He has ruled the Bangla film industry for over three decades and has more than 300 films to his credit, some of the popular ones he has featured in beingChokher Bali, Sob Charitro Kalponikand Autograph. Recently, his film Shankhachil won the National Award for Best Bengali Film. Prosenjit Chatterjee talks to Soumita Sengupta about his journey, not only as an actor but now in an altogether new role
Congratulations on winning the National Award for Best Bengali Film, Shankhachil.
Thank you! It’s a very nice feeling and I am hoping for the best. Bengali cinema has always made it to the National Awards. There is a lot of energy and respect around the film. Although we never dreamt it would bag a National Award, we knew the film had a lot of potential and we will be sending it to various international film festivals.
Can you tell us a little about the film and what the title means?
Shankhachil is a bird, one that flies anywhere. Usually, birds don’t go out of their vicinity but this one is known to fly anywhere. Our film is basically about the father-daughter relationship. It is the physical and emotional journey of a family along the Indo-Bangladesh border. All Bengalis will relate to a subject that highlights the partition, a family’s battle for survival. It is based on an original story by Goutam Ghose and Sayantani Pututandu.
Why did you choose the April 14 holiday slate to release the film?
It’s New Year for Bengalis, which we call Poila Boishak, and every Bengali around the world, whether Indian or Bangladeshi, celebrates this festival on the same day with equal joy. That’s why we chose this holiday date to release the film.
The audience we are catering to is the same, and that’s why we took this step. The culture, the language is almost same. The market is the same; we just happen to be two different countries. There may be a border separating the two countries but Bangla films have a huge audience in Bangladesh. So we are trying to erase the border through films. I am a part-producer from India. When you make an Indo-Bangladesh film, the script has to be approved by both governments. So our aim was to bring both countries together. We released the film on the same day in both countries. The promotions are on there as well. In fact, I will be visiting Bangladesh soon to interact with the media.
The film is also releasing worldwide in different languages. How did Zee Studios come on board?
Since the film has universal appeal, we wanted to release it worldwide. We were talking to a few people and that’s when Zee Studios stepped in. We are very happy that they are releasing our film in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.
What kinds of roles excite you?
For the last seven to eight years, I have been doing both kinds of roles – commercial and edgy films. The character should excite me. When I look at Mr Amitabh Bachchan doing different types of roles, I feel greedy as an actor because he does all sorts of films. And as an actor, one should be open to all kinds of cinema, not only the kind that’s working. But with each film, I know my target. So when I am doing a Goutam Ghosh film, I know my audience and when I am doing a Srijit film, I know my audience.
You have dominated the Bangla film industry for a very long time. What are your comments on the changes in the industry?
Our industry has gone through its best days, and bad days, even worst days, and then Bangla cinema is once again standing on its own feet. Today, filmmakers are concentrating on quality; the number of releases is increasing as is the quality of films. We are back to experimenting, and the best part is I am consistently working with new directors. This means a lot of fresh energy is entering the industry and these filmmakers want to experiment. That’s one thing that has changed.
Today, we can finally call it an ‘industry’. It’s become far more structured and methodical; there are different departments and specialists at work. It’s getting far more professional. Earlier, it was more like a family affair, and passion ruled over profit. Even the number of films made every year has increased substantially. Thanks to the expansion in the number of multiplexes, Bengali cinema is getting the right distribution too. The box-office collections of Bangla films have also grown substantially. As a result, we can experiment with genres. So it is truly a very interesting phase.
I am inspired by Yash Chopra, a man who changed with the times, and Bachchan sir, who gives actors like me a boost to keep going. Every decade brings change and we have no choice but to change too as films are a reflection of society.
As a producer, what kind of content do you want to be associated with?
I want to get attached to films that have novelty, and that applies to television too. I made a show calledGaaner Oparey, a mega-serial based on Rabindranath Tagore. I want to get attached to projects that are meaningful. As an actor, I may have done 10 trashy films in the last 10 years but I don’t regret that because those films have brought me fame. But when I am producing, the content has to be very close to my heart. I might not make a lot of money but I should support that content because even it doesn’t work immediately, with my support, content like that can find a place.
What keeps you away from Hindi films?
(Laughs) I want to do quality work. When I look at the Hindi films being made today, it makes me very happy. It was Dibakar Banerjee who forced me to do Shanghai. Now I have Traffic coming up.