Soumitra Chatterjee, among the greatest of Bengal’s thespians, dies at 85

He was admitted to a hospital in Kolkata with COVID-19 symptoms.

One of Bengal’s tallest actor Soumitra Chatterjee — widely admired for his roles as Apu and Feluda — has died after fighting for his life since October 6, when the 85-year-old was admitted to Kolkata’s Belle Vue Clinic with symptoms of COVID-19.

Even though he had subsequently tested negative for the infection, the virus and the prolonged stay in ICU had affected the functioning of his vital organs, particularly his central nervous system. His death was formally announced on Sunday afternoon — a day after Deepavali.

That the actor — who debuted in Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar in 1959 and acted in over 300 films and worked until his hospitalisation — was very close to death had become evident on Deepavali eve when critical care specialist Dr. Arindam Kar, who headed the team of doctors attending on him, said they were hoping for a miracle.

While the sad news wasn’t entirely unexpected given his age and the complications he had developed after contracting COVID-19, the formal announcement of Soumitra Chatterjee’s departure numbed the city of Kolkata, his home. Far from being someone leading a retired life at 85, the Dadasaheb Phalke awardee was busier than ever and several of his films are still awaiting release.

As actors, Soumitra and Uttam Kumar were the two most popular faces in Bengal — no one else came close. The latter was older by nearly a decade and they died forty years apart — in the same hospital. It was also at this hospital that Soumitra’s mentor Satyajit Ray received his Oscar and spent his final days in 1992.

“[Soumitra] proved himself to be a warrior, fighting valiantly till the last. He cooperated with the doctors and gave his best. But destiny had other plans — and who can fight destiny,” one of the doctors who had attended on the actor told The Hindu. “No one else could have fought this long in spite of advanced age and the severity of the infection and multiple co-morbidities.”

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