Soumitra Chatterjee is a maverick genius who dabbled the different streams of performing and creative arts with ease and a rare poise. For six decades he remained a harbinger of hope for Bengalis all around the globe. He was a way of life, a pride in the collective racial identity. Only his mentor Satyajit Ray and the universal gurudev Rabindranath Tagore precede him in adoration and reverence.
But Soumitra Chatterjee was never a star in the glamour sky. He was a daily sustenance in the mundane. Firmly rooted, in his private spaces he was a curious mind free of inhibitions. Silhouette editor Amitava Nag had the privilege of engaging with him in numerous discussions over months and years. Not interviews in the formal sense. But exchanges – of ideas, experiences and reflections.
Blue Pencil is set to release a short and succinct account of those interactions as the book Murmurs: Moments with Soumitra Chatterjee, on 19th January 2021 to celebrate the legend’s 87th birthday..
For every Sunday till then, there will be individual episodes of the book.
‘Siempre que te pregunto
Que cuándo cómo y dónde
Tú siempre me respondes
Quizás, quizás, quizás’
I was playing Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Quizas’ on YouTube for him. Andrea is a favourite of mine. He seemed to like the timber of Andrea’s voice as well. Soft yet vibrating, lilting without being sonorous. I told him that Andrea was blind since he was a teenager. How tragic it is.
We soon shifted to people with disabilities, how the dysfunction of one sense organ sharpens another. He describes how he approached the character of Sashi Bhushan in Goutam Ghosh’s Dekha, an old man who was blind from glaucoma at an advanced age. It is one of his finest renderings on screen, subtle, complex and very complicated.
‘It is not easy. If one starts losing an ability and it’s a gradual decay, it is difficult to develop another one extraordinarily. I know it. My hearing problem has aggravated slowly. And at an advanced age, it didn’t help me to train other senses in that way.’
‘Yes, but you are just a bit short of hearing. Who knows what happens to one who turns deaf totally?’ I argue.
He looks grumpy. Some mornings are worse than others the way they tear us apart. May be his sleep last night wasn’t deep or sufficient. May be, he could hear the sound of his own breathing that woke him up for long. Not all hearings need a functioning ear drum.
Just as all seeing don’t need eyes.
‘Don’t romanticize all the moments in art. That is basic in any form,’ he suddenly says in a low soliloquy. Not looking up, not inviting a debate or a discussion even. We have been for some time now discussing casually, the art forms and our own experiences and enjoyments.
‘I don’t, life Is not a platter,’ I still reply. He doesn’t look up even with a provocation like that.
‘You write poems. Which one to you is first – writing or being alive?’ he tosses one back at me still looking down slightly.
‘Being alive has always been for me,’ I know this for sure, only a few that I afford to. Writing is staying alive, not the other way around, probably.
‘Amitava, one has to be rude at times, to be creative. Rude with others, rude to the self,’ his hands have prominent veins jutting out blue. The skin is pale, broken almost at places with dark clots – so many syringes and tubes, so many medical tests. So many histories. After the successes, there had always been storms.
I don’t answer him. For there has to be silence now. Inside our heads music plays on, we don’t need ears ever to tap and trap them blind within our skulls. Once we produced art, now is the time to consume, some of it.
‘You won’t admit you love me
And so how am I ever to know?
You always tell me
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
A million times I’ve asked you,
And then I ask you over again
You only answer
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
If you can’t make your mind up
We’ll never get started
And I don’t wanna wind up
Being parted, broken-hearted
So if you really love me
Say yes, but if you don’t dear, confess
And please don’t tell me
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.’
Catherine Berge’s Gaach (The Tree, 1998) is a rare documentary on Soumitra Chatterjee. Silhouette is grateful to Catherine and producer James Ivory for providing permission to make it available to the Silhouette readers.
More to read on Soumitra Chatterjee
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