While a massive rescue operation had been launched by the central team to extricate the 41 workers
An excellent orator Mr Sinha and loves everything Bengali, including his association with WB Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. In this free-wheeling interview with The Statesman, Mr Sinha reminisces his Bengal connection.
You are still the Bihari Babu for many of your followers in India…
The first time I entered Asansol before the elections and the kind of acceptance from all sections of the society, including the migrants, overwhelmed me. I could see I was equally loved, supported and blessed by the people of Bengal. They now call me Bengali Babu.
Earlier, in Asansol they used to call me Guru, especially the younger generation because of my film. That way they supported me, loved and cared for me is a proof of my acceptance as one amongst them.
When your name was announced for the bypoll in Asansol, many called you an outsider.
The party was wishing, praying and also knowing that I could be a winner, but none could guess the magnitude of the results. My win broke all previous records. What a win! I say so because last time the BJP had won that seat by almost 2 lakh votes. This time, we covered those 2 lakh and added another 3 quarter lakh votes. So this was a great gesture by the people of Asansol and after that I’m sold out to them. They consider me as one of their own.
You speak Bengali so well, from where did you learn it?
Bengal has been my weakness since ages. One of the reasons for this could be Durga Puja. My association with Bengal started when for the first time I came to Calcutta. I had come for an interview at a studio in Tollygunge for the FTII (that time it was called Film Institute of India). I was not only interviewed but felt blessed by the great filmmaker late Mrinal Sen. Mrinal da (as i used to call him) became very fond of me. I remember coming to Calcutta with another friend of mine Kazi Moid, who used to live in Asansol at that time. He is a lawyer in US now. He brought me to the city and I remember we stayed in a small hotel for few days. We travelled by train. It was love at first sight with the city. I remember going to Trincas. My life was also starting to take off then and I was experimenting with life. I had the first beer of my life at Trincas, (things were not that costly then).
So, you were selected for FTII…
Yes, I got selected. I was lucky to be interviewed by Mrinal da. Not only that, as I joined FTII, the principal was Jagat Murari, who was gold medalist from Patna Science College and the vice-principal happened to be Ritwik Ghatak. He also became fond of me. He had his mood swings and abusive at times. People were scared of him. Though I was very mischievous and naughty, he never scolded or abused me. Others would wonder why he never said anything to me (laughs). Ritwik da never visited anyone’s home, but after I became somebody in Mumbai, he used to visit my home quite often to bless me. The reasons why he loved me could be many — my talent, personality, behaviour, culture, upbringing and also my fondness for Bengalis.
And the association continues to this day…
Yes. I always tell people, apart from Bengali girls, the language, dressing style, food, ilish cooked in Bengali style, sweet dish, everything is appreciable of this place. I have been coming here since my early days and done many films here. I had a great friend here, late Shamit Bhanja. I did Mastan with Shakti Samanta, Antarjali Jatra by Gautam Ghosh. I can proudly say that out of around some 250 films I have done in my life, one film which was a learning experience for me was Antarjali Jatra. After FTII, this film was another FTII for me, where I surrendered myself totally to the director. Now, Gautam is a family friend. Two heroines I admire are from Bengal are the great Suchitra Sen and Madhabi Mukherjee. I’m happy to have met Madhabi Mukherjee at one of the film festivals. I’m fortunate to have worked with the great comedian Rabi Ghosh, who was a master of timing. So I’ve been very fond of Bengal, it has been my weakness. Whatever Bengali I speak is because of my love for Bengal.
How old were you when you first came to Asansol and to Calcutta?
I must have been 17-18 years old. That time my only asset was my confidence, which made Subhash Ghai say ‘confidence thy name is Shatrughan Sinha’. At only 55kg and for a 6ft 2 inch man I was really thin. I had a great desire to work with Manik da (Satyajit Ray). He is an institution. After meeting his son, Sandip, I told him so. Manik da was a towing personality, next to none in world cinema. I also wanted to take part in jatra desperately but was dissuaded by the people. They said there would be logistics problems for the organizers. After me, Sonakshi’s best film, Lootera was shot here in Bengal.
You also inaugurated quite a few Pujas last year.
I love the Durga Puja time in Bengal. I tell people if you want to see people’s love for their festival, their dedication, their enthusiasm, then come to Bengal during this time. After becoming an MP from Bengal, I have not been able to go back to Mumbai during the Durga Puja time. Last year, after Mamata, I probably inaugurated the maximum number of Pujas. I also visited Pujas with Serampur MP Kalyan Banerjee in his area. This time too people are calling me for Puja openings. But I have told them that I will not do more than two each day. The excitement of the people to come and meet me takes a toll on me. I almost fell down while inaugurating a Puja, last year. At Asansol, I was present on every festival this year.
You are also a connoisseur of fish delicacies…
I’m very fond of ilish (hilsa) and a lot of people know about this weakness of mine by now. They prepare the fish in the most authentic way (the Bengali way) and send it to me. I like the preparation with green chilli and the one with mustard mix. Mithun (Chakraborty) is a big dog lover. Earlier, when I used to have four dogs, he had close to some 18. Hrishi da (Hrishikesh Mukherje), the great actor’s director Dulal Guha, Maushami Chatterjee, Rakhi Gulzar, they introduced me to eating sea fish and developing a taste for it. They would take me to places like Khar in Mumbai, where good fish preparations were available. There we also found Regu, Katla, Bowal etc. I like fish cooked in mustard oil, Bengal and Bihar have similar eating habits.
When was the first time you met chief minister and Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee?
That was ages back. I remember, once I had come to Calcutta for campaigning for a candidate from my earlier party. I had just started my journey from the airport when on my way I saw Mamata holding a street meeting. She must be with the youth Congress then. I got down from the car as I have real admiration for her. She is the real fighter and I call her ‘tried, tested and successful lady’. I walked up to her to wish her. She was very happy to see me there. I even went up the dais and spoke in her favour, even though I was in town to speak against the Congress (laughs). I’m sure she must have forgotten this encounter. Mamata was the person who first took me to a Kali temple in Bengal, when I was Union health minister.
So, you knew her from before…
Yes, I always believed in supporting good leaders, irrespective of their political colour. We meet once in Delhi, where I attending a public meeting for CM Arvind Kejriwal. There Mamata didi was also present and we had good interaction. Later, while I was with the BJP and was speaking a lot against the party’s policies, she sent me lot of offers through Kalyan Banerjee to join Trinamul Congress. I feel so proud and happy that I came here… the land of Tagore, Netaji and so many other great people.… better late than never.