Iconic actor Soumitra Chatterjee dies at age of 85, curtains down on golden era of Bengali cinema

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(Eds: With additional inputs, quotes) Kolkata, Nov 15 (PTI) Legendary actor Soumitra Chatterjee, who strode Bengali cinema like a colossus and took it to the world, died on Sunday after losing a fierce forty- day battle with post-COVID ailments, bringing curtains down on the final chapter of Bengali cinema's golden era. He was 85.

The thespian is survived by wife Deepa Chatterjee, daughter Poulomi Basu and son Sougata Chatterjee.

The actor was admitted to the hospital on October 6 after he tested positive for the infection. He was later shifted to ICU as COVID encephalopathy set in, affecting his central nervous system and causing renal dysfunction.

He recovered from the infection subsequently, but his health condition did not improve, despite several plasma therapies, dialysis and tracheotomy.

Doctors had on November 13 said that he stopped responding to treatment.

'We declare with a heavy heart that Shri Soumitra Chattopadhyay breathed his last at 12.15 pm at Belle Vue Clinic today (November 15 2020). We pay our homage to his soul,' the hospital said in a statement.

His daughter, while talking to the reporters, announced the schedule of his final journey. Chatterjee will be cremated amid gun salute in the evening.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee along with chief secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay and minister Indranil Sen had rushed to Belle Vue Clinic after the news broke.

Paying homage to the celebrated actor, the chief minister said Chatterjee was a 'fighter who will be celebrated for his work'.

His death is an 'irreparable loss' for the country's film fraternity, she said.

'Feluda is no more. Apu said goodbye. Farewell, Soumitra (Da) Chatterjee. He has been a legend in his lifetime. International, Indian and Bengali cinema has lost a giant. We will miss him dearly. The film world in Bengal has been orphaned,' Banerjee added.

As news of his death spread, hundreds of people gathered outside the hospital to take a final glimpse of their much-loved 'Feluda' -- a strapping, handsome Bengali sleuth -- brought to life by Satyajit Ray, and immortalised by Chatterjee in 'Sonar Kella' and 'Joi Baba Felunath'.

Few people were seen reciting Chatterjee's favourite poems penned by Rabindranath Tagore, as the hearse van reached his Golf Green residence.

After his wife, family members and relatives paid their last respects, his body was taken to the technician's studio where actors and directors paid their floral tributes.

Flowers were showered on the hearse van as it moved past the Tollygunge studio -- a place he would visit regularly for the last six decades.

From there, Chatterjee's mortal remains were taken to Rabindra Sadan -- the cultural hub of Kolkata -- where his fans and admirers poured in to offer their tributes. The celebrated actor would begin his final journey to Keoratola crematorium in south Kolkata at 6.30 pm.

In several parts of the state, people, brushing aside COVID-19 scare, took out processions with photographs of the veteran actor, as a mark of respect.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the death of Chatterjee and said his demise is a colossal loss to the world of cinema, and cultural life of West Bengal and India.

'Shri Soumitra Chatterjee's death is a colossal loss to the world of cinema, cultural life of West Bengal and India. Through his works, he came to embody Bengali sensibilities, emotions and ethos. Anguished by his demise.

Condolences to his family and admirers. Om Shanti,' Modi said.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the veteran actor took Bengali cinema to new heights.

'Deeply pained to learn about the demise of legendary Soumitra Chatterjee Ji. An iconic actor who took Bengali cinema to new heights. In Soumitra Da, Indian silver screen has lost a gem. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and countless followers. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti,' he tweeted.

Among others, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar also condoled Chatterjee's death.

Several actors and directors, who have worked with the Dada Saheb Phalke awardee, mourned the loss.

In a career spanning six decades, Chatterjee has acted in more than 300 films.

Mentored by auteur Satyajit Ray, the thespian will go down in history as the last of the Mohicans of the golden era of Indian celluloid who along with Ray took Bengali cinema to the world.

'He was an actor par excellence. Our families have bonded so well over the past 60 years. He was meticulous about everything... a perfectionist,' film director Sandip Ray, son of Satyajit Ray, said.

His co-actor in several films, Aparna Sen, said Chatterjee was family to her.

'I still can't believe that he is no longer with us. I had hoped till the last that a miracle would happen,' Sen, who marked her debut opposite Chatterjee in 'Teen Kanya' anthology, said.

Sen, also a filmmaker, recalled that Chatterjee had on a number of occasions asked her why she did not cast him in her films more often.

'I used to tell him that let me first find a role befitting his stature. I had cast him in 'Paromitar Ekdin', and that was one of his memorable performances. I told him I would cast him again if I find roles that can do justice to someone as talented as he was,' she said.

Sharmila Tagore, who had shared screen space with Chatterjee in Ray's 'Apur Sansar', 'Devi' and 'Aranyer Din Ratri' recalled many happy moments that she had shared with the thespian.

'We shared a great rapport. He had a childlike innocence and simplicity. He used to read and write a lot. He was a cerebral personality,' Tagore said.

Both Sharmila Tagore and Chatterjee debuted in Ray's 1959 masterpiece 'Apur Sansar'.

Tagore said though Chatterjee had been in the hospital for over a month, at some point of time everyone hoped he would recover. 'I have lost a friend of many years, a loyal friend,' she said.

Apart from being part of 14 films by Ray, Chatterjee also worked with other greats -- Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar. He had made his presence felt on the stage too -- as actor, playwright and director.

Standouts in his theatre career include his rendition of Shakespeare's King Lear in Suman Mukhopadhyay's play that earned him accolades both nationally and globally.

He also wrote over 15 plays and directed more than 30 stage productions.

A yoga enthusiast and an avid cricket fan, he edited the magazine 'Ekhon' (Now) for more than two decades.

In 2018 he won the Lgion d' honneur, the highest civilian award in France. PTI SUS ACB KR PNT RMS RMS