Soumitra Chatterjee

Soumitra Chatterjee or Soumitra Chattopadhyay (Shoumitro Chôttopaddhae; born 19 January 1935) is an Indian film and stage actor, reciter, poet and artist. He is best known for his collaborations with Oscar-winning film director Satyajit Ray, with whom he worked in fourteen films. Soumitra Chattopadhyay is also the first Indian film personality conferred with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France's highest award for artists. He is also the winner of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award which is India's highest award for cinema. In 2018 exactly thirty years after auteur Satyajit Ray was honoured with France's highest civilian award, the coveted Legion of Honor, thespian Soumitra Chatterjee, arguably, the most prominent face of Ray's films, also received the prestigious award as the first ever Indian actor.[1][2]

Soumitra Chattopadhyay
Soumitra Chatterjee inaugurating a Puja at Behala in 2013
Soumitra Chattopadhyay

(1935-01-19) 19 January 1935
Mirjapur Street, Calcutta. Bengal Presidency, British India
(now in West Bengal, India)
Alma materUniversity of Calcutta
  • Actor
  • Theatre Personality (stage actor, dramatist and play-director)
  • Reciter
  • Poet
  • Painter
Years active1959 – present
Height1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Deepa Chatterjee (m. 1960)
ChildrenOne son (elder) and one daughter, respectively — Sougata Chattopadhyay and Poulami Chattopadhyay.
Parent(s)Ashalata Chattopadhyay and Mohit Kumar Chattopadhyay
AwardsPadma Bhushan (2004)
National Film Awards (2006)
Dadasaheb Phalke Award (2012)
Legion of Honour (2018)

Starting with his debut film, Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959), the third part of Apu Trilogy, he went on to work in several notable films with Ray, including Abhijan (The Expedition, 1962), Charulata (The Lonely Wife, 1964), Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest, 1969); Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder, 1973); Sonar Kella (The Fortress, 1974) as Feluda and Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God, 1978) as Feluda, Ghare Baire (The Home and The World, 1984) and Ganashatru (Enemy of the People, 1989). Meanwhile, he also worked with other noted directors of Bengali cinema, with Mrinal Sen in Akash Kusum (Up in the Clouds, 1965), Tapan Sinha in Kshudhita Pashan (Hungry Stones, 1960), Jhinder Bandi (1961), Asit Sen in Swaralipi (1961), Ajoy Kar in Saat Pake Bandha (1963), Parineeta (1969), and Tarun Mazumdar in Sansar Simante (1975) and Ganadevata (1978). He acted more than 210 films in his career till 2016. He also received critical favour for his directorial venture Streer Patra which is based on the story of the same name by Tagore.[3]

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2004.[4]

In 2012, he received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India's highest award in cinema given by the government of India for lifetime achievement. He has won two National Film Awards as an actor, and as an actor in Bengali theatre, he received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1998, given by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama. In 2013, IBN LIVE named him as one of "The men who changed the face of the Indian Cinema".[5] In 2014, he received the introductory Filmfare Awards East for Best Male Actor (Critics) for his role in Rupkatha Noy. He won 7 Filmfare Awards. In 2006 he won the National Film Award for Best Actor for the film Podokkhep.

Early life and background

Soumitra was born in Mirjapur Street, 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, later a government worker and 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[7] 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.[7] 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.[6][8][9] He even appeared in a small role in one of Bhaduri's productions. [10][11]

Subsequently, he started his career working in All India Radio as an announcer,[10] while he was still there he started pursuing a career in films. He came in touch with Ray during the casting for Aparajito (1956), who was looking for new faces. Ray thought he had the right look, however found him, age 20, and just out of college, too old for the role of adolescent Apu. Ray remembered him and offered him the role of adult Apu two years later. [12][13][10] Meanwhile, he was rejected in his screen test for Bengali film, Nilachale Mahaprabhu (1957) directed by Kartik Chattopadhyay.[9]

Work with Satyajit Ray: 1959–1990

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.[14] 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.[9] Thus Soumitra's film debut came in 1959 in Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu (Apur Sansar). In fact Ray believed with a beard Chatterjee looked like young poet laureate Tagore.[15]

Soumitra would eventually collaborate with Ray on fourteen films. His centrality to Ray's work is akin to other key collaborations in the history of cinema Mifune and Kurosawa, Mastroianni and Fellini, De Niro and Scorsese, DiCaprio and Scorsese, Max von Sydow and Ingmar Bergman, Jerzy Stuhr and Kieślowski.[16] After Apur Sansar, he also worked with Sharmila Tagore in a number of Ray films, apart from working with leading star actor of the period, Uttam Kumar with whom he has often been compared, in eight films.[17][18]

