Soumitra Chatterjee, Satyajit Ray’s Favourite Hero
Chatterjee acted as the lead character in 14 of Ray’ films.
Soumitra Chatterjee started his creative career with the film 'Apur Sansar' (The World of Apu) in 1959. He acted with other filmmakers, but his brightest association was with Satyajit Ray.
A friend of Chatterjee's who worked with Ray, came with Ray's assistant and talked to the then 20-year-old Soumitra about how he will be a good fit for the character of young Apu in the Pather Panchali sequel 'Aparajito'. But, Satyajit Ray thought that Soumitra was too old to play college going Apu.
Then at the 1957 Venice Film Festival, 'Aparajito' won the Golden Lion and afterwards, Ray announced the third film in the sequel, Apur Sansar.
Meanwhile, Soumitra faced another rejection in the screen test of a film by Kartik Chatterjee.
In his book, 'The Master and I', Soumitra Chatterjee remembers the day when Ray decides to catch him unawares by a sudden announcement, "One day, I was there to watch a scene from Jalsaghar being shot… As I was about to leave, he said, 'Let me introduce you to Chhabi Biswas, you haven't met him, have you?' He said in his customary baritone, 'Chhabi da! This is Soumitra Chattopadhyay; he's playing Apu in my next film Apur Sansar.' The penny had dropped! The chandelier on the sets of Jalsaghar began to sway in front of my eyes; my feet left the ground".
That was beginning of a wonderful journey that Chatterjee embarked upon with Ray.
After his grand performance in 'Apur Sansar', Soumitra Chatterjee became one of the most sought after actors. At the peak of his career, he worked with notable filmmakers such as Tapan Sinha, Mrinal Sen.
Chatterjee acted as the lead character in 14 of Ray's films.
Satyajit Ray and Soumitra Chatterjee were very close. Ray held Chatterjee publish his own magazine 'Ekkhon' which Ray named and drew the cover for. Ray used to regularly write for it as well.
In a later interview Soumitra Chattopadhyay said, "I later realised that Satyajit Ray used to talk less and let other do the talking. This was his technique to find out the diction, the voice, and the physical mannerisms of a person, he used to gaze the person in his mind."
The Ray-Chatterjee duo is the most iconic director-actor partnership in Indian Cinema. To Ray, Chatterjee was what perhaps Toshiro Mifune was to the Japanese maestro Akira Kurosawa.