Director Arindam Sil, and actors Abir Chatterjee and Arjun Chakraborty talk to Titas Chowdhury about their upcoming Durga Pujo release, Byomkesh Gowtro
Arindam Sir, Byomkesh Gowtro has been adapted from a book called Rakter Daag. Can you take us through the process?
Arindam Sil: Byomkesh Gowtro is a very complex story. It is set in a time when India had just become independent. There is an element of morbidity in the story which attracted me as a director because I am inspired by filmmakers like Alejandro González Iñárritu, Wong Kar-wai and Martin Scorsese.
When I approached Rakter Daag, I felt 1956 was a period which was not very attractive cinematically. So I brought it to 1952 because the Language Movement of February 21 took place in that year. The story takes place between March and April. I set my film in 1952 because I could make an international political statement and give a warm welcome to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in the film. This is not there in Rakter Daag.
When I am creating a background and an essence of my own, I ought to take care of the facts to make the period and the story informative and interesting for the audience. Here, we are talking about Kalidas, and Sukumar Ray and his first edition of Abol Tabol. I actually got the cover from Sandeep Ray and printed it. All these layers are present in the film. There is a tremendous intensity of sexuality in Kalidas’s writing. I have used that in the film. All these things have been done intentionally with a bit of my own point of view. The colour palette, the treatment and the camera movement were pre-decided. The idea was to give the Bengali audience a treat, something we have not had before.
Abir, you are coming back as Byomkesh after a year…
Abir Chatterjee: We have been making this franchise since 2015 with Arindamda. This is a new instalment in that franchise. We started with Har Har Byomkesh. Then we did Byomkesh Pawrbo. In 2017, we realised that there were too many Byomkesh films happening. So Arindamda and I told Shrikantda (Mohta) that we should take a break for a year and then come back. Shrikantda agreed instantly. We decided to come back in 2018.
In the meantime, I did another film called Biday Byomkesh, which is not a part of the original franchise. It was a spin-off and it was a different take on Byomkesh. So, Byomkesh was always there. When you are building a franchise, people expect you to release them at intervals. By now, people have identified Byomkesh with me and they expect us to come out with bigger and bigger films. Whenever we shoot a Byomkesh film, we try to maintain that standard.
The key factor for me and Arindamda is that we try to make a film that will make the audience crave for more. After making five films on Byomkesh, the audience should stay hungry for the next one. That is the basic motto we all follow.
Arjun, this is the first time you are a part of the Byomkesh series. What was the experience like?
Arjun Chakraborty: I had worked with Arindamda and this team before in Guptodhoner Sondhane. Arindamda was not the director then. I knew most of the assistant directors and people working behind the camera this time. Working with him was a great experience because he spoils his actors and his unit. His lunch breaks and dinner breaks are known to be a big affair. He takes care of not only actors but everyone in his unit. That is a big plus. As a director, he is very clear about what he wants. I basically tried to do what he showed me.
How did you prepare for this character? Were there any workshops that you did?
Arjun Chakraborty: No, we had no workshops. But, then, I had a couple of sessions with Arindamda. A lot of the film is centred on Satyakam. So, it is a pivotal character. I completely relied on the script and his guidance. If I had questions, I would go to him to clear my doubts. I did not try and improvise a lot because I had not read the Byomkesh novels. I surrendered myself to his vision, which I think did the trick.
Abir Chatterjee: Byomkesh Gowtro will be my sixth film where I play Byomkesh. I feel that I have become like Byomkesh and Byomkesh has become like me. It is not like I have only followed the script. My basic mantra is to follow the story and the original content, and then sit with the director and the writer and discuss. If you want to adapt a novel, there are some elements that get added to the script and others that get subtracted. It is the director, the script writer and I coming together.
We all have read, loved and thoroughly enjoyed Byomkesh. It is our duty to adapt that original content into a screenplay. It is an organic process. I do not see myself as a method actor. But when I play Byomkesh, I know what the boundaries are. I also break those boundaries. With every film, the audience should feel like there is something new. Arindamda and I constantly try to mould Byomkesh and add new aspects to him.
Arindam Sil: In Bengal, there is the concept of adda. That is something I definitely do with my actors. I do not hold any workshops. You know how I develop my actors? I spent a lot of time with them, right from the scripting stage. By the time we are on the floor, they actually know what they have to do for their characters. There is so much adda, so much discussion that takes place. It is not like a teacher taking his class. It takes place in a very friendly environment. The actors are made to fit into the minds of their characters subconsciously.
What was the brief given to each of you?
Abir Chatterjee: In Byomkesh Gowtro, for the first time, I did not reread the novel before I started shooting because the script was self-sufficient. Arindamda briefed me on the idea during the script reading session. Rakter Daag is one of the most prominent novels on Byomkesh Bakshi. It is among my top five novels on him. I only read the script this time.
