The world’s a stage
I have studied in several schools. When I was in Class V, my father, an advocate, moved out of Krishnanagar, a small district town in West Bengal and we travelled to many places. I changed schools five times. I sat for my Class X Board exams from Howrah Jilla School. Krishnanagar, however, left a lasting impression on me. I remember the place for its idyllic setting — its tradition of cultural activities, especially histrionics. The fact that I moved from one place to another widened my horizons and understanding of people and characters.
From science to acting
When I took admission in college, I had the opportunity to watch Sisir Kumar Bhaduri, the doyen of Bengali theatre, in a Kolkata (then Calcutta) theatre. That changed my attitude. I made up my mind to become an actor. Before this, I was dabbling in plays/dramas, but after watching his performance, I was sure about my career. I was a student of science in intermediate, but I took up Bengali literature during my graduation only because I wanted to understand the nuances of life, which in turn helped me become a good actor. I passed my BA (Honours) from City College, Calcutta.
The making of an actor
I don’t know what makes an actor — perhaps there is an impulse in one to be in someone else’s garb. Not everyone feels this way, but I did. I had a sense of deficiency and was diffident. I thought that I would become complete if I play someone else and at the same time get adulation and praise for it. To become an actor one must have the propensity to act. First, it has to be seen whether s/he has an inclination for acting. Then comes love for it and preparation. It should be love for acting and not just a liking. Love it like you would love your beloved. Without it, you cannot take it up as your calling. And then comes the training, and if that love is still alive in the actor, he or she embarks on the path of continuous endeavour — struggle and that search for excellence.
Facing the camera
On August 9, 1958, I faced the camera for the first time. But before that, my director had slowly, almost imperceptibly, prepared me for the final shoot. He had given me a written resume of the character and used to take me to good films to enable me to understand what good acting was. To understand my character
I maintained a diary in which I used to jot down points as and when necessary. I was keen to face the camera and was not a bit unnerved. Whatever apprehension I had about my looks on screen were gone as a director of Satyajit Ray’s stature was behind the camera. I told myself that I need not bother about my looks but instead concentrate on the job.
First major hit
My first movie Apur sansar (The world of Apu), was a super duper hit, and that was the reason why I did not have to look back. My second film was with Tapan Sinha Khudito pashan (Hungry stones), and that too was a big hit.
My greatest achievement? Being in the profession for as long as I have been, and winning the hearts of millions of people, which I think is greater than any award one gets. People love and respect me and have been doing so for more than half a century. There can be no greater reward.
Relationship with Ray
Well, it had been a very long and enduring relationship — from 1958 to 1992, the year he died. It was always extremely rewarding to be near this man — not just working in his films. His knowledge, his erudition, his passion for art was mind-boggling.
Each day I learnt — it was like living an entire life. He was my director, my teacher and my mentor. Even today he remains one of my greatest inspirations.
I don’t really know. It has been a combination of many things. The secret lies in the fact that I am hard-working and I have never been satisfied with what I have achieved. I have never sat on my laurels.
Advice to youngsters
If one has to choose to be an actor one should be prepared for real hard work, and love life. One has to remember that nothing comes easily. You have to strive hard for what you want to achieve.
Soumitra Chatterjee, Actor As told to Pranab Ghosh