The Star And The Debutant

At 60, the bonafide superstar and hitmaker of Bengali cinema, with a career spanning four decades, has made his OTT debut as an astute businessman and filmmaker, Srikant Roy in Prime Video’s Jubilee. The actor talks about what made him come back to Hindi content, eleven years after his last Bollywood outing

By Ananya Ghosh

Srikant Roy, the maverick filmmaker, the ruthless studio owner, and an astute businessman, of
Prime Video’s recently released web series, Jubilee, is a character modelled after one of the pioneers of the golden age of Hindi cinema and founder of Bombay Talkies, Himanshu Rai. It is essayed by Prosenjit Chatterjee, the superstar of Bengali cinema with 300-odd films to his credit, who like Rai has been an integral part of many tectonic shifts within the industry. The actor imbues Roy with authenticity and swag. His Roy is not just a Bengali intellectual, but a Don Corleone-like imposing figure with a gangster vibe.

“That was the brief from my director,” says Prosenjit as we catch up with the actor at Juhu’s Sun-n-Sand hotel. “And Godfather is not always negative. In fact, I can very well relate to that aspect of Roy’s character. See, nobody has created the brand Prosenjit for me; it is my hard work of 40 years. If something impacts that brand, I will not take it lying down. I can become a dangerous man then. It is a similar situation with Srikant Roy. He has built his empire from scratch, and he has to ensure it doesn’t crumble. He loves cinema, but it is also a business for him. So, he needs to be ruthless, at times,” shares the 60-year-old actor, who a few years back, turned producer.

Prosenjit is the son of Biswajeet Chatterjee, the suave star of the ’60s known for movies like Bees Saal Baad, Kohra, Mere Sanam, etc., and had started his career as a child actor in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Chotto Jigyasa (1968). But it was in 1987 with Amar Sangi that he emerged as the romantic hero of commercial Bengali cinema. He then turned into an action hero. He would go on to rule the industry as its bonafide star.

“I started very early on to think about the future of cinema; how cinema will change, how the language of cinema, as well as the acting, will change and worked accordingly. And that is why till today, I am still there,” says the actor. At the peak of his career, while enjoying the comfort of commercial mass entertainers, he began experimenting with what were to be known as multiplex movies; movies that would appeal to the urban intellectuals, who were shunning commercial Bengali masala flicks. He predicted the change and collaborated with the late filmmaker, Rituparno Ghosh in movies like Unishe April, Dosar, Shob Charitro Kalponik, and of course, Chokher Bali. While Dosar got him the National Film Awards – Special Jury Award, Chokher Bali grabbed the attention of the pan-India audience before ‘Pan-India’ movies became a genre. His collaborations with the likes of Goutam Ghose (in Moner Manush) and Buddhadeb Dasgupta (in Swapner Din) also helped the prolific star establish himself as one of the most powerful actors of the country. Then he paired up with director Srijit Mukherji to churn out hits like Baishe Srabon, Jaatishwar, Gumnaami, Autograph, Mishawr Rawhoshyo, Yeti Obhijaan and Zulfiqar — these movies not only experimented with a varied range of genres, but also threw new challenges at the star who lapped them up and ensured a pitch-perfect performance each time. He has kept proving his mettle as an actor and some of his stellar outings in recent times include Atanu Ghosh’s Mayurakshi and Kaushik Ganguly’s Jyesthoputro.

But for an actor who has been at the forefront of almost all the changes Bengali cinema has seen in the last few decades, it is a bit surprising that he has only now decided to get into the OTT space with Jubilee.

“This is a new technology. I have seen so many changes in technology in my career; I am one of the few actors, who started working in the black and white era. I had seen the evolution from single screen to the multiplex. And OTT is the newest change cinema is seeing. It is something that is going to stay. But I was not getting a proper project. In Kolkata, we have only one successful OTT platform. Unfortunately, Netflix and Amazon are yet to get into Bengali content. I had no option but to opt for a Hindi series and in a way, I think this was a great start. I wanted to work with interesting directors like Vikramaditya Motwane. I have tremendous respect for the kind of movies he has made. My last film was Shanghai with Dibakar — I love working with new-age directors, who will challenge me as an actor and look at me beyond the ‘star’, Prosenjit. That has been my aim for the last 10 years.

