His devotion to acting was unparalleled: Babita on Soumitra Chatterjee
Soumitra Chatterjee was one of the few acting legends who defined the golden era of Bengali cinema. For me, he was a guiding light.
His devotion to acting was unparalleled. He was working, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
I had the privilege to work with him in 1972 when I was around 15. Only two of my films had released at the time. Being on the sets with two legends, Satyajit Ray and Soumitra Chatterjee, I was very anxious and excited at the same time. I travelled outside the country for the first time during "Ashani Sanket." I had to arrange my passport.
The shooting of "Ashani Sanket" was held in Birbhum. The first shot of the film had no dialogues. In the scene, I was supposed to allow an old man to stay at our house after providing him with some food.
Shoumitra Chatterjee was supposed to ask who the man was using sign language, and I was supposed to respond to him in the same way, ending the shot at where I had to bite my tongue, after giving him the answer.
After the shot was over, he praised me a lot. He was so welcoming that it made me forget all my worries.
Once, while we were shooting for the film during Eid. I was feeling low as I was away from my friends and family. He had noticed that I was trying to hold back tears, and asked me what was wrong. He told me to wait till we were done shooting for the day. A huge feast, with lots of firecrackers and delicious food, was what he had in store for me in the evening that day.
Satyajit Ray and Soumitra Chatterjee shared a very special bond. They could read each other's minds with just an eye contact. One day during the shoot, the trolley man was repeatedly making the same mistake. Within seconds, we saw Shoumitra Chatterjee pushing the trolley without any hesitation. I had never seen a 'hero' doing such things on a set, that too, an actor of his stature.
He also used to take notes during each shot. This only shows how careful he was regarding his presentation on the screen. He entertained us through songs and games on our way back to Kolkata, after the shooting ended.
I always met Shoumitra Chatterjee every time I visited Kolkata. We used to be in touch over the phone as well. Four years after "Ashani Sanket" was released, I visited him again. I still remember his words when I met him. He had said, "You have been doing a lot of good films. You are also being praised with awards for your performances. I knew you would end up being one of the brightest stars in the industry."