Shabana Azmi is currently in Budapest shooting for Steven Spielberg’s webseries. She was filled with a sense of unreality when news of Soumitra Chatterjee’s death reached her.
“It was a rude reminder that even the greatest have to go.I had the rare privilege of playing both his wife and daughter. But then he had the rarest privilege of doing fourteen films with SatyajitRay.I was in a film group that was honoured at the prestigious George Pompidour Centre in Paris sometime in the 1980s and it was so incredible to watch the adulation showered on him by French fans.”
Shabana was struck my Soumitrada’s modesty. “In Paris they called out to him as Apu(from Stayajit Ray’s Apur Sansar) and Amal ( from Ray’s Charulata) and rushed to get photographed with him .Soumitrada seemed to to take it all his stride and said modestly, ‘It’s because Ray made these characters so memorable that I’m reaping the benefits.’ I was amazed at how lightly he wore his fame . You see the same modesty in Lata Mangeshkar and Steven Spielberg.”
Recalling her own experiences of collaborating with Soumitrada as a co-actor Shabana says, “I had the honour of working with him as his wife in Nicholas Klotz’s film La Nuit Bengali co-starring distinguished British actors Hugh Grant and John Hurt.Much later I played his daughter in Aparna Sen’s 15 Park Avenue . He was charming and great company to be around because he was well-read and could speak on many subjects .”
The end came inevitably.
Sighs Shabana, “I was in touch with his daughter the last few weeks and am deeply saddened by his death.I had hoped and believed he would recover .He will be missed greatly. But his great work will live on forever.”