Soumitra Chatterjee was an extraordinary man. His cinematic acting career straddled the worlds of arthouse films, commercial potboilers, and middlebrow entertainers with equal grace. He is known as much for rom-coms like Basanta Bilāp and the superb Bāksa Badal, as the swashbuckling villain in Jhinder Bandi; as the much-loved sleuth Feluda in Satyajit Ray’s Sonār Kellā and Jai Bābā Felunāth; as for his long-standing association with Ray’s more serious ventures. Beyond cinema, he scaled great heights in Bangla theatre as an actor, director, playwright, and even translator. He was a noted poet and writer, a key figure behind the inception and running of the literary magazine Ekśan, and showed merit in his occasional ventures into other art forms such as painting. He also consciously stayed away from certain areas, which to readers is just as intriguing as his versatility. For instance, he barely ventured outside Bengali-language media; his involvement in Hindi cinema extended to just a handful of telefilms. Notwithstanding his much-acclaimed involvement in theatre direction, he is not known to have directed any motion picture except Strī Kā Patra (1985), a Hindi (!) telefilm for Doordarshan.
The book reviewed here describes itself as ‘the first comprehensive attempt to portray the life of the actor in all its facets’. The author has emphasized aspects a typical cinematic biography might skim through. He recalls with fondness his extensive personal interactions with Soumitra himself, interactions not specifically premised upon writing books. Whether or not this invests the book with Soumitra’s imprimatur is debatable, but certainly it offers singular insights into his own viewpoints.