle-class background and cherishing the legacy of Tagore, the duo shared fabulous chemistry both on-screen and offscreen. Ray’s carefully carved yet diverse characters could not have found anyone versatile than Soumitra Chatterjee, who had unsatiated hunger to portray different roles. As a beginner actor, Ray’s ApurSansar was a great start for Soumitra. He had only played small parts in theatre and being Apu opened a new arena for him. In an interview Soumitra Chatterjee had given to the Indian Express back in May, he talks about the bond shared between Satyajit Ray, whom he called Manikda; “Before the shoot of ApurSansar began, he groomed me to a great extent. He gave me the film’s synopsis and shared his idea of the character. Those days, theatres used to screen good Hollywood movies on Sunday mornings. I accompanied him to the cinema halls. Occasionally, he would point out certain aspects of the performance.”
Apu (ApurSansar) and Feluda (Sonar Kella) are the two most memorable characters born out of the Ray-Chatterjee complex. The character of Feluda made Chatterjee a cult figure in Indian cinema even though he was already a top star. Feluda was indeed a complex character, marked by his vibrancy and rigour, an unparalleled craft created by Ray and portrayed by Chatterjee. If Apu showed the beauty and pain of love and loss through the character of Feluda, the strangeness of the human mind is exposed. The character of Amal in the movie Charulata (1964) on the other hand, showcases the vulnerability and charm of a young Bengali educated male. ShakhaProkshaka, released in 1990, was the last film that came from this historical combo. Spanning over three decades, the duo had mesmerised the film enthusiasts across the world. The world of Soumitra Chatterjee was not confined to the world of Satyajit Ray. Chatterjee was indeed much bigger than a Ray-actor. However, whenever they had joined hands, the silver screen witnessed magic.