“When he [Vikramaditya Motwane] came to meet me in Kolkata, he said that Srikant Roy was a character he had written with me in mind and that it was a part he thought only I could pull off. Coming from a director like Vikram, it was a big thing. I am a student of Indian cinema, so even before reading the script, I knew what he was aiming at. I knew the strength of the character. Of course, I have done Chokher Bali and a lot of period dramas, so I have that experience. But a character like Srikant Roy is rare,” he explains.

The actor has returned to Hindi content after a long gap of eleven years, with his last Hindi outing being in Dibakar Banerjee’s 2012 gritty political thriller, Shanghai. “I am not here for any kind of validation. In the Bengali film industry, I don’t have any other challenges apart from just doing some good work now. I don’t have to prove anything new. That is something the next generation of actors are doing. I’m not into the rat race anymore. It’s my most comfortable time; I will work if I want to, and I won’t if I don’t want to. I have done a very small character in another show called Scoop. I play a real character and it was offered to me by one of my favourite directors and friend, Hansal Mehta,” he adds confirming that now he intends to do more work in Hindi.

The actor, who broke free from his star persona and experimented with various roles long before someone like Saif Ali Khan in Bollywood did, strongly opposes the current division between stars and actors. “I respect stars. I respect actors. I have been hearing this from the time my father used to work in the movies. The narrative has not changed. Do you think stars like Shammi Kapoor and Dev Sahab — I am not even bringing in Mr Bachchan into the picture — were any less as actors? Isn’t Rajinikanth a fabulous actor? Does their being stars put a question mark on their acting prowess? Shah Rukh has done Pathaan. He has even done Chak De. Those are two different Shah Rukh Khans. He becomes the character. But the star quality can’t be dismissed. I had done a film called Gumnaami, where I played Netaji Subhash Bose. Do I anywhere look like Bose? I was against doing that character. My director Srijit told me that he needed somebody, who has that weightage on screen; you don’t have to look like Subhash Bose. So, that screen presence is required for all kinds of cinema. A star needs to be a good actor; it is not something that is mutually exclusive. You can’t just go on doing one thing for 20 years. I think that younger stars have started to experiment much earlier on in their careers. Check out a Ranveer Singh in Lootera or a Varun Dhawan in October. Maybe what we had started doing in our careers after 20 years, they have started in five, seven, ten years. Content has become a bigger star now. Whomever you take in the film, if your content is not so good, it will not work,” he elaborates.

And how does he see the rise of pan-Indian cinema in the last four to five years? While the Bengali film industry was at one point churning out the best of cinema and had a pioneer like Satyajit Ray, why don’t we see movies from the Bengali industry making an impact outside the state like the South industries, given that there is a growing audience for regional cinema? “That is a hangover of the intellectuals,” he suggests. “We [Bengalis] talk about Satyajit Ray, saying that he is the ‘God of Indian cinema’. But you can’t deny Mrinal Sen, you can’t deny Tarun Mazumdar, and you can’t deny Ritwik Ghatak. Usually, we just talk about Ray and claim that we have spoken about Bengali cinema,” he points out. “Today we are talking about a Pushpa or an RRR. Yes, these are great entertainers, but while talking about pan-Indian cinema, we should not forget the likes of Mani Ratnam or Rituparno Ghosh. Roja (1992) and Chokher Bali (2003) were watched by the entire country. Those became pan-Indian movies. But yes, maybe we didn’t follow it up. Tamil and Telugu cinema have very strong marketing; at times it is even better than Hindi cinema.”

But now that he has the entire nation hooked with his performance in Jubilee, what are the chances of him ghosting the Hindi audience and going back to doing just Bengali movies? “No no, it has never been the intention,” he chuckles. “Now I intend to spend 70 per cent of my time in Mumbai and focus more on Hindi content.” That’s a promise we would hope the actor keeps. But Bengali cinema is not done with Prosenjit Chatterjee yet. Just a week after Jubilee, his Bengali film Shesh Pata has hit the theatres. The poignant and poetic movie sees the actor give one of his career-best performances as an eccentric author, Balmiki, who retreats into a shell after the death of his wife. Watching the suave and handsome studio owner turn into this broken and balding widower is enough to give one a sense of the veteran actor’s range and acting prowess. Whenever people will talk about Indian cinema, Bengali cinema will be mentioned. And there I think somewhere my name will also come up,”

Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com

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