Review: Soumitra Chatterjee – A Filmmaker Remembers by Suman Ghosh – Hindustan Times | Episode Movies

When a filmmaker journeys down memory lane to write a book about a great actor, the reviewer faces many challenges. The first is to overcome the awe with which the author approaches his subject. This is understandable considering that the author Suman Ghosh is writing about Soumitra Chatterjee, one of the greatest actors in Indian cinema. The second challenge is to find out if the author was able to objectively see his subject, who died before starting this project. The third is to find out if a sentimental nostalgia has permeated the narrative. Thankfully, while the book is deeply emotional, it paints a well-rounded picture of Soumitra Chatterjee.

159 pages, £595; Om Books International

As is often the case when one celebrity writes about another, the reader is actually reading two books at the same time – one about the writer and the other about his subject. Soumitra Chatterjee – a filmmaker remembers, which chronicles the director’s journey with the actor he still adores as a hero, is no different. Divided into nine chapters, it contains many illustrations, photographs, and even Chatterjee’s translation of James Joyce’s monologue The deadwho was part of Ghosh Basu Paribar.

Ghosh made headlines for the first time with his directorial debut. Podochhep, which won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali and also brought Soumitra Chatterjee the Best Actor award. In it, Chatterji plays Shasanka Palit, a lonely old man who lives with his unmarried daughter and continues to return to childhood despite being plagued by fear of death. “The film begins with a shocking symbol of death. Strapped to a belt in a moving subway train, Palit looks anxiously at himself waiting outside on the platform after failing to catch the train. The palit in the moving train may be moving away from life. The Palit on the platform encapsulates the memories and experiences of his life. This scene is repeated when Palit is actually looking out of the subway and is shocked to spot a frightened and confused Trisha on the platform,” Chatterjee once said in an interview with this author.

The actor has appeared in four other Ghosh films, including his second feature film dwando (2009), his third, Nobel Choir (2012, guest performance), Haven of Peace (2015) and Basu Poribar (2019). The director’s oeuvre also includes his fourth film, the one of the same name kadambaria loosely structured fictional account of Tagore’s relationship with his sister-in-law, an acclaimed short film called Shyamal uncle turns off the lightand a long documentary about Amartya Sen.

In over 13 years of fruitful collaboration, Ghosh and Chatterjee’s relationship has transformed from that of a young professional directing a legendary actor to a deeply personal one. Ghosh admits he considers Chatterjee his mentor, a foster father from whom he learned a great deal, not only about films, acting and directing, but also about life and its many manifestations, including death.

“He was by far the liveliest person I’ve ever met. His zest for life knew no bounds. Whether through literature, through poetry, through films, through his interactions with people, through theatre, it was as if he constantly wanted to be immersed in the delirium of life and bathed in all of its beauty. His mind was like a blank canvas ready to be painted with paint,” writes Ghosh, whose book is filled with anecdotes.

Of particular interest is the one that describes the author’s concern about the pairing of Mithun Chakraborty and Chatterjee Nobel Choir, although the latter only had a guest role. Luckily, the two actors blended into their characters and seamlessly blended into each other like they were born to do the movie together.

Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore in Apur Sansar (1959) directed by Satyajit Ray. (HT photo)

The filmmaker, who is also a professor of economics at Florida Atlantic University, explains how he got into film: “I’ve always been interested in filmmaking, but lacked the technical talent. I had come to Cornell University to do a PhD in economics. During my stay there, I decided to study film at the Department of Theater, Film and Dance. It was about the theory and art of filmmaking from the ground up. I did not complete a degree, but took all the basic courses for a master’s degree in film studies. I got my PhD and got a job. Then I made a documentary about Amartya Sen, my first film. After that I had the opportunity to assist Gautam Ghosh dekha in Kolkata. I wanted to make my own feature.”

Director and Writer Suman Ghosh (ANI)

Ghosh’s easy-flowing narrative presents the individual beyond the screen persona of actor Soumitra Chatterjee. He uncovers the layers of celebrity to reveal the father, husband and grandfather he was. The reader learns of Chatterjee’s many talents as a poet, writer, theater man, and singer, and his less publicized talent for painting. We also learn about his role as a narrator who was able to entertain film crews with jokes during breaks in filming.

While this is a good read, it could have done without the long list of recommendations at the beginning. A director of Ghosh’s caliber doesn’t really need them. Still, this is a book that should have a place on the shelves of anyone interested in film.

Shoma A Chatterji is an independent journalist. She lives in Kolkata.

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