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A withdrawn and low-key actor who left a mark

Shoma A. Chatterji interacted with him just once, at a pre-release party for Rituparno Ghosh’s film Utsav, many years ago. She introduced herself to Pradip Mukherjee hoping to get a slot for an interview. It did not happen. His death means Bengali cinema has lost a wonderful performer, she says

He was a man of very few words, remained distanced from the rest of the crowd and was shy to a fault. Had he agreed to an interview, I would have been at a loss as he would have chosen to remain silent and maintained a very low profile. He also had a very soft speaking voice. In his films he never had to shout or scream or throw a fit, ever.

How did this man get to become an actor on stage and screen? He carried on for around 30 years but did not act in too many films. His fulltime profession as an income tax legal consultant prevented him from becoming a full-fledged, prolific actor like many of his peers.

Pradip Mukherjee is perhaps the most quiet, withdrawn and low-key actor Bengali cinema has ever produced. His passing away on August 29 in a Kolkata nursing home, a couple of weeks after his birthday, was as quiet and low-profile as his life was. He leaves behind his wife and two children, a daughter and a son, both living in Dubai.

Satyajit Ray’s Jana Aranya (The Middleman, 1975), in which he played the hero, Somnath, is a scathing comment on an erosion of values arising partly out of a decadent education system and partly out of unemployment and associated corrupt practices affecting the lives of the urban middle-class As Somnath, whose career prospects were ruined by some strange twists of fate, Pradip Mukherjee put up a very convincing performance in his typically low-profile way.

His next film, remembered for the magnificent performances Mamata Shankar and he gave, was Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s debut feature film Dooratwa. As Mandar, a young man who believes he has been tricked into marrying a young woman who was carrying another man’s child, Mukherjee matches Mamata Shankar’s brilliant performance frame for frame, concretising the meaning of the word Dooratwa, which means Distance. He walks away from his marriage leaving his pregnant wife to cope alone, but misses her silent company and often wants to meet her.

Mukherjee he was a full-time, qualified income-tax consultant, though he did take on acting assignments on stage and screen as and when he liked a script, his role and the freedom to express himself. He once mentioned that he was sad about not getting any negative roles as he had been typecast as a “good man”. He worked with Rituparno Ghosh in three films, Hirer Angti, Dahanand Utsav;with Sandip Ray in Jekhane Bhooter Bhoy; and in all three feature films directed by the young Indrashish Acharya, namely Bilu Rakkhosh, Pupa and Parcel.

In Pupa, he was quite nervous, portraying a man lying in coma right through the film. At his age and with his lung ailment, he must have been a bit scared but he stuck it out, and remained supine till the end of the film. He also acted in Aparna Sen’s Goynar Baksho and in Sujoy Ghosh’s Hindi film as Dr Maiti in Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh.

A few days before he fell sick, Mukherjee shot for Nirmal Chakraborty’s debut film Datta, based on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel.