Actor Abir Chatterjee, whose latest release Durgeshgorer Guptodhon is ruling the box office, took time out to speak about his iconic character Sona da and much more. Excerpts from an interview.
In several interviews, your director Dhrubo Banerjee said that you fit the character so well that it didn’t require you to act.How much did you give to and borrow from Sona da?
See, the kind of films I have grown up with; the kind of actors I look up to, are all extremely natural on screen. I personally don’t believe in things like method acting, I think I am not a method actor. For me, acting is to make people believe that the character really exists. So if you tell me that I would have to act, I think that’s the biggest challenge because I should be acting in such a way that my audience feel that I am not! Dhrubo has rightly said that Sona da is a real character, who is very lovable. He can be a friend, a philosopher and even a guide. It is a rare privilege to play a character like Sona da because he appeals to everyone. The senior citizens love him, can accept him as their son or grandson and the young people like him and look up to him. We all had these kinds of characters while growing up. We may have come across someone like him in our neighbourhood or in our own family whom we idolise — the perfect guy who is good at everything; a star student as well as an active sportsman, a person, who can jell with anybody from any generation and age group.
Many of your characters seem to be in sync with your individual persona. Is that a conscious choice or just a coincidence?
No, I have also played characters that are really far away from who I am in real life. I played Nasir Ali in Bishorjonand Bijoyaand I don’t have any similarity with him. I am thankful to my directors and producers that they have given me responsibility to play different characters. Suppose if you play an iconic character like Byomkesh Bakshi, you can aspire to be a person like him but that doesn’t mean he has similar character traits with you. I try to bring out the inner characteristic and also try to identify with the character traits. So may be somewhere deep down as a person, there is a lover in me or maybe there is a frustrated person inside me! I try to bring out that emotion according to the character. As an actor, I never wanted to be limited to one particular image.
What are the factors you keep in mind while selecting a role?
First is the script because I have always believed that the script is the biggest hero in any project. And second is how my character or my role is shaping up. The script and my role should mutually complement each other. Definitely, the director and producer are also something I keep in mind. The producer more so because ultimately he is the one making the film; if he is passionate about making it, he will actually do everything, which is required to make the film visible to a larger audience. And I am a completely a director’s actor, so if I have a matching wavelength with my director then it becomes easier to act. The job becomes smoother if there is good communication between the team.
With back-to-back trailblazing performances as Byomkesh, Feluda and Sona da, can one now say that Abir Chatterjee is slowly becoming the undisputed king of the Bengali detective genre?
No please! I don’t see myself like that as I have done only one Feluda film. It has been my honour to be able to play an iconic character of Bengali literature like Byomkesh and I am gratified with the way people identify me with it. Also because I am personally a big fan of Byomkesh! By now, I have done seven Byomkesh films and I often joke to my parents that it’s almost like I am living with Byomkesh! The love I get from my audience is mostly because of Byomkesh. Playing Sona da was a huge challenge as we were targeting the family audience. Somehow we have stopped making films for kids. We have this peculiar idea that if we make films for kids it has to be a light one but that’s not true. Whenever we are making a film for kids or a family audience we need to be more responsible about subject matter because kids are at an impressionable age. Whatever we are showing on screen, they often get motivated by the characters and story line and try to imitate them in real life. With Guptodhoner Sandhane and Durgeshgorer Guptodhon tried to make people believe that films can be enjoyed cerebrally and can have lighter moments also, along with a serious story line. Entertainment doesn’t have be brainless or without content. And now we can see the results —families are watching the film together. Senior citizens are becoming nostalgic because we have shown Durga Pujo. Youngsters are liking it too as the film is full of energy. So yes, all these characters are exceptionally close to me but they have nothing to do with the unnecessary tag of “undisputed king”.
How do you think the Bengali film industry is evolving in terms of variety and content?
The tastes of viewers have changed rapidly and they are giving us clear signals now that they like content-driven films. For the last three or four years we are seeing this shift and it’s mainly due to the Internet. Previously people used to say there are two kinds of viewers — urban and rural — but now there is no geographical boundary. Even in rural areas, people have access to various kinds of content be it in form of English films, Hindi films, Bengali films or web series. So the audience is also evolving. When it comes to my own experience, I have seen for the last few years that the number of Bengalis coming to watch a Bengali film on bigger screen has increased. Another change I have noticed is that people prefer official apps while watching films online whereas before they used to go for pirated versions. Now they are very particular and don’t want to compromise with the quality of the projects. But, I still feel we have miles to go. We need to make more films catering to the family audience; we need to make a greater variety of films. We can choose to make films that are slightly over the top and at the same time we need to make films based on sensitive issues and comedies as well. We are currently trying out thrillers more than any other genre. If you take a detailed look at the Bengali film industry, thrillers are sure shot hits. But that’s not enough; we need to make films based on diverse subjects. I would love the Bengali industry to cater to the Bengalis who are staying out of Bengal or India. There is a large section of Bengali viewers who love to watch Bengali films but they don’t stay here. We need to reach out to them. We need to release Bengali films outside Bengal and India. There is a huge untapped market there. We need to increase the market size and need to do it immediately.
Was choosing this profession predetermined or a sudden decision given that both your parents are well-known actors?
I think it came naturally. Yes, in my childhood I was more into sports and the whole family was into theatre. Later they shifted to television and eventually to films. Nobody thought I would become an actor because I was more into studies and sports like any other Bengali middle class kid. But as people say, may be it runs in the blood! I started watching films at an early stage of my life. It was almost a family ritual to watch films together. My father always used to take me to the theatre to watch Hollywood classics and whenever there was any Bengali film of the 60s or 70s we used to come together and watch it. So the bug was definitely inside me. I did my MBA and joined a private sector company and almost at the same time, I started my acting career as well. I tried to balance both for five-six years and then I realised that I was doing justice to neither. I had to choose one and so I choose my passion over my profession. I left my job towards the end of 2011 and became a full-time actor.
What’s the one thing about this profession you love the most? And the one thing you hate?
The biggest advantage of being in this profession is that you get unconditional love from people. And that love doesn’t have any boundaries. From across the generations, you get love. And you get to do something, which you love to do, and in return you are getting affection from a large part of the audience. The biggest disadvantage of being in this profession is that you are always judged. Whatever you do in your personal or professional life, whatever you are saying or writing on your social media pages, you have to face judgment.
How do you deal with the burden of expectations?
I try to see it from a logical point of view. With age and maturity you have to take up bigger responsibilities. It’s not a one-sided thing; when you get so much adulation and respect from people, in return you have to deliver. There is no other way. You cannot give them excuses. You cannot say that I was not well so I couldn’t shoot this scene well, please forgive me if my performance is not at par. When you ask me how I deal with expectations, yes the tension is there. Before a movie release, I have sleepless nights too but I try to concentrate as much as possible while I am working. I need to be confident about my product. But the end result is always uncertain. Even if you have done a film with full conviction and dedication, people may end up not liking it. So it is important that you know how to deal with failure. You need to know how to come out of bad situations. So I am always ready and prepared for failure.
Could you reveal something about your future projects?
Well, I am reading three or four scripts right now. One film is ready and that is Mainak Bhaumik’s Barnoporichoi. But I don’t know the release plan of the film.