Paul Bhattacharjee: Actor whose work took in the RSC, the Royal Court and 'EastEnders'

 

Paul Bhattacharjee, whose sudden death has caused shock and sadness in the theatre world, was a versatile and talented actor. He had played in a wide variety of roles in over 40 productions, ranging from Shakespeare to EastEnders through to the Bond film Casino Royale.

He was born in 1960, the son of Anne and Gautam Bhattacharjee. Gautam was a member of the Indian Communist Party and had fled from India in the early 1940s. Paul grew up in Harrow and attended a local comprehensive school.

In 1978 he met Jatinder Verma, who had set up his Tara Arts company a year earlier, and discovered a mentor and friend. Verma remembers him as a young actor wanting to use theatre to "change the world". One of his first roles with the company was in Yes Memsahib (1979), which tells the story of the founding of modern East Africa and the role of the "coolies", who provided the country's labour.

Bhattacharjee found early television parts in the drama series Johnny Jarvis (1983) and in the short-lived soap Albion Market (1985). By his late twenties he was already playing significant roles on stage and on screen; in the satire Iranian Nights, written by Howard Brenton and Tariq Ali in response to the Satanic Verses fatwa against Salman Rushdie, he played the poet and narrator Omar Khayyam.

Following its opening in April 1989 at the Royal Court, the critic Michael Billington noted that "...it transcends the immediate issue of the Satanic Verses to explore the nature of tyranny, Britain's own responsibility for creating religious intolerance..." A special performance was shown on Channel 4 to bring the controversial matter to a wider audience.

Bhattacharjee's agent, Sally Long-Innes, recalled this period of his career. "I took him on 24 years ago having seen a beautiful performance he gave in [Federico Garcia Lorca's] Blood Wedding at the Royal Court and he has been consistently brilliant as a performer ever since. He was a true storyteller with a huge range of ability. He was also a wonderful, kind, funny and gentle human being."

There followed many distinguished roles, without his ever allowing himself to be typecast. In 1995 he took over the lead in Indian Ink, one of Tom Stoppard's favourite works, which had opened at the Aldwych in February that year. Exploring Anglo-Indian historical relations through the developing relationship between a British poetess and an Indian artist, the play took his career to the next level.

Nitin Ganatra, who plays Masood Ahmed in EastEnders, first met Bhattacharjee at Bristol University. Years later they worked together on the BBC soap, in which Bhattacharjee took the role of Ganatra's onscreen brother Inzamam Ahmed. He spoke of Bhattacharjee as "One of the finest and most consistent and versatile actors, who shone brightly both on stage and film. Not only a seasoned professional but someone who loved his work, he set a bench mark for us all."

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel became a surprise hit in 2012. Playing the surgeon, Dr Ghujarapartidar, Bhattacharjee was given, and delivered beautifully, some classic lines. "How is the hip feeling?" he asks Muriel, played by Dame Maggie Smith, "They must have got lucky", she replies, to which he rejoinders "It's strange. The more operations they perform, the luckier they get."

Speaking about his work with the RSC, Artistic Director Gregory Doran said, "Paul was last with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012 playing a soulfully witty Benedick opposite Meera Syal's Beatrice in Iqbal Khan's glorious Much Ado About Nothing set in the Punjab. He also played a variety of roles in Dominic Cooke's Arabian Nights in The Courtyard in 2009."

One reviewer noted of his Benedick: "Bhattacharjee's incorrigible bachelor – gap-toothed, with distinguished grey hair - is easier to love, nimble-witted but taking his time in holding his own..."

Doran continued: "He was a stalwart member of the Jacobethan Season of rare and undiscovered plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries a decade ago; I was lucky enough to direct him as the sinister villain in Fletcher's The Island Princess. Paul was a terrific company member, a powerful, versatile actor of great presence and weight, and a gentleman."

When he died Bhattacharjee was in rehearsals for a production of Talk Show, a black comedy by Alistair McDowall, which ran last week at the Royal Court Theatre. He had last been seen leaving the theatre in Sloane Square on the evening of 10 July. His son, Rahul Bhattacharjee-Prashar, said at the time that his disappearance was "completely out of character", adding that "He was doing well in his career and everything seemed to be going OK. I just don't know what has happened." The Artistic Director of the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone, said, "Paul has been such an important part of the world of theatre in so many ways and we shall miss him terribly."

Bhattacharjee's body was found at the foot of cliffs at Seaford, East Sussex. The exact circumstances of his death remain unconfirmed.

Gautam Paul Bhattacharjee, actor: born 4 May 1960; married 1988 Arti Prashar (separated; one son); died Seaford, East Sussex on or before 12 July 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific