Importantly, Soumitra Chattopadhyay’s greatness as a screen icon will survive the test of time in Bengali pop lore because he had something for everyone. For, he was not just Satyajit Ray’s Apu. Beyond such a nuanced portrayal, he could also simply become Ray’s Feluda and reach out to every audience, eight to 80.
It took a Ray to bring to life Soumitra’s greatness, and yet the account of their first meeting is a well-known story in Bengal. Ray was looking for his adult Apu in “Apur Sansar”, final part of the Apu trilogy that started with “Pather Panchali”. A friend introduced Soumitra to the master filmmaker who promptly declared the budding actor looked too old to be Apu, a college student according to his script. Soumitra would eventually bag the role opposite Sharmila Tagore, of course, and the rest is history.
Soumitra’s cinematic fate is overwhelmingly dictated by the great cinema of Satyajit Ray, so much so the maestro’s filmography through his most important phase outlines the actor’s career graph. Soumitra made his debut with “Apur Sansar” (1959) and, over the next three decades, would work in Ray projects as “Devi” (1960), “Teen Kanya” (1961), “Abhijan” (1962), “Charulata” (1964), “Kapurush O Mahapurush” (1965), “Aranyer Din Ratri” (1969), “Ashani Sanket” (1973), “Sonar Kella” (1974), “Joy Baba Felunath” (1978), “Hirak Rajar Deshe” (1980), “Ghare Baire” (1984), “Ganashatru” (1989) and “Shakha Proshakha” (1990).