The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tabu to play Bengali girl

Calcutta, Sept. 6: The lure of Bengali cinema is alive and kicking, thank you. This time it’s Chandni Bar girl Tabu who has stretched her undulating arm towards Goutam Ghose who is making Abar Aranye, a take on Satyajit Ray’s classic, Aranyer Din Ratri.

The shooting of Ghose’s film will be in two schedules, the first from September 15 to 28, at the Metalee Tea Estate and the Chalsa area in North Bengal. The second lot is from October 20 in Calcutta for about five days, followed by two weeks again in North Bengal. Sunil Gangopadhyay, on whose writing the Ray film was based, is also the co-scriptwriter here along with Ghose himself. The film will be completed by mid-November and be ready for a February release.

Rainbow Productions earlier produced Raja Sen’s Desh, Goutam Ghose’s Dekha and Ashoke Vishwanathan’s Kichhu Sanglap Kichhu Prolap, the latter two winning National Awards. T. Sarkar has been associated with them since 1996 and has separately produced Pinaki Chowdhury’s Cancer last year. They now join hands as Rainbow T. Sarkar Combine to produce Abar Aranye.

The projected budget will be Rs 60 lakh, but how much Tabu was being paid was “a trade secret”. Ramesh Gandhi of Rainbow finally relented to say: “Tabu was keen to do the role and she was kind enough to say that the honorarium was no hindrance. So we have not even discussed that issue.”

Sumita Bhattacharya of T. Sarkar agreed that apart from getting “a dedicated actress” for free (in practical terms), getting a star from Mumbai was “definitely good for the box-office”. Goutam Ghose, who directed Shatrughan Sinha (Antarjali Jatra) and Shabana Azmi-Naseeruddin (Paar) before, however, said they had all been brought in “to play a role they suited as actors, not stars”.

Ghose explained that the original Ray film in 1969 had five friends played by Sharmila Tagore, Soumitra Chatterjee, Subhendu Chatterjee, Samit Bhanja and Robi Ghose, visiting a forest. This film has the same friends, with their respective families, going back to the same forest. “Robi is, of course, no more with us, but his presence as a ‘missed’ character will be there,” said Ghose.

In the 33 years since their first foray into the forest, they have all established themselves in society. Soumitra is now the chairman of a tea company and his and Sharmila’s daughter is Tabu, a modernday girl studying in the US, who comes down for this journey into the forest.

Subhendu is now a reputed writer, with Bangladesh artiste Champa (who played a lead role in Ghose’s earlier film, Padma Nadir Majhi) as his wife, a son played by real-life son Saswata, and daughter-in-law Bidipta Chakraborty. Samit the sportsman is now married to a much younger Rupa Ganguly, who used to be his disciple; they have no issue.

“The two generations revisiting the same forest is an experience,” said Ghose. “So much has changed in the 33 years. Even the forest itself. The whole journey is a metaphor of change.”

Tabu plays Amrita, “a sensitive girl, well educated, and the journey also becomes a search for her own roots. ” She had sent out feelers through a common friend, Rahul Barua, the managing trustee of an NGO in New Delhi. She was keen to do a Bengali film and Abar Aranye makers did not want to look a gift horse in the mouth. Till then, Manisha Koirala — also known to Barua — was being contemplated by the producers, apart from Rani Mukherjee.

Ghose admitted to only Manisha being considered, but Ramesh Gandhi finally confessed that Rani had been considered, but they felt that Tabu was a good actress, keen on it and suited the character. “With someone so eager to do the role, naturally we could expect maximum results, and when Tabu had taken the initiative, we didn’t talk to anyone else.”

Admitting that a Bengali-speaking actress would have been more convenient, Gandhi said that they all felt that Tabu would physically look more like Sharmila and Soumitra’s daughter than Rani. Also, the character of “a very young girl, coming from abroad, dynamic, fast-moving, and able to do a modern dance sequence, too, was more suited to Tabu”. That all the attributes, in fact, described Rani better did not occur to Gandhi.

As for the Bengali bit, Tabu’s own voice will be retained (as with Suchitra Sen’s Hindi in Gulzar’s Aandhi, hopefully with less disastrous results). “She plays a foreign-returned modern character, so that will ease things a bit,” explained Gandhi. It may be recalled that Rainbow’s last film, the Raja Sen directed Desh, had Abhishek Bachchan doing a similar character though a minuscule role, with Abhishek retaining his own voice and accent.

Gandhi revealed that Tabu was earnestly practising the accent “by watching Bengali TV programmes whenever she found time in Mumbai or Hyderabad”. Sumita Bhattacharya added that Tabu had been sent the script as well as an audio cassette with Goutam Ghose’s recorded version of the Bengali dialogue to study.

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