Sabitri Chatterjee is one of those living legends of Bengali cinema who made the black and white era, the Golden Age of Bengali cinema. One of the most graceful actresses of Indian cinema, her acting skill was equally superior. She ruled the cinema screens as well as the theatre stage in her day.
The octogenarian is living history herself. She has worked closely with the stalwarts of that age – Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chatterjee, Bhanu Bandopadhyay and so on. However the well known actress had a tough childhood and entered the acting arena to support her family.
Sabitri Chatterjee belonged to a family of ten lovely sisters, she being the youngest. Her father used to work as a station master in Kamalpur, now located in Bangladesh. When she was ten years old, tragedy struck the nation as India got partitioned and they found themselves in a different country. Like millions of people, they made the choice to move to India leaving all their property and possessions. Sabitri was located in the shelter of her elder sister who had married in Kolkata. Life was not easy and her family was in dire need of sustenance.
Sabitri Chatterjee movies
From an early age, Sabitri Chatterjee started to act in small roles to support her family. Her break came when she happened to meet Bhanu Bandopadhyay. (See the interview at the bottom to hear about those days from Sabitri Chatterjee herself.)
He was impressed with her acting skills in Natun Yaehudi, a play made on the refugees who had fled to India. She had honed her acting skills at such a young age and coupled with her homely innocent looks, she was already a front runner. With his insistence she joined Uttar Sarathi, a theatre group. One thing led to another. While one day she was practicing for her role in Kalika theatre, she happened to meet Uttam Kumar. Happy her acting skills, she was offered to work with him in theatre and movies. However, Uttam Kumar needed to get her father’s permission before that.
Her father Sashadhar Chatterjee insisted that Sabitri could work in the movies only if Uttam Kumar personally escorted her to and fro the rehearsals. Surprisingly, he agreed to it and for each of her rehearsal he would keep up assurance like a true gentleman.
Sabitri Chatterjee’s first movie came in Sahajatri in 1951 along with Uttam Kumar. The next year, she landed her second film and as a lead female in Pasher Bari. You can listen to her interview below as she talks about her screen tests. Not only Pasher Bari become a hit film but by now moviegoers wanted to know about the big eyed beauty called Sabitri Chatterjee.
In a career spanning about sixty years, Sabitri Chatterjee has acted in over sixty three films, numerous theatre and drama along with multiple television series. Her thespian art is legendary and screen presence is delicately charming and captivating. One of the greatest talents of Sabitri Chatterjee is her humility. She fondly remembers her memories with Kanan Debi and Sunanda Debi and whatever she had learned from them.
Here are some movies of Sabitri Chatterjee which we can see again and again. What is your favourite film of the great actress? Let us know in the comments.
Pasher Bari was released in 1952 and it is memorable as the first lead role for Sabitri Chatterjee. She scintillated in her role as the girl next door and proved her expertise in comedy films. The young actress acted at par along with Bhanu and Anup Kumar. This film became a super hit.
Sabitri Chatterjee teams up with Uttam Kumar, Biswajit Chatterjee, Sulata Chowdhury and Tarun Kumar in the romantic drama Dui Bhai. Uttam (Utpal) plays the elder brothers of Biswajit (Kamal) on screen. Orphan since childhood, Utpal raises his younger sibling like a parent. Overprotective and caring, Utpal makes sure Kamal gets his education and career right. Sabitri leads the female role as the teacher and neighbor of the brothers. Her character is witty and entertaining and total opposite to Utpal’s. They do not go well with each other yet there remains an unaccepted chemistry between them.
Dui Bhai is a very watchable film worth enjoying many times.
One of Sabitri Chatterjee’s most challenging roles till date was in Marutirtha Hinglaj. Directed and produced by none other than the genius Bikash Roy, Marutirtha Hinglaj is one of a kind film made in entire Indian cinema. The story is based on the deserts and wastelands of Pakistan where pilgrims take their difficult journey to the Shaktipeeth Hinglaj Devi. The journey of the pilgrims from India is taxing, some are from as far as Bengal.
Not only is the desert tough to walk across it is coupled with dacoits and inhospitable locals. Uttam Kumar (Thirumal) and Sabitri Chatterjee (Kunti) are rescued by the group of Hindu and Muslim pilgrims.
