16th November 2020

“After Tiger and Shashi Kapoor I’ve Lost Another Dear Friend,” Sharmila Tagore Speaks On SoumitraChatterjee

“I  don’t know  of  anyone as erudite as  Soumitra. He  could talk about any subject under the sun  and with  irrefutable knowledge.Soumitra and I  started our careers together in Satyajit Ray’s  Apur Sansar. He was ten  years older than me. But I never  felt the gap. He was  a dear and loyal friend, always  supporting me when the need arose. If he saw me being  questioned he would invariably defend me. After my  husband Tiger and Shashi Kapoor, I have lost another very dear friend,” Sharmila Tagore’s voice trembles with emotion.

 “I was  an actor by accident. He always wanted  to be an actor.Our friendship  started with the words that we exchanged as husband and  wife in Apur Sansar. I was  not supposed  to  understand some of the  big words that he used in the film. Our exchanges  in  the  film were very  revealing. In one sequence he uses  a very  sophisticated  Bengali word  for  “dedicate”  when he tells me  he will dedicate  his book to his wife. I pretend  to not understand the word. I remember in  another scene he explains to me why he can’t spend more time with me as he has to earn a living. I gently suggest  that he stop doing all the extra tuition and come straight home  every day. The  words we  spoke to  one another in these scenes  established a bond between us which existed  right till his passing away.When we acted together or  conversed  I would listen very closely to him. I’d  observe him closely.”

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   Sharmila  admired  Soumitrada’s tenacity. “ After ApurSansar and of course Debi, we worked together  again   in  Ajoy Kar’s Barnali in 1963.I saw  that film again during the lockdown. He’s so good in it! He  was  working non-stop  for  70 years.At the  boxoffice  he  was not UttamKumar. But  his  performances  are  part  of Bengal’s heritage.  He was wonderful in Kony where he  played  a swimming coach, and  in  Rituparno Ghosh  Asukh and in so any others films which I   intend to see again.He did outstanding work. ”

Soumitrada was  much more than an actor.  Says Sharmilaji, “He  was a true renaissance  artiste. He  was theatre actor. He directed  plays. He  did Jatra. I asked him why Jatra, travelling all  night, etc. He said he needed the money and also  the sheer experience was precious to him.He was  a painter and he did wonderful poetry recitation on stage.He wasn’t just a  cover reader.He was widely read  Like Naseeruddin Shah he was mad about theatre  and sports.And politics.  He had a childlike  curiosity and childlike charm.”

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Sharmilaji remembers  being  on two outdoor  locations with  Soumitrada. “One was  for Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer  Din Ratri and the  other for   Goutam Ghose’s  AbarAranye.Almost everyone connecting with these films is  gone . After our shooting we had our adda,gupshup and  …there  was connection with him that I can’t explain.  His success made  me happy.And vice versa. He  got along very well with Tiger. When he  won the Padma Bhushanand the Dasa Saheb Phalke award  , we met and celebrated.  Every time I felt I hadn’t spoken to  him for  too long I’d guiltily call him and  we would chat. We recited poetry together on stage  several times.That was a learning curve for me. We also  did a poetry-reading play called Ke Tume. It was well appreciated.We  also performed  in Bangladesh  together. We  vibed well. He  was a wonderful friend. I  feel I’ve lost a part of me. But I also know his legacy is  ineradicable. He never strove to be a star. He  was Satyajit Ray’s muse. Their  14 films together stand testimony to a historic collaboration like Martin Scorsese and Robert di Niro.’

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