Arindamda’s brief was Byomkesh should look very relaxed and still have control over everything. He should be laidback and yet very confident. It is very difficult to portray two conflicting traits in the same character. Once Satyakam dies, only then does he begin to hold the steering wheel.
Arjun Chakraborty: This is perhaps the only Byomkesh story where the anti-hero is as important as Byomkesh, if not more. It is very, very different from what I have done so far. I do not know why he chose me. He probably saw something in me and hence, decided to cast me for this character. I thank him for giving me this opportunity to do something so different and know myself in a new way. I did not know that I could do this, but he had faith in me. Obviously, casting someone is always a gamble unless he or she is huge star. I would like to thank the producer as well as the director for choosing me for Satyakam.
Why do you think mysteries and thrillers always strike the chord with the Bengali audience?
Arindam Sil: Mystery thrillers have an element of suspense. The concept of making films across India is changing. The films that I am planning to make are non-detective thrillers and of other genres.
Abir Chatterjee: Bengali audiences have an intellectual connect with thrillers. They become detectives themselves and go with the flow of the script. Since they become detectives, they end up identifying with the characters. Bengali script-writers and directors are also more comfortable making thrillers. It is intellectually stimulating to make and to watch a thriller. We cringe at love stories, but we will never be tired of mystery thrillers. Every Bengali author has at least one detective book to their credit. That shows the kind of love we have for this genre.
Arjun Chakraborty: There are only a handful of people who do not enjoy detective stories and murder mysteries. But, more than any other demographic, it is Bengalis who enjoy mystery thrillers most. It is in the nature of Bengalis to enjoy this genre. We grow up reading Feluda, Byomkesh and Sherlock Holmes.
Several other films are also releasing on the same day as your film. How do you look at it?
Abir Chatterjee: There will be cut-throat competition with six good films releasing on the same day. But with the kind of budget that Byomkesh Gowtro was made on, we needed a longer weekend. We needed holidays that would help us reach out to a wider audience. That was one important criterion to decide on the release date. For the last four to five years, the Bengali audience has been watching films during Durga Pujo in large numbers. Initially, we used to pay for Pujo-based literature; we don’t pay for that any more. Pujo-based music is also not there any more.
For the last two years, the variety, the content, the standard of films and performances have improved. This year, people are confused about what to watch. All the trailers have received such a good response. It is a very good time for us. When you have tough competitors, you end up improving your own standards. This is the first time I will be releasing my Byomkesh during Pujo. Earlier, we used to release it during Christmas.
Arindam Sil: My apprehension is regarding my film and how the audience is going to accept it. There are about six films releasing on October 12. That is quite a difficult situation. But I am taking it very positively. When Kaushik Ganguly, Srijit Mukherji and Arindam Sil – who are considered the best directors in the Bengali film industry - come out with their films on the same day, ideally our films will be able to reach a larger segment of the Bengali audience. If we are able to capture a larger audience, only then being called the best will be justified. Otherwise, we have to think about ourselves.
Arjun Chakraborty: I am not nervous about that. I am only nervous when I am delivering shots. I am slightly worried as to how the audience will take Arjun Chakraborty in such a vastly different character. All the other films that are releasing have big stars such as Jisshu Sengupta and Prosenjit Chatterjee. So it is only natural that I will be lost among them, but not too lost I hope (Laughs). I hope Byomkesh Gowtro does really well. I want people to notice me for the hard work I have put in.
What is next in the pipeline?
Abir Chatterjee: During Pujo, I have another release called Manojder Adbhut Bari directed by Anindya Chatterjee and produced by Shibuda (Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay). I have done a cameo in the film. I cannot say much about the film because I want my presence in it to be a surprise for the audience. In November, the sequel to Bishorjon will release with the same cast, Jaya Ahsan and I. The film is called Bijoya and will be directed by Kaushik Ganguly. People’s expectations are sky high. We have shot for the film in a very hush-hush manner.
During Christmas, Srijit Mukherji’s Shah Jahan Regency will release. Shree Venkatesh Films is producing it. It is Srijit’s take and an adaptation of Shankar’s very popular novel, Chowinghee. There is also an independent film directed by Manoj Michigan, who earlier directed me in Aami Joy Chatterjee. It will release next year and is called Tritiyo Adhyay. It is a hard-hitting love story. It will star Paoli (Dam) opposite me.
Arjun Chakraborty: My next release is Anjan Dutt’s Finally Bhalobasha. It is likely to release in the winter.
Arindam Sil: My next project is Dhananjay, which will be produced by Rajnish (Khanuja), Sunil (Saini), Deepak (Sharma) and Rajiv (Malhotra). I am looking forward to it. It is going to be my first Hindi film. It is wonderful that Box Office India is indirectly going to be one of my producers.