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Tomorrow’s stars

It’s the start of the year and time to look into our crystal ball and divine the future. Calcutta’s entertainment scene is alive with a rich mix of opportunity and talent. We’ve looked at nine of the brightest and the best who are making a mark in theatre, music and the movie industry and who’ve caught the eye of the critics. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch of imagination and there are many others who are waiting in the wings to make the big time.

Of course, success in the long run depends on a crucial combination of perseverance and hard work and it’s impossible to predict who will burn out and who won’t.

But these youngsters are giving the city’s entertainment scene a new buzz.

Trina Nileena Banerjee
Actor / Director

People often expect Trina Nileena Banerjee to be older than she is. That’s because she has a resumé as long as her arm, which even

veterans would be happy to show off. But Banerjee is a 20-something theatre person and her work — as an actor as well as director — have made

audiences and critics sit up and take notice.

According to veteran director Bivas Chakraborty, what makes Trina stand out is “her command over both Bengali and English diction, powerful expression and internalisation of the character she portrays.”

Trina in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

The youngster’s work in plays like Mitrapuran (by Vijay Tendulkar, which she

directed) and Ntozake Shange’s Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide (where she played the lead),

directed by theatre critic and Jadavpur Univeristy professor Dr Ananda Lal, won her accolades. According to Lal, Trina’s directorial strength lies in her concern over women’s issues and her sensitive handling of them.

The youngster, who is writing her PhD thesis on women in Bengali group theatre, has made her presence felt on screen as well. Her first film, Nisshabd, won her the best actress award at the Osian film festival in Delhi in 2005. She has also been praised for her role in Chaturanga (directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay in 2008). Trina also directed and acted in several plays produced by her father, Salil Bandyopa-dhyay’s group, Theatron, like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie.

Damini Mukherjee
Actor

Academics was always an extra-curricular activity,” jokes this talented actor, who claims to have acting and singing in her blood. Just 25 years old, Damini Mukherjee has worked with the some of the biggest names in Bengali theatre, be it Bivas Chakraborty, Usha Ganguly or Soumitra Chatterjee.

These days, Mukherjee is rehearsing to play a psychiatrist who attempts to treat a young man, in Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play Equus. The play is being directed by award-winning director Vikram Iyengar and will be staged in April. Her current play, Debesh Chakraborty’s Surjo Pora Chai, has been running to packed houses in the city.

Damini in Surjo Pora Chai. Pix by Pronob Basu

“Damini has worked with a range of theatre directors. That helps her bring in clarity in terms of the text when she’s acting. She doesn’t need to be guided all the time. In fact, she also provides her own inputs,” says Iyengar.

“When she was part of my group, Rangakarmee, we noticed how she was totally free from mannerisms and at the same time, very intense. She’s ambitious and open to all kinds of theatre,” says Usha Ganguly.

Damini stepped into the limelight early, in her mother Bhadra Basu’s productions — Khirer Putul (by Abanindranath Tagore) and Kankabatir Golpo (by Troilokyanath). At 17, she acted in Ganguly’s Mukti. A fan of Anton Chekhov, Bernard Shaw and Ibsen, Mukherjee has also acted in several plays staged by her father Asit Basu, including a play by Utpal Dutt called Manusher Adhikare.

Dhruv Mookerji
Actor / Director

Plays, films, television, radio — there’s no pie Dhruv Mookerji’s hasn’t stuck his finger into. But it’s theatre that is the 27-year-old’s passion, his “comfort zone”.

What’s fascinating about Mookerji is that he’s happy to dash from the studios of Red FM (he hosts a comedy show on Sundays) to the theatre — he’s a founder member of the Theatrician group. In between all this, he has also acted in films like Mira Nair’s The Namesake, Anjan Dutt’s Chalo Let’s Go and is looking forward to Kaushik Ganguly’s Brake Fail, where he is also the assistant director, and Anjan Dutt’s Hindi film BBD.

Dhruv plays the prosecutor in The Bottled Spider

Mookerji has directed plays like Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party (in which he also acted), Tom Stoppard’s The Real

Inspector Hound and Terry Pratchett’s The Wyrd Sisters. Most recently, he acted in and directed a show of three comic plays — The Bottled Spider, The Marriage Proposal and The Philadelphia. Says theatre critic Dr Ananda Lal: “Comedy is Dhruv’s strength. Though it would be good to see him take up more challenging plays now.”

