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The Rediff Interview / Soumitra Chatterjee
'A National Award calls for a lot of lobbyism'
July 02, 2008
I read Pather Panchali and its sequel Aparajito, novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, at the age of 11 but saw the trilogy by Satyajit Ray much later. And I have no qualms in stating that I liked the novel more than the film.
Here was an actor who looked agile and intellectual, intelligent and homely, sensitive and overtly affectionate. Bengali cinema suddenly woke up to a new matinee hero, Soumitra Chatterjee, who looked capable enough to take on then matinee idol of the Bengali film industry, legendary Uttam Kumar.
Chatterjee entered Bengali filmdom as Ray's chosen 'boy' and went on to become the most reverred actor of all times. Yet, awards always eluded this great man of screen, much to the chagrin of cine-lovers.
Therefore, when Chatterjee refused the National Award conferred on him for his performance in Goutam Ghosh's Dekha seven years back, his fans clapped their hands in cruel delight. 'A fitting reply from the master,' they thought.
However, in June, Chatterjee accepted the same when the jury of the 54th National Awards decided to reward the veteran artiste's performance in Suman Ghosh's Podokkhep.
In a candid interview, the 74-year-old actor spoke to Indrani Roy Mitra about his National Award, a partisan jury, film industry, his aspirations and regrets. Excerpts:
On why he had refused the National Award
I had refused the award for Dekha seven years ago, as I had felt the jury was partisan. Had this award come a couple of years back, I may have refused it as well.
On the futility of awards of any kind
I haven't forgotten that once Jennifer Kapoor in Aparna (Sen)'s 36 Chowringhee Lane lost the National Award to Rekha [Images] (Umrao Jaan [Images]) despite having put in a much better performance than the Bollywood star.
On Ray versus modern directors
Manikda was a master. Therefore, it is unfair to expect his talent in today's young directors.
On why he does advertisements
I am not too keen about modelling for ads. But films, especially Bengali films, don't pay a lot at times and one has to go for advertisements to make a quick buck. Advertisement, as a medium, doesn't inspire me aesthetically but financially it does (smiles).
On the deterioration of Bengali films
Bengali film industry has failed to keep pace with time. Be it technical advancement or acting acumen, the industry lags far behind its competitors.
On his so-called competition with Uttam Kumar
Yet, I enjoyed being compared to a legend called Uttam Kumar. It was an honour for me and at the same time, it forced me to maintain my standard of acting. I could not afford to be lackadaisical especially when I was being put in the same league as Uttamda.
I want to be a sculptor. In this life, I could only portray characters on screen and on stage. In my next life, I want to curve figures and characters out of clay without being directed by someone on how to go about it.
I don't like to talk about films that I work on unless they are released. Talking about half-finished ventures spoils the show, I believe. All I can tell you is that I am up to my neck in films. Most of them will be releasing this autumn.
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