Sharmila On How Soumitra Da Came to Her Rescue During Apur Sansar

Sharmila Tagore remembers Soumitra Chatterjee as a very loyal friend and an incredible co-star.

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Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee in 'Apur Sansar'
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When a 13-year-old schoolgirl with no experience of acting stepped into a film set, she realised her co-actor was 10 years older to her and already focused on becoming an actor. But that never came in the way, as he made sure this little girl was comfortable and had a nice time on the sets. In Sharmila Tagore's words, that was Soumitra Chatterjee. The film was Apur Sansar, with which Tagore made her debut as Apu's (Soumitra) wife.

On 15 November, we lost the legendary Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee. Sharmila Tagore, who started her career with Soumitra Da, told The Quint about the bond they shared and her memories of him.

Sharmila was 13 and Soumitra was 23 when they shot 'Apur Sansar'
Sharmila was 13 and Soumitra was 23 when they shot 'Apur Sansar'
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

"His disarming smile, his childlike curiosity and ability to trust easily" - this was Sharmila Tagore's reply when we asked her the first things that come to her mind when she hears about Soumitra Chatterjee.

Tagore also spoke about the first impression she had of Chatterjee when she met him on the sets of Apur Sansar.

"My first impression of Soumitra was that he was very charming and easy to work with."
Sharmila Tagore, Actor

She shared two incidents from the sets when Soumitra came to her rescue. There was one scene in the Satyajit Ray film wherein Tagore had to kill a cockroach with a broom. "I had a huge phobia of cockroaches but somehow with the crew egging me on, particularly Soumitra, I was able to do it", said Sharmila.

Sharing another such incident Sharmila Tagore said,

The tonga scene became iconic.
The tonga scene became iconic.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)
"The other was the tonga scene. Returning home after watching a film, I had to light Soumitra’s cigarette. Again, this simple shot was impossible for me since I’d never struck a matchstick before. I was scared that the matchbox would explode on my face. After the 11th take everyone was exasperated, including Manik Da (Satyajit Ray). That is when Soumitra came up with a splendid idea. He suggested that someone strike the match outside the frame and hand over the lit matchstick, which I would then bring into the frame. Once again Soumitra came to my rescue and that remains the most iconic shot of the film.
Sharmila Tagore, Actor

Soumitra Chatterjee was a part of numerous films and till the very last moment he did what he loved the most - acting. Sharmila recalled memories of the man who was in passionate love with his craft.

"He continually tried to better himself and his creativity was not just limited to cinema. He became a regular on stage and also directed a few plays. He was truly a Renaissance man. He was a writer, poet, a reciter of verses, and towards the end of his life had started painting as well", Tagore said.

"Soumitra was a writer, a poet, a reciter of verses and towards the end of his life he had started painting as well." Sharmila Tagore
"Soumitra was a writer, a poet, a reciter of verses and towards the end of his life he had started painting as well." Sharmila Tagore
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

"His knowledge was considerable and there was much to learn from him. Soumitra liked nothing better than work and he wanted to work till his last breath, and that’s what he did." she added.

Sharmila remembered the time when she spoke to Chatterjee for the last time.

"I spoke to him sometime back, when he was keeping too well. He sounded very weak but still managed to keep his spirits high. When I spoke to his daughter Paulomi, she said he was keeping himself busy with reading and painting".
Sharmila Tagore, Actor

Sharmila Tagore told The Quint that she will always remember Soumitra Da as a 'very loyal friend'. "His life was an open book and he was very accessible and approachable. There is nothing that his fans don't know about him. Soumitra was very attached to his family. And if there is one thing I will remember him by, it is that Soumitra was a very loyal friend".

Speaking about the legendary actor who never gave in to the glitz of showbiz, Sharmila Tagore said,

Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee in 'Apur Sansar'
Sharmila Tagore and Soumitra Chatterjee in 'Apur Sansar'
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)
"Soumitra's life is a testimony of the values he cherished and ethics that he lived by. He always inspired me. He was prepared to fight for what he truly believed in and I valued this quality in him. I admired his courage and tenacity to say no and resist external pressures. He didn’t give in if he was not convinced".

Though Soumitra Chatterjee was never keen on doing Hindi films, but he loved watching them, said Sharmila. The actor said that he had a lot of respect for the Hindi film industry and knew it was rewarding economically. However, he was too rooted in Bengal to make the transition.

"He loved being a Bengali and everything that Bengal had to offer. He had immense respect for Naseeruddin Shah and often praised him".
Sharmila Tagore, Actor

One person who is synonymous to Soumitra Chatterjee is Satyajit Ray. The duo did 14 films together, and some of Soumitra's best works have been crafted by Ray. Sharmila has been a witness to these talents at work. She said, "Ray was his mentor and alter ego. Ray did the maximum work with Soumitra, which demonstrates his complete trust in him to deliver diverse roles".

Satyajit Ray doing Soumitra Chatterjee's make-upduring the shoot of 'Apur Sansar'
Satyajit Ray doing Soumitra Chatterjee's make-upduring the shoot of 'Apur Sansar'
"Ray could do everything which involved filmmaking, from camera operations to music composition to wardrobe designing and more. The only thing he didn’t do was act in his own films. Soumitra was his next best choice and they worked successfully with mutual understanding and respect".
Sharmila Tagore, Actor
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