Mookerji says he’s willing to try almost anything. “It’s true that as a director I’ve stuck mostly to comedies. But I’m looking at a few good scripts for a horror play,” he says.

Neel Dutt
Composer

At 28, this youngster is definitely rocking to all the right tunes. With his compositions from Chalo Let’s Go (2008) and The Bong Connection (2007) still on people’s lips, Neel Dutt is geared for a slew of new releases in 2009 — BBD, directed by his father Anjan Dutt, Cross Connection by Sudeshna and Rana, Brake Fail by Kaushik Ganguly and Chowrasta: Crossroads of Love, also by Dutt.

Neel at work in the studio with his
father Anjan Dutt and Amyt Datta
(on the guitar)

And amid all this, the composer makes time for his five-member band Friends of Fusion, where he is on the nylon strings (classical guitar) and electric lead. The first Friends of Fusion album is slated for a nation-wide release in February. “We’ve treated Hindustani classical music with a populist spin. The instruments used are all Western and the ragas are treated as songs,” is all Neel will reveal now.

But what he’s really excited about is Anjan Dutt’s untitled film, a “rock musical” that revolves around a bunch of teenagers trying to form a band. “This is a dream project. I’ve drawn inspiration from my rock idols like Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler, used Sufi rock, and got musicians like Gyan Singh and Amyt Datta on the soundtrack,” Neel says ebulliently.

While classic rock, blues and jazz top his personal playlist, Neel is open to all musical genres in his compositions. Says Bangla rocker Rupam Islam: “Neel has broken the monotony of Bengali film music.”

Parthasarathi Desikan
Vocalist

Calcutta, Goa, Delhi, London, Paris — his voice is casting its spell around the world. And Indian classical vocalist Parthasarathi Desikan is naturally thrilled.

The Musée Guimet in Paris has invited the 33-year-old for a solo concert tour in February. In March, Desikan will regale audiences in the United Kingdom with his singing. Back home, more concerts across the country are on the anvil.

Parthasarathi, engrossed in a performance, at the Barrackpore Sangeet Sammelan

But that’s not all. With fingers firmly on the audience’s pulse, he’s currently working on a novel “fusion” project that involves composing and singing bhajans to Western music. “A good beat inspires audiences. That’s the reason why bhangra is so popular in the West,” says Desikan.

Says percussionist Bickram Ghosh, who had Parthasarathi sing for his fusion concert, Rhythmscape: “Desikan is one of those rare singers who can adapt to a variety of genres — be it classical, playback, new age fusion and even modern songs.”

The vocalist, who also plays the swaramandala (harp), has had a stint with films too, singing playback for Gramophone (a Malayalam film) and Shotabdir Golpo (Bengali).

Jivraj Singh
Drummer

Jivraj ‘Jiver’ Singh is making quite a buzz in the music circuit. Ask anyone about this young drummer and the feedback is unanimous — ‘brilliant’.

Having blown away audiences at live music hotspots in Calcutta and Bangalore, Jiver, who’s barely 21, also won rave reviews for his performances at the Eastwind Festival and At Home Festival in New Delhi and at the Blue Frog in Mumbai.

Jiver performs with his mother, Jayashree Singh, at Opus, Bangalore. Pix by Carlton Braganza

Son of vocalist Jayashree Singh and bassist Gyan Singh, Jiver is on the drums for Pink Noise — a hugely popular band on the live performance circuit.

“What’s special about Jiver is his musical thinking. It’s very advanced — the kind that usually develops through a lot of experience,” says Pink Noise’s guitarist Datta. “Even if it’s a cover, Jiver will devise a unique way to play it out,” he adds.

The youngster is currently studying to be a filmmaker.

But he gets his biggest kicks doing live gigs. “Live performance is the most important purpose of music and the most expressive outlet for musicians,” says Jiver.

When he can spare time from Pink Noise and devouring Stanley Kubrick and Werner Herzog films, the youngster works on Pitch Blende — “a project with some friends in college,” he says, which includes the sarod, guitar, bass and keyboards. What’s their kind of sound? “It’s a hybrid project and we don’t have any general references yet. Hopefully, I’ll be able to call it Pitch Blende mush,” he says.