The film is based on the travel story written by Kalikananda Abadhuta. He was himself a traveller and pilgrim to the holy shrine. One interesting thing about the film Marutirtha Hinglaj is that the entire desert sand scenes have been shot in the beach of Digha. Along with Uttam Sabitri, Bikash Roy and Pahadi Sanyal, Anil Chatterjee and Shyam Laha present a truly great cinema.
Uttam-Suchitra duo gave us one of the most memorable films as Dhanni Meye. The football loving Bengali and its fanaticism reach its zenith in this comical drama.
Dhanni Meye is a star packed movie with a rich cast. Along with Uttam Kumar and Sabitri Chatterjee, there is Tarun Kumar, Tapen Chatterjee, Jahar Roy, Partho Mukerjee, Nripati Chatterjee, Rabi Ghosh, Shyam Laha, Haridhan Mukherjee and the youthful Jaya Bhaduri.
Nishipadma, released in 1970 is another unforgettable film by Sabitri Chatterjee. She plays the lead as Pushpa, a woman abused by her husband and deserted. As fate would have it she lands up in a brothel where she meets Ananga, played by Uttam Kumar. Ananga is upset with his married life and has started to visit red light areas to find companionship.
The story deepens as Pushpa starts to play a motherly role to a child in a loveless family. The story delves into human emotions and breaks stereotypes set by the society.
Nishipadma is also well known for its wonderful music. It was later remade in Hindi as Amar Prem.
Mrinal Sen’s Pratinidhi brings Soumitra Chatterjee to pair with Sabitri for the first time on screen. The film was made on a story named Prachhadpat penned by writer Achintya Kumar Sengupta.
The plot of the film was based on the life of Niren (Soumitra) and Rama (Sabitri Chatterjee). Rama is a widow with a son. Niren a young and promising engineer falls in love with her. Notwithstanding social bindings, they married for a blissful life. But the trouble started when Tutul, her son does not accept his new father. Tensions brew and Rama’s life is torn between her son and husband, becoming too difficult to bear.
Sabitri Chatterjee has proved again and again her prowess in all kinds of movie roles.
William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors is the Bengali cinema’s Bhranti Bilas. Interestingly, the Bengali movie is based on the play that was translated by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great educationist and reformer.
Sabitri Chatterjee awards
Sabitri Chatterjee has impressed masters and critics since her debut. The master of the stage Sisir Bhaduri saw teenage Sabitri in a play and applauded her act, telling others about her. It was her superb and natural acting skill that attracted Bhanu and Uttam Kumar in the first place.
The veteran actress has been honoured multiple times for her acting skills. In 1967, she won the award for Best Actress in Supporting Role for the film ‘Kal Tumi Aleya’ and 1972 the for “Malyadan, both by the prestigious Bengal Film Journalists’ Association (BFJA).
For her contributions to Indian theatre and cinema, she has been honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Banga Bibhushan and a D.Lit degree. She was presented the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2014.
We thank the stars to have got such a great actress who is herself a maker of the black and white era, the Golden Age of Bengali cinema.
Sabitri Chatterjee interview
The veteran actress has been engaged in films and television series from time to time. Here is a must listen interview of the wonderful Sabitri Chatterjee. We are lucky to still have such a legend among us.
Here is a relatively recent interview of Sabitri Chatterjee in Bengali. She reminisces about her acting days with ‘Uttam Da’ and ‘Soumitra Da’. She also talks about the excellent comic timing of ‘Bhanu Da’. She remembers her acting days with Suchitra Sen and her personality. The interview of this maestro shows her outspoken and humble nature as well as her in depth knowledge in her field.
She also speaks about the hard truth as to how we truly appreciate an artist after his death instead of celebrating his presence in his lifetime. Not only are Sabitri Chatterjee’s words full of wisdom and experience, she just nails it. She speaks about the greatness of masters like Chhabi Biswas, Durgadas Bandopdhyay and Pahadi Sanyal. This interview is truly one of a kind and we thank her for speaking it out and guiding us about the many unspoken truths of the Bengali cinema world.