My introduction to Soumitra Chatterjee happened in a strange way. It was in the early 2000s, around the month of September, when Nrityanchal used to host dance festivals of three or four days.
My Abba, Muhammad Jahangir, being one of the founders and coordinators of Nrityanchal, the joy of these festivals used to be evident in our household as well. But I remember, the family was a bit too excited for this particular one. As a 10-year-old, I saw my father's eyes beaming with excitement, the smell of jasmine perfume on my mother was more than usual, and my sister wore the best shari she owned. I only knew that Feluda was in town! We were off to see Nrityanchal's 'Soumitra Shondha'.
Now, I was accustomed to Feluda, as movies like "Sonar Kella" and "Joi Baba Felunath" were my after-school entertainment, and so, I was ecstatic to be meeting P C Mitter in person. Now, the thought of people aging was yet to be established in my 10-year-old mind. Consequently, I was a bit disappointed after seeing him. He looked nothing like he did in the movies! I remember he was wearing a dark blue punjabi, with a grey shawl over it, and the first thing he said to me was, "Baah! Tumio Apu!(Wow! You're Apu too!)
At the show, he recited Rabindranath Tagore and talked about working with Satyajit Ray. He read excerpts from Apur Sansar, Charulata, and Ghare Baire. Everyone at that Shilpakala Academy hall was in awe of Soumitra, but I was just bored out of my mind, because he didn't talk about Feluda!
After the show my father and I hopped into his designated car and I remember, people were all over the windows just to see a glimpse of the actor. I really didn't get what the big deal was. I wish I had known back then.
We were stuck in traffic, when he suddenly turned around and said, "Apu,Tomar kemon laaglo ajke?(Apu, how did you like today?)
He didn't have to ask me, he already knew what happened in that auditorium. Yet, he asked in such a way that I was somewhat his equal. I was amused, but I managed to reply, " Apnar .32 Colt ta to dekhalen na(You didn't show your .32 Colt).
We went to an after party, and it was filled with familiar faces. Renowned artistes were there, trying to have a meaningful conversation with the man who was the face of Bangali cinema. For a 10 year old, it was a bit overwhelming, so I tried to concentrate on the buffet. Around the end of the party as I was hopelessly roaming around trying to figure out when will this be over, I spotted the man, sitting beside my mother and our eyes connected. He called me by hand.
When I stood in front of him, he held my hand and said, "Shuno, amra duijon e Apu, kintu ami hocchi nokol Apu ar tumi hoccho ashol Apu.(Listen, we're both Apu, but I am the fictional Apu and you're the real Apu). Now, I don't know what happened back then, or what he meant by it. All I remember is that my mother was weeping as he said it.
To this day, I don't know what he meant by it, but I am truly lucky that he said it to me. Now as a filmmaker and a fan of cinema, I could've gone on about how amazing of an actor Soumitra was or how he portrayed Apu in Apur Sansar in such a charming manner, but I won't, because to me, Soumitra Chatterjee is very personal.
The beloved character, Apu, is my namesake, and Soumitra is one of the reasons that I fell in love with cinema to begin with.
They say that when you're named after someone, you inherit some of their qualities. Now I don't know if that's true but somewhere in the back of my mind, I would like to believe it is — and to me, he will always be the real Apu.
Apurba Jahangir is a filmmaker, writer and an entrepreneur. Find him @apurba_jahangir on Instagram.