An actor who wears many hats, Parambrata Chatterjee runs a small production unit and is also a director who is extremely choosy about his ventures and prefers to keep a reasonable gap between and among his directorial films. Shonar Pahar has taken the media by storm as one of the most moving films in contemporary Bengali cinema this year. At the same time, Parambrata Chatterjee is much in demand as an actor in Bengali cinema, in Bangladesh and in Bollywood but is too busy to take up all assignments that come his way. In an interview to The Statesman, the popular actor speaks about his latest directorial, acting and future plans. Excerpts:
Shonar Pahar is based on your story. What was the inspiration?
My mother (late) Sunetra Ghatak, a noted film critic, also wrote short stories. There is one collection and somewhere from it I got the inspiration to write Shonar Pahar. The other trigger was my association with Offer, an NGO that works with orphans, some of who are HIV+ and also sends these orphans to give company to old people living alone. These two formed the basis of my story for this film.
You do not direct often and are busier with your acting assignments. Why?
This is not a conscious decision. I run a national web portal called Roadshow Films that comes under ZEE-Five and then there are my acting assignments. I do not have the time direction demands which include screenplay and dialogue writing.
Tanuja Mukherjee is reported to be difficult to handle. Besides, she stopped acting quite some years back. How did you persuade her to step into your film?
I found her quite easy-going and friendly. She may be difficult to handle by people she does not like. But if she likes you, she can be very friendly and helpful. She lives alone in Lonavala near Mumbai. I called her up and told her that I wished to meet her. She agreed to act in my film and I consider it a God-send.
How about your greatest discovery Srijato who plays Bitlu in the film and turns the tables on everyone around?
He studies in Dolna School where I too studied as a small boy. I found him at the Nehru Children’s Museum where he came every Sunday to attend some art classes, I guess, with other children. I approached his school and they agreed to let him act in my film. I did a 15 to 20 day workshop with him in my office and he has a very good grasping power. At that time however, we did not quite discover his sharpness and his way of absorbing everything around him. All that happened during the shoot. His rapport with Tanuja di also helped us immensely.
You had to direct ace veterans like Soumitra Chatterjee and Mukherjee on one hand, and an absolute newcomer, that too, a small boy of seven on the other, besides the in-betweens. Was there a problem directing the seniors?
When I don the director’s cap, I never differentiate between and among seniors, newcomers and so on. In fact, I do not even think about whether I am directing a senior actor or a newcomer. I do the casting with care and am aware that experienced actors, both seniors like Soumitra Chatterjee and Tanuja-di, or Jisshu, Arunima, Lama and others, have a very pragmatic approach towards their work. I was more anxious about Srijato playing Bitlu, a boy whose background is very different from the one he comes from. But he has been a wonder boy for everyone.
You lost your father when you were in your teens and your mother quite recently. The fact that you miss them has spilled over into this film. Can you explain why?
Yes, I can. You are right that I really miss them and I actually wanted this feeling to spill over into the film. If you have caught it, it means I have been able to do it.
Between your mother and father, who do you think has contributed more to your growth as an actor and director?
Both of them have contributed to my growth in two different ways. If my mother contributed to my sense of cinema, then my father, also a noted journalist, planted in me the entire musical sensibility he imbibed from his family. Everyone in his family was an unspoken musical genius and music was like a philosophy for them, a most treasured part of their lives. But I must say that as I lived only with my mother after my father passed away, we became very close, like comrades fighting together, discussing everything including cinema.
As an actor, you are striding right across cinema in three different cultures —Bengali cinema in West Bengal, Bengali cinema in Bangladesh and Hindi in Bollywood. Which do you find the best?
I enjoy all three in different ways. Bollywood is best so far as respecting the artist is concerned. Bengali cinema is the one I was practically born into and grew up so it is like home and carries a close emotional bond for me. I enjoy working in Bangladesh as well because I love the raw passion the people have about cinema though their industry may not be as sophisticated as our own. I look at this as a factor that widens the horizons of my experience.
Is there any point of conflict between the actor Parambrata and the director Parambrata?
Not really. I never think of it that way. Acting has gone into my blood as I have been doing it for years now. It has gone under my skin, almost like a reflex. But I enjoy it all the same. But direction actually works like a trigger as it both allows me and challenges my creative juices to flow.
What criteria have you set for yourself while accepting an acting assignment?
The two major things I consider are the script and the price. The script needs to be seen from two different perspectives. If it is a new director, the script must make sense to me as an actor. If it is an established director, I look at how they will mount the film, what the production values will be like, how the film will be promoted and marketed and so on. The price also has different determinants. If the role does not demand too many days of work but the money is reasonably good, I take it up as I can use the money for my production outfit. If the banner and the director and the role are all very significant, well, it depends…
Which films will you call your personal favourites?
Kaalbela, Apur Panchali, Chotushkone, Kahaani, Pari, Hemlock Society, Hawa Badal, Cinemawallah and Hercules. Among contemporary directors, I admire the work of Kaushik Ganguly, Srijit Mukherjee and Shiboprosad and Nandita Roy for their unique approach to cinema.
You won a very prestigious British Council Fellowship some years ago. In what way did it contribute to your growth?
It has made me a different person. It was an extremely enriching experience for me as a human being more than as a person who had gone to study filmmaking. Ultimately, a film is about the story that it tells, the characters who inhabit the story and the audience that can identify with the characters and their experiences. Technological differences may be there from one culture to another or, from one school of filmmaking to another. But the common thread that binds good cinema across the place is all about storytelling.