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Five memorable performances by Subhendu Chatterjee: Death anniversary special

A doctor by training, Subhendu Chatterjee made his film acting debut with Mrinal Sen’s Akash Kusum (1965) and rose to prominence with Pinaki Bhushan Mukherjee’s Chowringhee (1968) and Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri (1970).

Subhendu Chatterjee with Soumitra Chatterjee in Satyajit Ray's Aranyer Din Ratri (1970)

Roushni Sarkar

Subhendu Chatterjee, one of the matinee idols of Bengali cinema in the 1970s, earned popularity playing both leading and supporting roles. A charming man and skilled actor, Chatterjee was mostly sought after to portray the quintessential Bengali gentleman.

A doctor by training, Subhendu Chatterjee made his film acting debut with Mrinal Sen’s Akash Kusum (1965) and rose to prominence with Pinaki Bhushan Mukherjee’s Chowringhee (1968) and Satyajit Ray’s Aranyer Din Ratri (1970).

Chatterjee also participated in Bengali theatre and directed successful plays that were staged for three successive years. Bilkis Begum was one of them. According to co-star Lily Chakravorty, Chatterjee did not get the recognition he deserved in his lifetime but was quite satisfied playing varied supporting roles in the later phase of his career.

On the 12th death anniversary of Subhendu Chatterjee (he died on 5 July 2007), we revisit five notable performances from his career spanning almost four decades.

Chowringhee (1968)

With Uttam Kumar in Chowringhee

Probably the most star-studded film in Bengali cinema history, Pinaki Bhushan Mukherji’s Chowringhee featured Subhendu Chatterjee as the narrator. The film was inspired by Shankar’s bestselling novel of the same name. Shankar in Chowringhee is not only the central character around whom all the riveting incidents in the five-star Shahjahan Hotel take place, but he is also the chronicler of changing times, an entity that absorbs the essence of transience.

Chatterjee shone in the character of the common man alongside the iconic Sata Bose (Uttam Kumar), the rich Anindya Pakrashi (Biswajit) and the sensational Karabi Guha (Supriya Devi). His bonding with Karabi was testament to a mature and sensitive friendship between two souls who can never be on the same boat, yet cannot help but empathize with each other’s sad state.

Aranyer Din Ratri (1970)

Subhendu Chatterjee appeared for the second time in a Satyajit Ray film — he had earlier acted in Chiriakhana (1967) — in Aranyer Din Ratri with Soumitra Chatterjee, Rabi Ghosh and Samit Bhanja.

Subhendu fit the character of Sanjoy quite naturally with his gentlemanly demeanour. While Soumitra played the suave and apparently arrogant Ashim with finesse, Ghosh epitomized the contrasting characteristics of Shekhar and Bhanja personified the brash and wild Hari, Subhendu balanced their dominating features with his calm and reasonable outlook.

Sanjoy is aware of his not-so-adventurous lifestyle and says he has a thousand reasons to leave his job; but, even in a state of acute intoxication, he proves to be a practical chap, who, at the end of the day, has to look after his family.

Chhadmabeshi (1971)

Though Uttam Kumar dominated the screen in this classic comedy directed by Agradoot — remade to great effect in Hindi by Hrishikesh Mukherjee as Chupke Chupke (1975) — Subhendu Chatterjee brought a breath of fresh air with his subtle act of romance and attempts at covering his deception in innocent comic moments.

Chatterjee plays Subimal, a professor of physics and friend and colleague of Uttam Kumar's botany professor Abanish. Subimal impersonates Abanish in front of Abanish's wife Sulekha's brother-in-law's family because Abanish is pretending to be a chauffeur, Gourhari. There, he falls in love with Sulekha's niece Basudha (Jyotsna Biswas) who insists he help her with her botany lessons.

The way Chatterjee continuously tries to bring Basudha’s attention back to physics despite her interest in botany is hilarious. At the same time, it is quite adorable to watch Subimal not give up on his romantic pursuit.

Bhanu Goenda Jahar Assistant (1971)

With Lily Chakravorty in a scene from Bhanu Goenda Jahar Assistant

Chatterjee played Anjan, a successful singer, in Purnendu Roy Choudhury’s comedy featuring Bhanu Bandopadhyay and Jahar Roy in the lead, and gets into an unavoidable situation when Nupur (Lily Chakravorty) escapes from her house in Delhi and takes shelter in his car.

Anjan has a certain aversion towards women and marriage, yet he cannot help but support Nupur in her distress. He constantly gets into conflicts with her, yet softens up the next moment. His consistent efforts at saving Nupur from being discovered from the detective duo and her family create some of the most hilarious moments on screen.

Abar Aranye (2003)

Subhendu Chatterjee faced the camera for the last time in Goutam Ghose’s Abar Aranye, featuring the characters from Aranyer Din Ratri, along with members of their next generation. Ghosh retained the core traits of all the characters and the well-known actors did justice to them. Chatterjee's Sanjoy, an author by now, again seemed the wisest of the lot with his farsightedness. He was also presented as a reservoir of knowledge of world politics. His fear and nervousness while recalling an encounter with Jaya (Kaberi Bose) in a crucial moment in Aranyer Din Ratri was hard-hitting and real.