Picture by Agniva Chakraborty
What has occasioned this drastic, almost unrecognisable, change in your look?
I am trying to get into the character that I will play in Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona. An ageing singer-songwriter at the peak of his career, whos a lot like a rockstar. I have pierced my ears, coloured my hair and am gymming for a toned, lean look. I purposely chose this westernised look because I feel people are bored with my look. Rinadi (Aparna Sen) had created a look for me with Yugant many years back (1995), of a careless urban intellectual, and that has carried on till now. With this film, I want to break out of that mould and enter this character.
What is Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona all about? How much of it is your story?
It is a musical about finding your dreams, reaching the stars and relationships. We have seen films like this in sports. For instance, The Karate Kid, Million Dollar Baby, Koni. But weve never had one on music. Back home, you can say, Gurudakshina is close to my story.... It is a film on my music and the music of my contemporaries. My character, Abani Sen, is a little bit of me and a bit of some people from my music fraternity. So to a certain extent, it is autobiographical. Like me, Abani Sen has heavy western influences but hails from a bonedi Bangali family.
The film is actually a celebration of the music of the 1980s and 90s, when some people changed the music scene in Bengal... you know, people like Dilip Balakrishnan, Gautam Chattopadhyay, bands like Shiva, Park Street music, and then Suman, Anjan, Nachiketa... We will have four old songs of mine and Suman — Tomake chai, Gaanwala, Ranjana, Ami brishti dekhechhi — and a lot of new songs are being composed by (son) Neel.
Picture by Agniva Chakraborty
You have cast a long list of musicians to play themselves in the film. Why?
Because I couldnt have cheated it. Abani Sen has a band and I have got Nondon Bagchi, Amyt Datta and Lew Hilt to play its members, all of whom are musicians and my long-time friends. I couldnt have done this film without them because I needed people who know how to play music.... We also have Kabir Suman playing himself. Suman has been my mentor in music... he is the reason for me to sing and I wanted to bring that into the movie. That is the kind of relationship our characters have in the film too.... With Ranjana, I thought of reaching out to a large audience by combining my music and cinema.
Where does Parno Mittra figure?
Parno plays Ranjana, an aspiring singer-songwriter who wants to make it big. She later becomes a part of this band. I have worked with Parno before and felt she would fit this role of a girl rockstar.... I have always wondered why we never had a woman rockstar in Bengal. Weve had Moushumi Bhowmick, Lopamudra and Nipobithi as singer-songwriters but none of them became a star.
Who are the non-musician actors?
Ushasie plays a STAR Ananda journalist who wants to make a documentary on Abani Sen. Kanchan Mullick plays the part of my assistant, whose name is Elvis and who also sports a sideburn like Elviss! Abir (Chatterjee) plays the cameo of a certain Mr Bakshi.
Why did you want to make a film like Ranjana...?
I have always wanted to make a musical. I have made quite a few youth-centric, yuppie films and probably because I am getting older, I wanted to move away and make something more mature. Post-Uttam Kumar, there have been very few films with elderly people in the lead in Bengali cinema. In recent times, I can only think of Shukno Lanka and Rinadi has made Iti Mrinalini where she plays the lead. I wanted to act and I wasnt getting central roles.
Do you feel you are a better actor than a director?
I think I am a better director than an actor. Mrinalda (Sen) has always appreciated the director in me more than the actor but Rinadi values me more as an actor. She is the only director who took me seriously as an actor. She would always insist, Tui acting-ta kor.
I vibe with directors. I have always wanted to be a director. The director is the boss on the sets and I always wanted to be that, to have that power. But I should have paid more attention to my acting abilities. You know what happened after Bada Din... I was crestfallen. It took me 10 years to make another film. But I was bent on correcting the mistakes I had made in Bada Din and make another film on the Anglo-Indian community... Bow Barracks Forever happened. I did my music seriously; I practised as I started late. But as an actor I do feel I should have done more films.
Why didnt you do more films?
Because no one offered me central roles and I didnt want to do the bit roles that were coming my way. I thought those were denying the actor in me. The small roles that I did was because the films themselves were so important. (Aparna Sens) Mr & Mrs Iyer was an important film, (Goutam Ghoses) Dekha was an important film. Many films that I have acted in have been flops but that never bothered me. If the script wasnt great I didnt want to act in that film. I have done only about a dozen films in my 28-year-long acting career. I have been extremely choosy as an actor. I have refused a lot of roles.
Which roles have you refused?
I didnt do Kaushik Gangulys Waris (Sabyasachi Chakraborty did it) because I didnt like the script. I also refused (Subrata Sens) Ek Je Achhe Konya but I dont regret not doing these films.... I was offered Kanwaljits role in Aparna Sens 15 Park Avenue and though Shabana (Azmi) insisted a lot that I do the film I didnt do it and I dont regret it. But I regret not being able to do Rituparnos (Ghosh) Shob Charitra Kalponik and Khela. I was supposed to play Prosenjits part in both films. The poets part in Shob Charitra Kalponik was fantastic… Rituparno was supposed to make it about 10 years ago. In the recent past, I regret not doing Iti Mrinalini. I was in the middle of the post-production for Bomkesh Bakshi and the shoot of Haate Roilo Pistol when Rinadi asked me to play Siddhartha (which went to Rajat Kapoor later) in Iti Mrinalini. She waited for me but I couldnt match my dates.
Mrinal Sen prefers you the director, but you have been a favourite actor of his...
I am in love with Mrinal Sen. I wouldnt have got into cinema if he hadnt cast me in Chalchitra (1981). I was in university then, barely 22 or 24 years old. I have learnt filmmaking from him.... Mrinalda has always cast me in reaction-oriented roles… you know where my character reacts to the situations in the film. Mrinalda gave me total freedom, whatever I wanted to do. And I went to the Berlin Film Festival because of Mrinalda (for Kharij). Later, I became more of a creative collaborator with Mrinalda — writing stories for his films, not acting.
The dozen films you did also gave you the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Roland Joffe and Patrick Swayze...
In City of Joy... yes, I am very fortunate to have worked with a director like Roland Joffe and the films cinematographer Peter Biziou. You know back then, Patrick Swayze was more of the Dirty Dancing star for me. Later, of course, I realised what a tremendous actor he was. A similar thing happened with Nicholas Klotzs The Bengali Night (La Nuit Bengali), where I had a young Hugh Grant as co-star. I had a long scene with Hugh Grant towards the end of the film where he kept hitting me again and again! He was playing Mircea Eliade and I was Maitreyi Devis brother. But I wasnt aware of who Hugh Grant was, he was new to me. Little did I know that he would be the Hugh Grant! And I was very much in awe of John Hurt.
Which director have you enjoyed working with the most?
Aparna Sen. I like being directed by her because she demands a lot from her actors. A lot of time and energy. Many others dont demand so much and I believe the best doesnt come out of the actor as a result. She will make you do so many workshops that you feel tired at the end of it but then you perform.... My association with her began with Yugant. I had gone to her house just to hear the script of Yugant and I was very upset that I wouldnt be acting in it! It was then called What the Sea Said and was supposed to be made in English with Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi in the lead roles. Well, it is one of the best roles I got.
So, is Ranjana a comeback vechicle of sorts for Anjan the actor?
You know I have not acted in a long time. My last major film was Yugant and my desire to act again returned when I saw Ritu (Rituparno Ghosh) doing Aarekti Premer Galpo... The level of his involvement, the way he changed his look to get into the character really inspired me. I am 56 now and I have reached a situation where I am okay with my music and direction. I am not struggling anymore. I have achieved and I have nothing to prove.
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