"Here lies a man who loved life and lived it to the full," is what Soumitra Chatterjee, winner of the coveted Dadasaheb Phalke Award for lifetime contribution to Indian cinema, would like to be written on his epitaph. Full of jest for living at 77, the iconic Bengali actor, the central pivot of many of the legendary Satyajit Ray's cinematic plots, said of his long 50-year-old innings with cinema: "I too have my dreams--a role like Hamlet…but there was no choice really, I had to do whatever roles came my way, for my bread and butter."
"I was addicted to films from an early age, every week I saw four to five films," said the 77-year-old who is in the capital to receive the award along with other winners of the national film awards for 2011. "I always wanted to be more an actor than a star," he added almost as an afterthought.
"I am sorry to say that most awards nowadays have lost their credibility with awards going to the wrong kind of people many times. But the Dadasaheb Phalke Award still maintains its dignity."
Of Satyajit Ray, he said: "He was my mentor. I won't be here if he (Ray) wasn't there."
Born in 1935 in West Bengal's Krishnanagar, Chatterjee found the perfect director in Ray to showcase his versatile range of acting prowess even as other directors like Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha did good justice to his talent.
Chatterjee lamented the fact that regional films still do not have the kind of attention they deserve. "Regional films should have received much more attention that is given. Regional cinema is a place where you see more distinct kind of art flourishing. It can be only be compared to folk art. It has its roots there and so it is more authentic, true and expresses more accurately life around."
Agreeing, Girish Kulkarni, winner of the best actor winner said of regional films: "Such a vast pool of talent, so much experimentation. It is high time regional films are given their due. I feel the beginning has been made. A lot depends now on the next generation of regional film makers."
Ashvin Kumar, director of the controversial 'Inshallah Football', a film on the frustration of a young Kashmiri footballer in the backdrop of conflict, was scathing on political censorship issues. "Political censorship is a huge concern because it is polarizing the country with a misrepresented narrative. We are not allowing multiple narratives." 'Inshallah Football' bagged the award for best film on social issues.