|Birth Day:||January 19, 1935|
An icon of Bengali cinema who appeared in Sonar Kella, Joy Baba Felunath, and Shakha Proshakha. Soumitra Chatterjee received the highest award available to a French citizen, the Officier des Arts et Metiers' Award.
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Soumitra Chatterjee graduated with honors from City Collge, Kolkata with a degree in Bengali Literature.
Soumitra was born in Mirjapur Street (now this is known as Surya Sen Street) near Sealdah Railway Station, a locality in Calcutta of West Bengal, in 1935. The first ten years of his early life past in Krishnanagar in the district of Nadia in West Bengal, the town under the influence of playwright Dwijendralal Ray, also from Krishnanagar, had a flourishing theatre culture, with numerous small theatre groups. His grandfather was the president of one such group while his father, though lawyer by profession and later a government worker, also worked as an amateur actor. He started acting in school plays. Encouraged by the praise he received for his acting, gradually his interest in theatre grew with passing years, thus in late school years, he was taking acting seriously. He was a very close friend of famous theatre personality, Mrityunjay Sil who is often regarded as the person due to which Soumitra is a star.
Chatterjee had gone on the sets of Ray's fourth film, Jalsaghar (1958) to watch the shoot. He was still unaware that he had already been selected for the title role of Apu trilogy. That day, while he was leaving the sets, Ray called him over and introduced him to actor Chhabi Biswas as "..This is Soumitra Chattopadhyay; he's playing Apu in my next film Apur Sansar" leaving him much surprised. Despite being selected, as a debutant actor, Chatterjee was nevertheless unsure for his career choice and especially his looks, as he didn't consider himself photogenic. However, on 9 August 1958, when the first shot of the film was given an okay in one take, he realized he had found his vocation. Thus Soumitra's film debut came in 1959 in Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu (Apur Sansar). In his debut film,his acting prowess got unveiled . In fact Ray believed with a beard Chatterjee looked like young poet laureate Tagore.
He replaced Mrityunjay Sil as the lead artist in 1958. Mrityunjay Sil was at the peak of his theatre career at that time. But due to personal issues he suggested his friend, Soumitra's name. Mrityunjay Sil is often credited to be one of the few people to have helped Soumitra. But he soon left his job.
Soumitra and his family moved to Howrah where he studied in the Howrah Zilla School and Calcutta during his early years. Soumitra graduated from the City College, Kolkata with honours in Bengali literature, as a graduating student of the University of Calcutta. He has lived for a number of years in Calcutta in Satyajit Ray's old apartment 3-lake temple road. He studied for his M.A. in Bengali from the University of Calcutta. While still a student, he learnt acting under noted actor-director of Bengali theatre Ahindra Choudhury. However a turning point came when in the final year of college he saw a play by Sisir Bhaduri, theatre director and the doyen of Bengali theatre. The play not only set a standard for acting for him, but also help makeup his mind to become an actor. He managed to meet Bhaduri, through his friend's mother, actress Shefalika Putul. Though, he met Bhaduri, towards the end of his career, when his theatre had closed, nevertheless over the next three years, till Bhaduri's death in 1959, Chatterjee made him a mentor, and learnt the craft of acting through their regular interactions. He even appeared in a small role in one of Bhaduri's productions.
Soumitra had approached Satyajit Ray to suggest a name for a little magazine founded by Soumitra and Nirmalya Acharya in 1961. Satyajit Ray had named the magazine Ekkhon (Now), he designed the inaugural cover page and illustrated the cover pages regularly even after Soumitra had stopped editing the magazine. Nirmalya continued editing the magazine, and several of Ray's scripts were published in the magazine.
After a two-decade long busy career as a leading man of Bengali cinema, he returned to theatre in 1978, with his production Naam Jiban, staged at Biswarupa Theatre in Kolkata. This led to other plays like Rajkumar (1982), Phera (1987), Nilkantha (1988), Ghatak Biday (1990) and Nyaymurti (1996), beside notable plays like Tiktiki (1995), an adaptation of Sleuth and Homapakhi (2006). Besides acting, he has written and directed several plays, translated a few and also branched out to poetry reading in recent decades.
Entering the 1980s and 1990s, he started working with contemporary directors, like Goutam Ghose, Aparna Sen, Anjan Das and Rituparno Ghosh, and even acted on television. In 1986, he played the role of a swimming coach in film Kony (1986) directed by Saroj Dey, who was part of the film collective Agragami. The film is about a young girl from a slum, who wants to become a swimmer. At the 32nd National Film Awards, the film won the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment . Later in a 2012 interview, he called Kony one of the best films of his career. He even recalled using film's catch-phrase "Fight-Koni-fight" in hard times, as a chant to himself to lift his "aging spirits". The phrase had become popular with middle-class Bengalis at the time.
Soumitra has received the 'Officier des Arts et Metiers', the highest award for arts given by the French government, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Italy. He turned down the honorary Padma Shri award from the Indian government in the 1970s; in 2004, he accepted the prestigious Padma Bhushan award from the President of India. He has been the subject of a full-length documentary named Gaach by French film director Catherine Berge. In 1998, he was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award given by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama.
However, after receiving the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian honour given by Government of India in 2004, he changed his viewpoint towards awards, and stated "Now (after Padma Bhushan) I feel I don't have the right to hurt my viewers by rejecting an award." A few years later, on 9 June 2008, he was awarded the 2007 National Film Award for Best Actor for Podokkhep (Footsteps) (2006), which he accepted though stating "after decades of acting, I do not attach too much value to it". In 2010, he won Best Supporting Actor at 54th Asia-Pacific Film Festival for his role in Angshumaner Chhobi (2009).
Since November 2010, he has been regularly performing in the title role of the play Raja Lear directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay, a play based on King Lear by William Shakespeare. Soumitra has received widespread critical and popular accolades for his acting in the play.
In 2012, he was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India's highest award in cinema given annually by the Government of India for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema. In 2014, he received the introductory Filmfare Awards East for Best Male Actor (Critics) for his role in Rupkatha Noy. & also he won Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award – South (1994) Actor Soumitra Chatterjee, 82, will be honoured with France's highest civilian award, Legion of Honor. The award will be presented to the Kolkata-based actor by the Ambassador of France to India Alexandre Ziegler. Talking about the honour, Chatterjee said, “At this age, awards do not hold a great attraction. But I should say this award is slightly special as it comes from a country that is known for its cultural richness and artistic excellence.
In October 2020, Chatterjee tested positive for Covid-19 and is currently admitted in Belle Vue Clinic, Kolkata. However, he tested negative to the 2nd Covid-19 test conducted on 14th October. In the meantime, his complications (urinary tract infection, fluctuations in sodium potassium levels, etc.) made the condition critical and he had to be admitted to ITU. But from 13th October, his health condition started to improve marginally and on 14th October, he got transferred from Covid unit to non-covid unit. He was kept in BiPap support and invasive ventilation for his treatment in the critical times. But, after his improvement in health, the treatment mechanisms got changed. He has been under the supervision of a medical team of 16 doctors. On 25th October, his condition deteriorated.
Currently, Soumitra Chatterjee is 87 years, 4 months and 3 days old. Soumitra Chatterjee will celebrate 88th birthday on a Thursday 19th of January 2023.
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