Chatterjee was cast in diverse roles by Ray and some of the stories and screenplays that Ray wrote were said to be written with him in mind. Soumitra featured as Feluda/Pradosh Chandra Mitter, the famous private investigator from Calcutta in Ray's Feluda series of books, in two films in the 1970s Sonar Kella (1974) and Joi Baba Felunath (1979). These two films were the first film series made for Feluda and are considered as the Feluda original film series. He was the first person who portrayed the iconic Bengali sleuth Feluda. Satyajit Ray made some illustrations of Feluda based on Soumitra's body figure and look in the 1970s Feluda books. After him Sabyasachi Chakrabarty took the role of the iconic Bengali hero Feluda in the mid-1990s.

Ghare Baire (1984), an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore's novel of the same name and one of Ray's major ventures of the 1980s, featured Chatterjee in a leading role in the character of a radical revolutionary in a love triangle with his friend's wife. These roles showcased Chatterjee's versatility in playing diverse characters, especially in an urban setting. In Shakha Proshakha (1990), Ray's second last film, Chatterjee turns out a moving performance in the role of a mentally handicapped son of an aging patriarch on his deathbed and the only source of his father's solace, as his siblings squabble.

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. [19]

Other works

Besides working with Ray, Soumitra excelled in collaborations with other well-known Bengali directors such as Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha. He earned critical acclaim for his role of an impostor in Mrinal Sen's Akash Kusum (1965). He was equally confident in playing the swashbuckling horse-riding villain in Tapan Sinha's Jhinder Bandi (1961) giving the legendary Uttam Kumar a tough challenge. In Teen Bhubaner Pare (1969), he again shared the screen with the Tanuja, and his flamboyant and peppy way of romance. Besides films, Chatterjee has continued acting in Kolkata-based Bengali theatre, and even published over 12 poetry books.[20]

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.[18] At the 32nd National Film Awards, the film won the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment .[21] 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.[18]


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.[7] But he soon left his job.

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.[7]

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.[18] Soumitra has received widespread critical and popular accolades for his acting in the play.

Soumitra Chatterjee is also well known for his poetry recitation. Recitation is something that was imbibed in him since childhood by his Parents. One such popular recitation of his is "Shesher Kobita" by Rabindranath Tagore.

Awards and recognitions

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.[22] 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.[23]

Incidentally, besides getting 8 times BFJA - Best Actor Awards[24] and international recognition for his acting prowess, Chatterjee never won a National Film Award for acting in the early part of his career, which established his reputation as an actor, working with directors like Satyajit Ray, Tapan Sinha and Mrinal Sen. Thus, over the years, he has been vocal about his feelings of disappointment and alleging bias in the National Film Awards committee's towards awarding popular and mainstream cinema.[6][8] Thus, in a gesture of protest against, he turned down the 2001 Special Jury Award for Dekha directed by Goutam Ghose. Later in an interview he stated "..the National Film Awards, overlooked my performances in several powerful roles...When I did Kony, Shashi Kapoor was adjudged the best actor. Anil Kapoor was feted (Best Actor) for Pukar while Dekha was awarded a 'consolation' prize".[8][25]

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."[8] A few years later, on 9 June 2008, he was awarded the 2007 National Film Award for Best Actor for Podokkhep (Footsteps) (2006),[26] which he accepted though stating "after decades of acting, I do not attach too much value to it".[27]
In 2010, he won Best Supporting Actor at 54th Asia-Pacific Film Festival for his role in Angshumaner Chhobi (2009).[28]

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.[17][20] In 2014, he received the introductory Filmfare Awards East for Best Male Actor (Critics) for his role in Rupkatha Noy.[29] & also he won Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award – South (1994)[30] 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.

Civilian Award

National Film Awards

Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards

Filmfare Awards



  • The Master and I: Soumitra on Satyajit, Soumitra Chatterjee, tr. by Arunava Sinha. Supernova Publishers, 2014. ISBN 8189930729.

Books on Soumitra Chatterjee

  • Beyond Apu - 20 Favourite film roles of Soumitra Chatterjee. Amitava Nag. Harper Collins India, 2016. ISBN 9350298619.[31]
  • "সৌমিত্র" (Soumitra)— edited by Aloke Chattopadhyay and Manas Chakraborty. Latest version is published by Prativas.
  • "Naam Soumitra" by Arunendra Mookherjee in Bengali published in 1995. The book is the first biography of Soumitra Chatterjee in Bengali published by Arkadeep.

