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Friday, November 27, 2020

Soumitra Chatterjee: Friends with Satyajit Ray on reel but rivals on cricket field

Soumitra Chatterjee was an avid cricket fan who loved watching matches at the Eden Gardens and even wanted Ajinkya Rahane to play for KKR in 2018.

Written by Rahul Sadhu | Kolkata | Updated: November 20, 2020 12:19:44 am
Soumitra ChatterjeeSoumitra Chatterjee, the legendary Indian actor with more than 200 movies to his name. (Express Archive)

Soumitra Chatterjee and Satyajit Ray worked in 14 films together, spanning over three decades. Some of Chatterjee’s best works were crafted by Ray, one of the world’s most iconic and influential Indian directors whose films garnered critical acclaim and won multiple awards worldwide, putting India on the global cinema map.

But did you know that he once played a rival to Ray on the cricket pitch?

“Soumitra Chatterjee was heavily into cricket. He, my father Dileep Mukherjee, and Soumendu Roy (cinematographer who worked with Satyajit Ray) lived close to each other and were into sports,” recalled former Bengal all-rounder Joydeep Mukherjee.

“They would meet every other day and played the game often. Not only cricket but badminton, football… they were all into sports and watching them play was amazing to watch.”

In an Express Archive photo (below) from the 70s, it can be seen that before a charity match, a march past was underway – among others Master Babloo (holding aloft the flag), Satyajit Ray leading Hemanta Kumar’s XI, and Jahar Ganguly leading Kanan Devi’s XI.

Uttam Kumar walks behind Ray while Soumitra Chatterjee was Jahar Ganguly’s deputy.

Soumitra Chatterjee, second from left, walks behind Jahar Ganguly. (Express Archive)

That was not a one-off.

In one of the most talked-about charity matches (for the Kerala floods) from the late ’70s between the Kolkata Film Industry and Mumbai film Industry at Eden Gardens, Chatterjee was an important playing member from the Bengal side.

“The Mumbai team comprised the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna. There were 100,000 people on the ground. Chatterjee, was an important member of the dressing room, strategizing how to play and what field formations to set,” said Mukherjee, currently the Director of Cricket, Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB).

“He was one of the trusted personnel of the team. He batted well and was good with the ball as well. As a child I have one memory of him being focussed and taking decisions of who will be the new ball bowler based on which side the breeze was blowing,” Mukherjee added.

Not many would know but Satyajit Ray was a spinner himself while representing the Calcutta University in his early years. His love for cricket was also visible in his writings as well. Feluda (a fictional sleuth created by Ray in 1965) was said to be a bowler, something which was told to the readers in the book Badshahi Angti (The Emperor’s Ring).

Incidentally in 1974, it was Chatterjee who featured as Feluda, the famous private investigator from Calcutta in Ray’s Sonar Kella. He reprised the role in Joy Baba Felunath, becoming the face of the iconic character.

Chatterjee’s fondness for cricket can also be gauged by the fact that he never missed an international cricket match at the Eden Gardens till the 1980s.

Former Bengal captain and national selector Sambaran Banerjee said that he was a cricket fan who kept a tab on all the developments related to the game.

“He loved Test cricket more than anything else. He had told me that he never missed a cricket match at Eden Gardens in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s,” Banerjee told PTI.

Later in his life, in an interview on the official social media channel of the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Chatterjee had confessed his love for cricket and said, “At one time long back, I used to be an avid fan of cricket. Even now when some cricket is going back in some parts of the globe I generally follow the news.”

“But I would like to see someone like Ajinkya Rahane playing for Knight Riders and I would like to see a devastating bowler coming to KKR,” he had added back in 2018.

Chatterjee, the legendary Indian actor with more than 200 movies to his name, died Sunday of complications due to Covid-19. He was 85-years-old.

Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President Sourav Ganguly also mourned the death of the legendary actor. “U have done so much ..u can rest in peace,” Ganguly, also a former India captain, tweeted.

Before embarking on his film career in 1959, Chatterjee worked as an announcer at All India Radio in Kolkata. He was also an accomplished playwright and a poet.

In a 2016 interview, Chatterjee displayed his indomitable spirit to act even at an old age. “I have a fear: If I don’t work, I won’t exist,” he said.

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