Nitesh Sharma
Producer

Nitesh Sharma of Bangla Talkies dares to dream big — and out of the box. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Sharma’s production Padakkhep won two National Awards for Best Actor and Best Bengali Film in 2008.

For his upcoming venture, the Quashik Mukherjee-directed Bish, Sharma is gearing up for a simultaneous theatre and online release along with a Mumbai-based online movie rental service. The 33-year-old is also in talks with a UK-based production company for an English thriller.

Sharma receiving the National Award for Padakkhep from President Pratibha Patil

Sharma is gearing up for an unusual release for a string of digital films over the first half of 2009. Also on the anvil is the Nandana Sen-starrer Kaler Rakhal, co-produced by Bangla Talkies. Not content with all this, Sharma has plans to get into television. “I want to do subject-oriented films which aren’t hardcore commercial,” he says.

Sharma started production with serials and ad and corporate films in 1995. Then he joined G.P. Films and was the executive producer for the National Award-winning Dahan. In 2003, he moved to Mumbai where he started work for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black but chucked it all and returned to Calcutta. He turned down Bhansali’s offer to get back because he wanted to be his own boss. “I realised I have potential and started Bangla Talkies,” says Sharma, who plans to don the director’s cap in 2010.

“As a producer, he is supportive and completely transparent. He’s trying to do good films and a bit of luck will see him go a long way,” says director Rangan Chakravarty.

Joy Ganguly
Producer

Pix by Anindya Shankar Ray

When all the producers were putting their money on regular commercial fare, Joy Ganguly of Moxie Group thought differently. The business management graduate from the US invested in a “young” concept and produced The Bong Connection, which ushered in the New Age multiplex movie era in Tollywood.

The film earned over a crore and is still generating business. Moxie’s next venture Via Darjeeling was well-received by festival audiences.

A still from Ganguly’s production, Brake Fail

Now the 28-year-old is all set to release four movies — Kaushik Ganguly’s Brake Fail, Gaurab Pande’s Shukno Lanka, Birsa Dasgupta’s 033 and Anjan Dutt’s BBD. Moxie will be shooting Gautam Halder’s Mukti and Mainak Bhaumik’s Maach Mishti & More in March. Ganguly is in the process of creating a subsidiary company in the US, which will be responsible for sales and distribution of independent and regional Indian films.

After his studies in the US, Ganguly and his brother set up a BPO. It didn’t work. Meanwhile, he started organising events and did some short films. In late 2005, Moxie Entertainment (then Moxie India) was formed. “I wanted to part of the booming film and media industry,” he recalls.

Says director Anjan Dutt: “Joy’s passion, adventurous spirit and the courage to be different is what makes him stand out.”

Pijus Saha
Producer

Pijus Saha is one of those rare film producers who’s not afraid to give his creative streak full rein. He is, after all, a storywriter too. After the 2008 superhit Bajimat, which he wrote and produced, Saha is all set to shoot his next and yet untitled venture, written by him and directed by Sujit Guha. He’s also in talks with a Mumbai-based director for a bilingual movie, shooting for which starts in March. Saha also plans to do mega-serials. He plans to start shooting another film, Lorai, by March.

Saha wanted to become an actor as a kid. “I used to buy projection machines and film reels from the fairs and even sell tickets for a show,” he laughs. He finally got into films with the Swapan Saha directed

Mithun Chakraborty shakes a leg in Saha’s Tulkalam

Shotrur Muqabla, co-produced by Pijus. After co-producing a couple of other movies, Saha launched his own company, Prince Entertainment in 2003 because he wanted to “expand and do different kinds of projects”.

His first venture, the Prosenjit-starrer Gyarakal, was a huge hit and he hasn’t looked back since. Other hit movies like Raju Uncle (2005), Tulkalam (2007) and Bajimat followed turning Saha into one of the hottest producers of Tollywood.

For the 32-year-old, both creativity and the commercial aspect of films are important. He doesn’t believe in producing more than two movies a year. His dream? To bring back “the flavour of old Bengali films.”

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