Books by Soumitra Chatterjee

  • "Śreshṭha kabitā"— Poetry book originally published in 1993.
  • মানিক দা'র সঙ্গে (Manik Dar Songe): This book depicts the journey of Soumitra Chattopadhyay with his Master Satyajit Ray (1959-1992). Publication: Aajkaal Publishers Pvt Ltd. This book also has a translated version Titled "The Master and I: Soumitra on Satyajit" by Arunava Sinha. Published in the year of 2014 from Supernova Publishers.
  • পরিচয় (Porichoy): This book is kind of autobiography of this legend. Published on December 2013 by Prakash Bhaban.
  • অগ্রপথিকেরা (Agropothikera): A memoir of his seniors. Published on January 2010 by Aajkaal Publishers Pvt Ltd.
  • প্রতিদিন তব গাঁথা (Pratidin Tobo Gantha): In this book we found Soumitra Chattopadhyay as a worshipper of Rabindranath Tagore in many aspects of his life. Published January 2009 by Aajkaal Publishers Pvt Ltd.
  • চরিত্রের সন্ধানে (Choritrer Sondhane): In search of his character. Published January 2004 by Saptarshi Prakashan.
  • শব্দরা আমার বাগানে (Shabdora Aamar Bagane): Poetry book by Soumitra Chattopadhyay.
  • কবিতা সমগ্র (Kabita Samagra): A whole collection of poems by this legend. Publication: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd, April 2014.
  • মধ্যরাতের সংকেত (Madhyarater Sanket): This book contains some of his poems. Publication: Signet press of Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd, July 2012.
  • নাটক সমগ্র ১ (Natak Samagra 1): First part of his collection of drama, written or translated by himself. Publication: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd, January 2015.
  • নাটক সমগ্র ২ (Natak Samagra 2): Second part of his collection of drama, written or translated by himself. Publication: Ananda Publishers Pvt Ltd, April 2017.

See also


  1. "Soumitra Chatterjee to be honoured with Legion of Honor, France's highest civilian award". 10 June 2017.
  2. "Soumitra Chatterjee to receive Legion d'Honneur".
  3. "Feluda and fangirl!". Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  4. "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  5. " CNN News18 Latest News, Breaking News India, Current News Headlines". News18.
  6. Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay (21 April 2012). "My search for man". Frontline magazine, The Hindu. 29 (8). Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  7. "Soumitra Chatterjee Profile". Upperstall. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  8. "'I have no right to hurt my viewers'". The Times of India. 30 June 2008. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  9. Anuradha SenGupta (29 June 2008). "Being Soumitra Chatterjee: Star of the East". CNN-IBN. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  10. Ray 1996, p. 131.
  11. Soumitra Chatterjee, Actor Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  12. Robinson 1989, p. 99.
  13. Ray 2007, p. 161.
  14. "Soumitra Chatterjee on his master Satyajit Ray". The Times of India. 9 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  15. Ray 2007, p. 42.
  16. Salil Tripathi (28 March 2012). "A master of his craft". Mint. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  17. Tankha, Madhur (4 May 2012). "Phalke Award conferred on Soumitra Chatterjee". The Hindu. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  18. "Soumitra Chatterjee: I don't have much faith in awards". Movies. 16 May 2012. pp. 1–7. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  19. Robinson 1989, p. 296.
  20. "Soumitra Chatterjee to receive Dadasaheb Phalke Award for 2011 (PIB)" (Press release). Press Information Bureau (PIB), India. 23 March 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  21. "32nd National Film Awards". International Film Festival of India. Archived from the original on 26 September 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  22. "Padma Awards Directory (1954–2013)" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs.
  23. "SNA: List of Akademi Awardees". Sangeet Natak Akademi Official website. Archived from the original on 30 May 2015.
  24. "BJFA Awards – Official Listings, 1938 onwards (Yearwise)". Bengal Film Journalists' Association. Archived from the original on 12 November 2014.
  25. "48th National Film Awards" (PDF). Directorate of Film Festivals. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  26. "54th National Film Awards". International Film Festival of India. Archived from the original on 5 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  27. "Award comes "too late in the day" for Soumitra". The Hindu. 11 June 2008. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  28. "Asia-Pacific Film Festival: List of Winners - Hear in Taiwan". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  29. "Star-struck tryst with Black Lady". The Times of India. 31 March 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  30. "Lifetime Achievement Award (South) winners down the years...".
  31. Nag, Amitava (26 January 2016). "Beyond Apu - 20 Favourite Film Roles of Soumitra Chatterjee". Harper Collins India via Amazon.


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