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Interview Bengali

Leena Gangopadhyay admires the honesty and courage in Sabitri Chatterjee

As Chatterjee turns 82, Gangopadhyay shared with us her thoughts on the legendary actress, of whom she has become a confidante over long years of association.

Roushni Sarkar

Veteran actress Sabitri Chatterjee has made her mark in films, theatre as well as television series. Known for her impeccable timing in her multi-faceted performances, Chatterjee appeared in some very popular films by Tapan Sinha, Ajoy Kar, Agradoot and other leading filmmakers.

The actress, who has been awarded the Padma Shri and the Banga Bibhushan, has appeared in 65 films and various television serials in a career spanning more than six decades.

Chatterjee last appeared in Leena Gangopadhyay and Saibal Banerjee’s Partition-era tale Maati (2018), along with Paoli Dam and Adil Hussain. Incidentally, Gangopadhyay also happens to be the co-author of Chatterjee’s autobiography, Sati Savitri, published by Dey’s Publication.

As Chatterjee turns 82 (she was born on 21 February 1937), Gangopadhyay shared with Cinestaan.com her thoughts on the legendary actress, of whom she has become a confidante over long years of association.

Speaking of her work with the actress, Gangopadhyay said, “What I admire most about her is her discipline and punctuality even at this age. She always arrives five minutes before the schedule." Gangopadhyay said this is a quality the younger generation needs to imbibe from her.

Sabitri Chatterjee in Maati (2018)

Gangopadhyay, who has directed many television serials, including Mayurpankhi (2018), of which Chatterjee was a part, said that while her acting prowess is well known, she never uses glycerine for a crying scene. “The most important thing is that even at this age, she is ready for new projects and the hunger for work keeps her going. I find that quite inspiring.”

Chatterjee reportedly believes that the day she is unable to act would be the last day of her life.

“She is extremely simple and has never put on starry airs," Gangopadhyay said, though Sabitri Chatterjee was one of the popular stars in her younger days with the likes of Suchitra Sen and Supriya Choudhury. "Her characteristic is quite relatable like that of many other simple women," the writer-director said. "She leads her life quite simply and that reflects in her behaviour. She is extremely down-to-earth.”

According to the noted screenwriter, Chatterjee never attempted to isolate herself from the common lifestyle which makes her incredibly spontaneous and natural in her works.

Despite being a veteran, Chatterjee herself expressed a wish to get acquainted with Gangopadhyay many years ago. “I went to meet her only then,” continued the filmmaker. “It has been an unusual friendship between two women from very different age groups, yet she has always called me her 'meye bondhu' [girlfriend].”

Leena Gangopadhyay and Sabitri Chatterjee

Gangopadhyay said Chatterjee trusted her as a writer and the bonding has kept their friendship going for years. “I know her position very well and I never go beyond the space she has given me in her life," she explained. "Similarly, she knows how to pay respect to a writer. I can say without second thought that she is one of my favourite people.”

Chatterjee encourages young directors and writers by showing her faith in them. “I am extremely fortunate in this regard," Gangopadhyay said. "She never gives any input but makes it clear she wants a central role in the story. I think that demand comes from her hunger for performance and I am lucky that I have been able to cast her in all my television works as she hardly works in others’ series.”

Gangopadhyay harboured a wish to write Chatterjee's biography. “Many other people had a similar wish," she said. "However, when I was unable to take time out to write the autobiography, she did not give the opportunity to someone else.” Chatterjee had made a commitment to tell all the stories of her life to her and wanted her to be the author.

In the introduction, Chatterjee wrote that only Gangopadhyay has the right to write about her life; otherwise she would not mind her stories remaining untold forever. “It is a very candid autobiography," said the co-author. "She hardly has any inhibitions. She is brave enough to tell all the truths about her life, which is quite rare. She even disclosed facts that people normally fear to discuss. She did not try to cover anything up about her family or her relationships. Truth has a certain power and if one reads the book, it would be easy to understand that she has told the truth.”

Leena Gangopadhyay

Chatterjee said candidly she used to lie a lot in her childhood. “I used to lie a lot because I was extremely imaginative, she told me," said Gangopadhyay. "The imagination made me lie a lot. We were extremely poor and barely got enough to eat. We used go to people’s places with father, hoping to get invited by someone for dinner or lunch. In those situations, if somebody would ask me what I had eaten I used to tell the names of all the foods I actually wanted to eat.”

The book is filled with such anecdotes. “She is almost like a mirror. Though it is impossible to know everything about anybody I would say she has shared with me all that she could,” continued Gangopadhyay. “Among all the stories, the accounts of her struggle stand out. I often tell her she is like a sunflower — who looks at the sun and decides on her life everyday with new zeal, head held high.”