At 83, one of Satyajit Ray’s most favourite actors, Soumitra Chatterjee, who starred in the critical and commercial hit “Bela Seshe: In The Autumn Of My Life”, says he is no longer in a position to choose scripts and grab meaty roles since age has limited his repertoire.
A much talked about Bengali film, “Bela Seshe” recently completed 150 days at the box office and was lauded for reuniting Chatterjee with theatre actress Swatilekha Sengupta, 30 years after Ray paired the two in “Ghare Baire” (The Home and The World).
Chatterjee has worked under Ray’s direction in 15 feature films and one documentary – starting with his debut in “Apur Sansar” in 1959 – in lead and award-winning roles.
Despite his brilliance in performing, the actor’s oeuvre over the past few years has largely comprised supporting acts.
“I’m not choosy any more at this age. I can’t afford to be choosy now. When I was a full-fledged hero actor, I could choose my scripts, but when I had to switch over to character acting I can’t afford to choose,” Chatterjee told IANS in an interview.
But as director duo Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee approached him with the script of “Bela Seshe”, he found it unusual and accepted it because it also provided a chance for him to showcase his acting skills.
“It was a rather unusual concept and interesting for me since I got ample opportunity to sort of exercise my abilities,” the thespian said.
The film revolves around a married couple who decide to separate after 50 years of marriage and narrates a tale of how the decision will change their children’s life. Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan heaped praises on the movie which had its pan-India release in June and is slated to have a global release later.
The fastidious Chatterjee was also impressed with the filmmakers’ interest in elderly actors.
“It was a good thing on the part of the directors to pair the two of us since there are not many elderly actresses left who are frequently seen and often opposite me,” Chatterjee observed.
Swatilekha, a Sangeet Natak Academy-winner, concurs.
“They thought of this concept, this was our gain. At our age it is very difficult to get meaty and pioneering roles,” the actress told IANS, hoping the film helps in changing mindsets in the film industry since even at their age, they are as professional and disciplined at shoots as any actor of the younger generation.
Chatterjee says he prefers to adopt a “thoroughly” professional attitude on sets, notwithstanding personal relations.
In fact, he says, though there were moments while shooting “Bela Seshe” when the two were hit by waves of Ray nostalgia, the focus was on getting the job done.
“But nothing compares to working with Ray. He was a class apart,” asserted Chatterjee.
A leading figure of Bengali stage, Chatterjee recently played the protagonist in an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “King Lear”. The play got rave reviews and also drew the crowds in large numbers. The octogenarian says he wants to do more of Shakespeare.