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Interview Bengali

My book, Soumitra Chatterjee: A Film-Maker Remembers, is a love story between artiste and me, says Suman Ghosh

The scholar-director's memoir was published by Om Books International on the legendary actor's 88th birth anniversary.

Roushni Sarkar

Director and scholar Suman Ghosh’s first book, Soumitra Chatterjee: A Film-Maker Remembers, was published by Om Books International on the late legendary actor’s 88th birth anniversary, 19 January, this year.

Ghosh first met the veteran artiste on the sets of Goutam Ghose’s film Dekha (2001). Chatterjee would go on to star in Ghosh's maiden directorial venture Podokkhep (2006) and win his first National award for his performance.

Subsequently. the artiste and filmmaker joined forces for a number of projects such as Dwando (2009), Nobel Chor (2012), Peace Haven (2016) and Basu Paribaar (2019), sharing an intimate bond for over 15 years.

Soumitra Chatterjee (1935-2020): Icon who enriched Bengal's culture and Indian cinema

Ghosh’s deeply personal book records his memories of working with the legend and is also full of anecdotes about how he got into the skin of different characters. The filmmaker-turned-author opened up to Cinestaan.com about his writing process, which not only helped him relive his encounters with Chatterjee but also pushed him to rediscover the ‘Renaissance Man’.

This is your first book and also one of the first books to have come out on Soumitra Chatterjee after his death. Was it daunting to write a book on the artiste in the first place?

I had no plans to write a book on him. He passed away in November 2020. Besides my 15-year relationship with him and my work experience with him in five films, we shared a father-son relationship towards the end, which I have tried to portray in the book. I was quite devastated after his death and then after a couple of months, a publisher friend of mine asked me whether I would be interested in writing a book on him. Initially, I did not know what to make of the proposal as I had not written a book. Then I thought that working on the book would probably help me relive his memories and also get me out of the personal crisis I was in. Hence, I agreed and started writing the book.

How long did it take for you to complete your task?

It took around six to seven months, but it was an intermittent journey. At certain times, the process was very smooth and then there was a pause for a couple of months. Then again when I started writing, thoughts and memories came rushing down. Also, a lot of the chapters emerged when I was writing the book. To be very honest, I had few plans for the book. I wanted to talk about his acting experience with me and the discussions I had had while working with him so that it could be a learning experience for his admirers and cinephiles.

I also wanted to present an all-encompassing picture of the Renaissance Man, going beyond my anecdotal memories. For example, there is a chapter on my adda session with him and I have written it like a film script. It reflects how I cherish those times. From such sessions, a lot would come out on literature, film, humour, cricket and so on. That chapter emerged quite late in the process. The entire process grew as I started working on the book.

What fresh insights about Chatterjee did you gain while working on the book?

See, we don’t analyze our father or mother, because they are too close. It was the same in my case as I was too close to Soumitra Chatterjee. Since he passed away, I contemplated and realized what a giant of a personality he was, apart from being an actor. While writing the book, I realized I was intimately interacting with him as a friend because it was his greatness that he never allowed that halo of his achievements to come in between our relationship. But after his death, I realized the canvas of the man, who I described as Renaissance Man in the obituary I wrote for The Telegraph.

Does the book give a very personal account of your bond with the legend?

I told someone the other day that the book is a love story or a friendship tale between him and me. Through it, I have tried to get into the larger perspective of his acting, films, philosophy and so on.

Do you think more people need to understand Chatterjee as a person, going beyond his star persona?

Typically, when something is written about Soumitra Chatterjee, it is either about his films or, particularly in Bengal, he is put on a pedestal. Also, it is our culture to generally worship an icon instead of trying to inquire about them and study them.

The book is different because it is about a personal relationship; that’s why I have written, “Knowing a friend, not an icon". The gaze is different from how Soumitra Chatterjee is typically perceived in Bengal. I think it is very important to know the personal side of him because I think an artiste is not only about his or her performances. An artiste is also composed of his philosophy and political views, which is, I feel, increasingly absent in the artistes of the current generation. Not only Soumitra Chatterjee but also Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Utpal Dutt and Aparna Sen belong to the same group of cerebral artistes. Hence, it is important to give a portrait of him as a person also, which I have tried to give in this book.

Do you think readers will find the book accessible?

You know, people have said that they have finished it in one sitting. I don’t know about the quality of the book, but I can assure you it's a lucid read.

What kind of response have you been getting so far?

I was overwhelmed even before the release of the book as I did not expect such a response from Shoojit Sircar, who spoke very nicely of the book. His words are there on the back cover. Ashutosh Gowariker, Sharmila Tagore and Adil Hussain also gave a very good response. Overall, I got good feedback from the film world, from people who knew him well and revered him as an actor. But now I am waiting for the readers’ reactions, and I want people from all over India to read the book and that’s why I wrote it in English.

Soumitra Chatterjee: A Film-Maker Remembers is being published by Om Books International. Click here to order your copy.