Lets start by looking back at your journey with Agnishapath (2006)...
I came to Calcutta at least 20 times before I bagged Agnishapath. The big commercial directors of that time didnt even allow me to step inside their offices! I wont name a director who did at least four photo shoots with me and then rejected me. Later, his technicians told me, Arre toke nebe na, tui aar ashish na! Then Milan Bhowmik offered me Babumoshai, opposite Rachana Banerjee. But he latter SMSed saying the film had been shelved. I was devastated. Back in Bombay, everyone knew that I had bagged a film. It was such a loss of face. I went to Bombay, shut myself up in my room and cried. I was only 20 at that time.
So many directors here have insulted me. They would tell me, Go put on some weight. Bengali films need potato-faced heroes! Alu alu chehara baniye esho.... You are so tall, where will we get heroines for you? Get a girl of your height from Mumbai and then come as a package.... After a lot of struggle I got to do Prabir Nandis Agnishapath. The first show was at 12 noon and at 12.30 the film was declared a flop!
But your next film I Love You became a super hit...
Yes. I Love You had a silver-jubilee run. But forget about making me a star, I was out of work for one-and-a-half years after that! I left for Bombay and would call up Shrikantda (Mohta of Shree Venkatesh Films) every day. Finally, he called and said, Chole aye, boshi. He offered me Premer Kahini opposite Koel (Mallick).
After Premer Kahini, I went without work again for about six months, before Mon Maane Na happened. In between, I did Pant-e tali, the item number in Chirodini… Tumi Je Aamar. The song was offered to everyone before me — Mithunda (Chakraborty), Bumbada (Prosenjit), Jeetda.... At first I thought, why should I do a song that all the big stars have refused? (Laughs.) But when Monida (Mahendra Soni of Shree Venkatesh Films) called, I jumped on my bed and said, Yes, yes I will do it! I was told that I have three days of shoot and two days of rehearsal, which also meant I could stay for five more days in Calcutta.
You shared a room in a flat owned by Shree Venkatesh in Howrah, right?
Yes, I shared a room with Raviji (Kinnagi, director) for four years and all the technicians who would come down from Bombay. It was like one person would go and another would come. Meetings would be held there. Harada (Haranath Chakraborty) and Bumbada (Prosenjit) would drop by often. They would discuss films with other heroes and I would sit idle! I used to feel bad but then I thought maybe out of sight would mean out of mind so let me stay put.
Even while doing Mon Maane Na, my third film, I had no money. I still remember I had borrowed Rs 20,000 from my father before going to Dubai to shoot the song sequences of Mon Maane Na. I didnt have a car. After pack-up, I would take a cab from Dharamtala to Howrah. Or I would take the unit car, which would drop me after dropping everyone else. I have even walked down Howrah bridge to the nearest Metro station to reach Tollygunge on time.
But didnt all that change after Mon Maane Na?
Yes, a little. Raneda (Nishpal Singh of Surinder Films, which produced Mon Maane Na) gifted me a Honda City. After Mon Maane Na, my economic condition improved. I didnt have to call Baba for money anymore.
And you became a star...
Well, I wouldnt say that. But slowly, money and work started flowing in. I bagged three back-to-back films — Challenge, Poran Jai Joliya Re and Dujone. But I didnt enjoy the stardom or the money. I have seen a lot of bad times. I have washed utensils with my father (his father still runs a catering business in Mumbai) at film studios. Ekhon taka thakleo oi ichchhe-ta nei. (Now even if I have the money, I dont have the urge to spend.) I have minimum expenses. I dont buy clothes for myself because I have gone through very bad days from a very early age.
But with Challenge, Dev became a sensation!
I think one cant become a star with one film. You need a series of successful films. 2009 was my best year, with Challenge being a super hit, Poran Jai Joilya Re breaking all box-office records and Dujone doing very well.
What do you think worked in your favour?
Actually, a Dev film means a complete package. Dev equals good songs, new foreign locations, a sleek look and great cinematography. So, Dev came as a package. I was also lucky to get very good directors like Raj Chakraborty and Raviji, whos very important for me. I was the badmash number one. Raviji instilled a sense of discipline and punctuality in me. During my I Love You days, Raviji would give me a verbal thrashing every day. I used to feel very bad. Ami bhabtam, dara ekbar star hoye jai toke moja dekhabo (I would think let me become a star and Ill show you)! But today, I believe Dev is Dev because of Raviji. As a hero, you have to have various other qualities, so that people say, Bhai acting toh shobai kore! What extra can you do?! (Laughs out loud.)
You see, I am aware of my weaknesses. I know I dont speak Bangla well. I did a Bengali workshop with theatre actor Debranjan Nath. But then, to compensate for one flaw I am giving my audience a lot of other things!
Will you still be Dev without the package?
Well, I am aware of that. Thats why I did Dui Prithibi, where I played Shibu, a thief. I insisted that they dont give me a song. I didnt want to go to Italy for the song sequence because it didnt suit my character. The Pyarelal item number was okay because it went with my character.... But I think you have to reach a certain point in your career before you can start experimenting.
I believe that a person can change his image when he has an image. Aamir Khan was a chocolate-boy hero for a long time. He started experimenting since Dil Chahta Hai. If I hadnt done the five films before Dui Prithibi I wouldnt have been able to play Shibu. When Raj narrated the script of Dui Prithibi, I said no because I knew I was not capable of handling it.... I have tried to be different within the boundaries of my films. I have sported different looks, costumes. I know my limitations. See, our audiences too have their limitations. If I go bald today for a film, I doubt if the audience will be able to appreciate it.
