‘Extraordinary Buddhi’: Topshe Remembers His Feluda, Soumitra Kaku
Actor Siddhartha Chatterjee who played Topshe remembers his Feluda - Soumitra Chatterjee.
I was fourteen then, in late 1973, when I was offered to portray Topshe, the assistant to the legendary character Feluda in the film Sonar Kella. Quite a bit of awe and wonder for me to be chosen by Satyajit Ray. The bigger surprise was when I was introduced to superstar Soumitra Chatterjee, who was to play the role of the popular Bengali detective Prodosh Mitter alias Feluda. Never before had I met any film star and my first introduction to him left me speechless as I stared at him in disbelief. However, he sounded and looked very friendly, which gave me the courage to say "You twist well", I meant in the song Ke Tumi Nandini... from Teen Bhubaner Pare. He was taken aback and may have thought such a compliment was unexpected from a little boy. But he smiled and gave me a pat, and that was enough to break the ice with my would be co-actor. Star Soumitra became Soumitra kaku for me from that moment and remained so till I lost my dear kaku on 15th November 2020.
I became close to him during the shoot of Sonar Kella and started behaving with him in the way any young boy would interact with his near and dear one. That was the power Soumitra kaku would have on co-actors, unit members and on any stranger. No arrogance, no tantrums and no starry airs around him. A simple man with the power to win over hearts. A perfect Bengali bhadralok with immense knowledge, culturally enlightened and a workaholic. I adapted the perfect sense of discipline he had though I must admit I failed so many times.
In recent times acted with him in a film titled Posto. I was snubbed by him the moment I entered the make-up room late by few minutes, provoking him to comment, "Were you not aware that you should have been present by 9 am?” I looked at my watch which read 9.22 am. Such was the discipline and punctuality that he followed at the age of 81.
A fine actor who did his homework and rehearsals in such a way that the ultimate delivery was perfect like that of Feluda. He made me do the this homework with him prior to "Start camera!" being announced by Ray. Of course this discipline came from Ray but to adapt the same is itself is a big effort from the other side. Kaku adopted this and implemented it till his last day.
Soumitra kaku held his beliefs and views and he would express them strongly. This was particularly true in the field of politics and sports. I was at his residence for an adda and found him visibly upset on the reckoning that the Left was on their way out of power. He couldn’t take it and expressed that in various ways. Of course I could not comment on the contrary.
Feluda and Topshe’s chemistry on screen worked perfectly and that was possible only because Soumitra kaku made me feel comfortable as a co-actor from the very first day. I never felt nervous for a moment sharing the frame and learnt a lot on how to use my eyes and body movements while facing the camera. He acted without superficial mannerisms and I always found that to be smart.
I sometimes wondered how he had the stamina to perform a stage show in the evening after shooting for a film the entire day. I asked him about this, and his answer was - passion. He loved food but with a restraint, and that could be the secret to his maintaining such a toned body till the age of 85. When it came to food it was simple Bengali food like shukto, mocha, posto, pabda machh or chingri malaikari that were his favourites. I know this since I had the privilege to offer him his favourite dishes from my restaurant which he enjoyed immensely.
Simple, well read, enlightened, gentle are some of the qualities normally not associated with stardom. But Soumitra kaku was an exception and he was my exceptional kaku with "extraordinary buddhi" as Maganlal would say.
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