18th November 2020

“They Greats Are All Gone,” Sandip Ray On Soumitra Chatterjee

 The mighty  Satyajit Ray directed Soumitra Chatterjee  in 14 films. Ray’s son Sandip grew up watching this great twosome at  work, one of world cinema’s  most accomplished collaborations….

“Comparable with  Fellini  and Marcello Mastroianni and  with  Kurosawa and  Mifune,” says  the affable Sandip Ray, himself a  filmmaker of  considerable  repute. “Soumitra Babu’s collaboration with my father started  from before I was  born.  He had gone to my father to be cast in PatherPanchali in 1959.My father found him too old to play Apu. Later he cast Soumitra Babu  as Apuin Apur Sansar, that’s how their collaboration started.”

 Sandip cannot atop  marveling at  the  variety of films  Satyajit Ray and Soumitra Chatterjee did together.  “No two roles in the films they  did together are comparable. Soumitra  played  the most varied  characters  in my father’s  films…I can’t pick favourites..But Apur(in Apur Sansar) and Amal(in Charulata)  were widely  lauded. I also liked  the taxi driver that Soumitra Babu  played in my father’s Abhijaan  where he had  to speak  in Hindi   throughout.. I   came into the picture with Ashani Sanket(Distant Thunder) in  1973. I  became  a full-fledged assistant to  my father with Ashani Sanket. That’s when I got a chance to observe the two of them at  work. It was a learning experience for me.All the greats are gone. Recently one of my father’s closest  associates photogrpaher  Nemai  Ghosh  also passed away. It is  frightening.”

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 Later Sandip got a chance  to direct Soumitra Chatterjee  in two films.  “The  first  was Uttaron  in  1994. It  was  written  by  my father.  He wanted  to make the film with  Soumitra Babu  and  I did the needful after my father passed away. My second film  with Soumitra Babu  was  Nishijapon  in 2005 based on  a famous  Bengali novel by  Narayan  Gangopadhyay.”

 Directing this  great actor  was  like  collaborating with a  family member. “Soumitra Babu was like  my own uncle. He was very close to my father even outside the studio sets. He came home very often . Losing him is like losing a  close member  of my family. One by one,they’re all leaving.This has been a very depressing  year. Losing Soumitra  Babu was a shock to me. I met him last in September,  just  days  before  he was  hospitalized  for Covid,  for an archival documentary  that his daughter was making. He was in the pink of  health, conversing with everyone  the whole day. Soumitra Babu was  a  very learned man. But he didn’t allow his knowledge to  come in  the way  of his democratic attitude. Whether  it  was  an actor  or a  spotboy  he was equally friendly  with all.And  yes , one more thing. He  always encouraged  new directors, did not hesitate in working with them.You have no idea what  that meant to younger directors who come into  the Bengali film  industry in  the generations  following my father.”

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Sandip  reveals more on his father’s collaboration  with Soumitra Chatterjee. “They met beyond their shootings quite regularly to discuss  the magazine titled   Ekhon which Soumitra Babuedited.My father suggested  the name  of  the magazine . His  screenplays were regularly  published in Ekhon.”

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