Soumitra Chatterjee has finally won a National Award. He was adjudged Best Actor for his performance in the Bengali film Podokkhep by the jury of the 54th National Awards, headed by internationally acclaimed director Buddhadeb Dasgupta.
The 74-year-old actor however sounds far from elated. "Awards had lost their credibility for me a long time ago. At this point in my life they don't really matter. I don't value them any more," he asserts, sounding disillusioned.
Chatterjee had refused the Special Jury Award for Dekha seven years. Following in his footsteps, Gautam Ghose too had refused to accept the National Award for Best Bengali Film claiming that he didn't want his film, Dekha, to be "clubbed with award tainted controversies."
Can't disappoint fans
Remind him about that and Chatterjee says dismissively, "That was a kind of a consolation prize. And had this award come two-three years ago, I may have refused it too. But I'm older now and view things from a different perspective. Going by the number of calls I've been getting since the awards was announced yesterday, I can see that this has given my fans cause to celebrate. They would be hurt and offended if I turned it down. How can I disappoint those who have been watching my films for the last 50 years and have given me so much love?" he points out.
Not my best
Podokkhep traces the changing relationship between a daughter (Nandita Das) and her elderly father (Chatterjee) and how the former finally stands up for him in a moment of crisis. Would he rate this his best performance?
"One of my best but certainly not my best," the veteran actor says frankly. "I've done 14 films with Satyajit Ray. Some of them like Devi and Charulata were all-time classics. There were other performances like Sansar Seemanta, Ekti Jiban and even Dekha that deserved to be recognised but weren't," he says with a trace of bitterness.
So he wasn't expecting this particular performance to be felicitated? "I stopped expecting anything a long time ago," he retorts.
Today, in his moment in the spotlight does he miss his mentor, Satyajit Ray? "We were very close. I would have been happy if Manikda had been around still, and not just because of this award," he says quietly.
How has his family, his children, reacted to the long-delayed honour? ‘They are happy for me, naturally. But my children are all grown up now and feel this award should have come much before," he asserts.
How much credit would he give Buddhadeb Dasgupta for propagating his case? "I had no idea he was on the jury," he says. "I'd stopped keep track of all this years ago. This award was a surprise in every way."