You constantly talk about your limitations. Are you insecure as an actor?
Oh yes! I am very insecure. Every film is very crucial to me. One flop means I go back 10 films. Our films are made on a budget of about Rs 4 crore and if you cannot assure returns for your producers, you dont deserve to be a star. Then you are not a superstar. (Takes a long pause.)
Insecurity is my greatest weakness, my greatest limitation. I feel that even if one film flops, I will be finished and I will have to go back to Bombay as a failure, a loser. Before every film releases, I feel its going to be a super flop. But every film cannot be a hit. All good films dont work, theres no formula for a hit. And I want to be a hit machine! My films have to score 10 on 10. If its a nine on 10, it means there are several flaws. I cant even take that one per cent risk. Thats why till today whenever I am offered a film the first thing I ask is the budget of the film because if a film flops the worst hit is the star.... Look what Autograph did for Bumbada. His career took a completely different turn! He was superb in the film. Success-taake dhore rakhata is not easy.
Are you insecure because you could never imagine that youd come this far?
I never thought that I could afford a flat in South City. I bought this flat with the advance money that I took from Venkatesh for three films. I had a little bit of savings which I added to the advance. Every day I would go past South City and think if I ever bought a flat, it would be here.
While living in Howrah, I had to leave the flat in the morning and return only at night because if there was a meeting at Venkatesh even for an hour I had to stay back. I had no friends, so I would stay in the Venkatesh office most of the time... kharap- lagto, lokey eshe dekhe jeto boshe achhi (Id feel bad. People would come and see me just sitting there.)
So I decided to take up a rented flat. My budget was Rs 3,000-4,000. But the flats I liked were for 15,000 and when I had 15,000 in my pocket, the flats I liked were for 25,000! Then Poran Jai released and it became a hit and at a meeting in Venkateshs office, Raneda asked me where I would like to take up a flat. I said South City! Those who were in the room stopped smiling. Then one of their relatives vacated a flat on the 29th floor and I moved into my dream house!
From a twin-sharing room in Howrah to South City, it has been a huge leap for you...
Yes. At times it sinks in that I am successful. The day I went to watch KKR play Deccan Chargers at Eden and the crowd went berserk, I realised I was a success. About 30-40 per cent of the crowd still do not watch Bengali films. But now I am slowly penetrating the cosmo crowd and thats a great feeling. Which means I have to do even better. When you are successful everything about you is negative. Nobody likes you anymore. Even though I am not misusing my success. I never tell my directors dont cast him or her, or chop this scene. Also when you are successful, you cannot give excuses. If a film fails, I cant draw up a list of excuses; people always expect the best from me. Excuses are for unsuccessful people. If I fail there are others in line to take my seat.
Do you miss the simple pleasures of life, like shopping or taking a walk down the road?
No. Etai toh ami cheyechhilam. (This is what I had wanted.) Thats why I have chosen to be a hero! I knew stardom comes with a baggage. But I try to lead a very normal life. I still go to a friends place in Salt Lake and go for walks with him. I cant go and shop despite having money now. I cant wear a new T-shirt as often as you can but theres a bitter pleasure in that too. Arrey waah people know me, wherever I go they throng for my autograph! Ek kathaay Dev ke chene, at least in Bengal. When I did I Love You I would often ask myself, why dont people recognise me? Will I have a career here? (Takes a deep breath.) I know the names of so many heroes, will people know my name one day?
What are you doing about your flaws? Your Bangla is not too good yet...
I mug up my dialogues. I dont get time for workshops anymore. But I read and almost memorise the script and my dialogues.
I have never spoken Bangla at home. We speak Hindi. My father left his Midnapore village for Bombay when he very young to escape extreme poverty. Since then he has been living there. My sister Dipali and I were born and brought up in Bombay, and thats why speaking Bangla is a problem. My diction is not much of a problem in films, but it is in personal life. Thats why I have decided never to be an anchor! (Laughs.) The audience has accepted my flaws! See, I am 12-films-old and people who watch my films know my drawbacks very well. They say, okay, Dev will never change, so let us change for him! (Laughs.) Jokes apart, I try my level best to improve myself. I believe my songs... like Khokababu, Shedin, Bhojo Gourango and Mon maane na are responsible for my popularity.
So do you put more effort into song and dance than acting?
No. I know I am a good dancer and I work harder on my acting. Thats why I did films like Le Chakka and Dui Prithibi, after Challenge and Poran Jai. I could have continued doing another Challenge or a Poran Jai to be on the safe side. I could have easily done more action films. But I didnt play it safe. I chose films that are different from each other.
Dont you wish you could act in Rituparno Ghosh, Aparna Sen or Aniruddha Roy Chowdhurys films?
I have never interacted with Rinadi (Aparna Sen). I dont think she even knows me! Maybe they think I dont fit into the kind of work they do. When I did a cameo in Ekti Tarar Khonje, Tonyda (Aniruddha) told me that he would cast me in his next film, but he didnt. I hope he reads this interview! Rituda has spoken to me. I dont know when a film will happen.
Whats the secret of longevity in the film industry?
Be good to everyone, whether you like him or hate him. Ours is a short-term career. I know I will enjoy stardom for another 10 years maximum, then I am over and forgotten.
But Prosenjit has sustained his stardom for so long...
Bumbadas time was different. Besides, he commands immense love and respect from the technicians.
Any plans of settling down?
Yes, when I am 32! I cant yet afford all the luxuries for my wife. Once I am married, I have to spend time with my family and I cant afford it at this point. Besides, mentally I am not too keen on marriage right now. I want to do something for my parents. Thats more important.