Soumitra and Babita in 'Ashani Sanket'
Soumitra and Babita in 'Ashani Sanket'Collected

Does a true star ever die? What a fateful moment it was for me to meet a great star and through him, meet yet another great star. It was through Manik da (Satyajit Ray) that I had the good fortune of meeting Soumitra da.

It was in 1972, just after the liberation war. I remember the day clearly when I met the extraordinary artiste Soumitra Chattopadhayay in Birbhum, West Bengal. That's where shooting began for Manik da's film 'Ashani Sanket' ('Distant Thunder'). It was at the shooting location that I first met Soumitra da.

Soumitra da was looking at me. I was really young at the time and I was quite petrified to be in front of someone I had watched with such awe on the big screen. I couldn't stop think of what a great actor he was and was sure he would be haughty and arrogant. But then he spoke as if he knew me so well and my fear disappeared immediately.

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When we would be acting for a shot, Soumitra da would stand by Manik da's side. I later heard he would keep a diary when acting in any film and would jot down all sorts of details.

Soumitra da was Manik da's favourite artiste. Soumitra da was the guardian of Bangla cinema. A creative chapter in Bangla cinema has closed with his demise. I simply cannot believe that Soumitra da is no more. He remains in my heart. He remains in Bangla cinema. He will never die

We had to go to Shantiniketan in Birbhum twice during the filming of Ashani Sanket. The first time we stayed there for about a month. I had a completely new experience there, something I had never experienced while shooting in the past. Over here if a co-artiste is not present while a scene is being shot, someone on the unit is given the script to read out. But Soumitra da himself would stand by the camera and read out the dialogue for the co-artiste. And he would do so with such clarity and eloquence! How many people would bother to take so much care for a co-artiste, for the art?

I saw Soumitra da involved in so many tasks during the shooting. I even saw him quite easily pushing along the trolley, despite being such a huge star, such a renowned actor. I learnt the love of the art, of the industry from him.

We would travel to Shantiniketan by train from Kolkata. Soumitra da, Manik da, the actress Sandhya Roy and I would travel together. During the train journey I would suddenly hear passengers chanting "Durga, Durga!" I was quite young and didn't quite understand. The sound recordist's name was Durga Dasgupta and I thought they were referring to him. I asked Soumitra da, "Is the sound recordist very important in Manik da's movies?" Soumitra replied, "Why? Everyone is important." Then he suddenly realised and burst out laughing, "Now I understand why you are asking!" Everyone burst out laughing at my naivety. I was so embarrassed!

Eid came around while we were shooting for Ashani Sanket. We were in Shantiniketan. I was feeling homesick. Soumitra da arranged for semai to cheer me up. He was so loving and kind.

The year 1973 was the best year in my acting career. That was the year 'Ashani Sanket' was released. I met with Soumitra Da in Kolkata again. He was shooting for another movie. When I spotted him, I happily cried out 'dada'! He embraced me so affectionately and said, "I hear you have become quite famous in Bangladesh and are working in many movies? You are getting awards too!" I was so shy to hear such praise from such a great artiste.

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We all went abroad with the film 'Ashani Sanket'. It hadn't been released in the theatres yet. It was to be screened at the Berlin Film Festival. Even I hadn't seen the film then. I was there with Soumitra da, Manik da, Manik da's wife, everyone. What an exciting day it was!

We went from Delhi to Frankfurt and from there we were to go to West Berlin. Everyone had checked out of immigration at the Frankfurt airport, except me. I had a Bangladeshi passport and they stopped me. Germany possibly still hadn't recognised Bangladesh then and I was stopped. I was crestfallen and started crying. Manik da contacted the festival committee authorities and Soumitra da comforted me. Finally I got the permission to enter.

Soumitra da never had the habit of asking mundane questions like "how are you?" or "how are you doing?" Whenever he came to Bangladesh, I would meet him. It was always so wonderful to spend time with him. I met him last seven years ago.

Soumitra da was Manik da's favourite artiste. Soumitra da was the guardian of Bangla cinema. A creative chapter in Bangla cinema has closed with his demise. I simply cannot believe that Soumitra da is no more. He remains in my heart. He remains in Bangla cinema. He will never die.

This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir