He might have been living in a 700 sq ft flat when he did Chokher Bali in 2006, but Prosenjit has been the king of Tollywood for 25 years. Juggling meaningful and masala movies with elan, Bumba(da) — thats what you refer to him as if you belong to Tollywood — is an ageless wonder, coming back stronger every time one begins to write him off. With around 300 films in his kitty, he is currently involved in no less than 16 films ranging from Rituparno Ghosh to Swapan Saha, Sandip Ray to Sujit Guha, Buddhadeb Dasgupta to Haranath Chakraborty.
This is my last phase as an actor and so I am working double shifts, he told t2 recently. His logic for going full tilt at 50 (or somewhere close to that — for if you belong to Tollywood you dont ask Bumbada his age) was simple: If I do fewer films it will cut down the money that my films generate for the industry. And directors are still keen on working with me.
And why not? He draws ceetees and taalis in the districts of Bengal and wins national awards in Delhi. Off-screen, he is the president of Artistes Forum, the principal troubleshooter when there is any serious trouble in Tollywood, the prime mover when it comes to a facelift for the industry. No problem is solved without him, no celebration is complete without him.
Sorry Mithunda, when it comes to Tollywood, Bumbada still rules.
Mahendra Soni & Srikant Mehta
The cousin brothers behind the hit factory of Tollywood, Shree Venkatesh Films, have produced big films and bought the rights of films stuck in disputes, launched new faces and backed a Swapan Saha and a Rituparno Ghosh film with equal gusto.
Having set out to make Tollywood more happening while keeping both mass and multiplex appeal in mind, brothers Mani (thats what Mahendra is known as) & Srikant have pumped money into movies as diverse as Minister Fatakesto and Chokher Bali (picture right). They are also credited with giving the likes of Jeet, Koel Mullick and Dev their first break.
Shree Venkatesh has also launched its sister concern V Digital to screen films digitally in as many as 100 theatres at a time — a popular practice in Bollywood, a first for Tollywood. It also has four music channels on TV: Sangeet Bangla, Music India, Music UK and Sangeet Bhojpuri.
The most talked-about and gossiped-about figure in Tollywood is not a hero or a heroine, but this filmmaker. Ever since Unishe April in 1994, Rituparno has been the axis around which a certain kind of cinema has revolved in town.
How powerful is he? Powerful enough to get Aishwarya Rai at her peak to play a Bengali widow and spend weeks in Calcutta. Powerful enough to get Amitabh Bachchan to do his first English film and spend weeks in Calcutta. Powerful enough to get Abhishek Bachchan to play a poor potter and spend weeks in Calcutta. Throw in the Ajay Devgans and Bipasha Basus for good measure and you marvel at what Rituparno has managed to pull off, sitting in south Calcutta. Described by veteran Basu Chatterjee as the best story-teller in the country, Ritu(da) gets what he wants. Thats power.
With Khela gaining popularity, The Last Lear releasing later this year and a couple of classics (Saheb Bibi Gulam and Noukadubi) and an epic (Draupadi) lined up, the Rituparno show goes on.
The only other actor (apart from Prosenjit) whose no to a project can shelve it forever. At 71, Rays favourite hero is the indispensable old man of Tollywood. Soumitra brings a rare commitment to all his characters — from inane dadu roles in forgettable films to the upright politician in MLA Fatakesto to the lonely old man in Podokkhep (that finally won him a National Award).
Powerful and charismatic, he is also the chairman of Artistes Forum, chairman of the Calcutta Film Festival, a friend of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Tollywoods most acceptable face at national or international forums.
Team Anjan Dutt
This is the Bong connection of Tollywood — Anjan Dutt directs it; Moxie Entertainments produces it and Arindam Sil plays the executive producer and acts in it. The Bong Connection (picture right), the highest Tolly grosser of 2007, followed by the critical acclaim for Bow Barracks Forever made this the team to watch out for.
Dutts Chalo Lets Go... (produced by Optima Films) went strong for about a month on city screens; the shooting for his Hindi venture BBD (starring Naseeruddin and Kay Kay)
and his English film Chowrasta: Crossroads of Love is done, and several more projects are being lined up.
Meanwhile, Moxie Entertainments and its sister concern Chivach Media are poised to merge under the label of Moxie Entertainments. They will bring us BBD, Mukti (with Tanissha and Tanuja), Bong Connection Part 2, two other Bengali films and three more Hindi films, one with Arshad Warsi and another with Irrfan Khan. That makes them the bravest producers in town juggling Tolly and Bolly.
If for nothing else, they make the list for daring to just do it.
She deserves a special mention.
Not because she is the queen of low-budget (often low-grade) commercial flicks. Not because she works with lesser-known heroes (often way below the mark in looks and ability). Not because she had won a National Award for Dahan ages ago. Not because she is the first star in Tollywood to present a film (Shiboprasad Mukherjees Ichchhe, god knows why). Not because she does a few Bollywood films (most of which disappear without a trace). Not because she has made two trips to the Zee Cine Awards (where she has hardly been noticed).
But because she has battled the odds and emerged the woman on top. Because she still is the biggest star (F) of Tollywood. Because she still is the most glamorous leading lady around. Because she still is the most wanted face when it comes to a reality show or a product push. Because there still is something about Rituparna Sengupta.
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