Arijit Dutta is the owner of multiplex brand Bioscope, simultaneously taking on the mantle of Priya Entertainments Private Limited, having previously managed Star Theatre in Kolkata and Gitanjali Cultural Complex in Bolpur. Another enduring passion is wildlife and nature. He’s launched a major initiative in eco tourism at Khairabera, Purulia, whose footfall has been markedly high in the first year. His interests and activities in sports have been equally inspiring, being a gold medalist in International Rowing Competitions at Phillipines and Hong Kong as well as national and state champion in rowing. He has represented the industry and has been the president of Eastern India Motion Pictures Association, vice president of Film Federation of India, Mumbai, and also a frequent representative at the North American Bangla Conference — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Washington — as well as President of West Bengal Chapter Forum for People Rights, to name a few.
Not to forget his distinguished film career having acted in more than 36 films including the internationally acclaimed Madras Café. He is shortly coming up with an important role in Bengali film Senapati, Directed by Riingo Banerjee which marks a return to the silver screen after a small hiatus. Excerpts from an interview:
Q Your achievements range from film to the fashion industry as well as sports and wildlife. Is it tough managing so many things at the same time?
Film industry was work, wild life was passion, sports was something I was interested in since childhood while fashion has come in recently as a by product of sorts as I meet a lot of people in showbiz. Overall it is all about how much you enjoy what you are doing and time management. It is easy juggling as long you can manage time well.
Q What prompted you to be an entrepreneur?
My family was always been into business, and I had a stint of four years in GEC as my mother was insistent on me getting a hang of office environment. I went through the entire process of secretarial work, finance, and marketing as a management trainee. The concept of getting used to one room and one desk was extremely irritating for me. So that part of my experience was indeed very valuable in those formative years.
Q Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
I didn’t want to be restricted to only one aspect of work but be multifaceted. That is why your questions revolve around various subjects. Being one-dimensional makes one boring and one tends to only know about that aspect. Right education shapes one’s character and my school (St Paul’s Darjeeling) upbringing has helped me have a broad perspective, having mixed with people from various strata of life. MBA gives you a broader perspective but you need to channelise it properly. School was perhaps most important in shaping me, followed by my grooming at Jadavpur University. At boarding school we had a lot of outdoor activities, making us look at life in a different way, like trekking and camping. Cities do not help create a broad perspective. People restricted to cities have a myopic and microoutlook, which does not suit me.
Q And which was more rewarding? Making your start-ups a success or being able to continue keeping them successful?
I think Priya was an important case history in this. This was a theatre where I did not want to watch movies myself but putting it back on track and making it a choice of sorts, before the multiplexes came in, has been rewarding. Today it is an iconic theatre of West Bengal, which is highly satisfying and a major achievement.
Q If you had the chance to do a venture again, what would you do differently?
Whatever we have done till date I am reasonably happy with but may be one mistake I made was not getting into film production as I was not comfortable with a lot of grey areas. But thinking 20 years down the line I think I should be able to; however at the same time I do not regret my decision either.
Q Can you tell us something about your mentors (if any) or is there anyone you draw inspiration from?
My main mentor was my mother who always pushed me to do the maximum and has been my umbrella throughout. Also Uday Singh, who was the managing director of Columbia Tristar and Sony Pictures. In fact we were the initiators of marketing of films in India but the push, ideation, and the moves we made, a lot of that came from him. He played a very important role in shaping my views about the film industry.
Q Were there any periods of struggle or difficulties in following your dreams and how did you deal with them?
Yes, when my mother had to handle Priya, following my father’s demise. There was a period when the family income dropped and Priya was the only screen. I took it from there, and slowly from 1995-96 the graph started moving up with the acquisition of Globe cinema, Geetanjali theatre, district theatres, the Multiplex chain Bioscope, revival of Piyali films as a distribution chain, which had a glorious past.
Q You have been at the helm of both multiplex and single screens. Would you say the traditional single screen halls are threatened by the rapid growth of multiplexes?
Agreed; the situation is that for national and international films, multiplex is the best option, as the audience has become niche. The biggest problem is the attitude of a lot of distributors where they give directives to single screens, which have become weak, that they have to screen certain films only, making them even weaker. A time will come when only multiplexes will survive and large international/ national multiplex chains shall gobble up the local theatres and we have already gone through the process. The alternative is slowly being lost by short sightedness of many who are actually playing into the hands of bigger players and that is unfortunate.
Q You have done more than 36 films, including the internationally acclaimed Madras Cafe. Was there any role that was particularly tough, and/or a role that is close to your heart and which you enjoyed playing?
I would say Shunyo Anka by Goutam Ghosh, apart from Madras Cafe. I really enjoyed it, as I had to break my body language, the way I spoke. I was a Maoist in the Purulia hills for seven days and after seeing the movie I was extremely satisfied. These two films were truly memorable as they broke away from the flamboyant villain roles that I am offered. Of course Goutam da gave my first break in Abar Aranya where I was a villager.
Q Do you harbour any desires to turn director some day?
I did get an offer from a person who finalised a script and story whose condition was he will produce it only if I directed the story. I am a little circumspect about this as a director’s job is a specialised job, though you find a lot of people who do a little bit and then get in to film direction but that has never worked out much. The offer is still there, so let’s see, maybe I will need someone to help me out!