You are in such different time zones most of the time that it’s quite a task catching you for an interview.
Yes... I travel to various film festivals. Nowadays I am travelling for Moth Smoke, which I am directing soon. I went to London recently for it. We will be travelling to America for the casting and to look for people to do the music. The other kind of travel that I do is to schools and colleges to deliver lectures, whether it’s Oxford, Cambridge or St. Xavier’s College Bombay or Sikkim University. Then there’s my NGO (The Foundation) work, among other such projects, that takes me to Kashmir.... Then it is my corporate lectures for different firms in places like Hyderabad, Delhi and Calcutta. And, finally, shooting for films.... Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam (Tamil) has taken me to Chennai, Michigan and Bombay. Moth Smoke will take me to Patiala, Delhi, Bombay and Suman’s (Mukhopadhyay) next film Shesher Kabita will take me to Shillong, Oxford, Calcutta.... The only place I go for a holiday is my home in Kasauli in Himachal, where I am talking to you from.
So far in Tollywood, we’ve seen you only in Aparna Sen and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s films. What made you say yes to Kaushik Ganguly’s Laptop?
Well, the way Kaushik had pitched the film and the actors he had cast appealed to me. I knew about Ananya’s (Chatterjee) work, I knew about Kaushik’s work as an actor. I had worked with him in Antaheen, so it was, you know, the normal parameters — script, story, director, although I have never seen any of Kaushik’s movies as a director. Besides, I thought my character in Laptop (produced by Gautam Kundu and scheduled for an April 13 release) was interesting because of the tremendous amount of discovery he makes about himself. We see him at the beginning of the film in an emotional crisis and we see him stuck in it. But he decides to do something about it... he has an emotional resolution.
Could you identify with Indra, your character?
No, I mean if you see the film there’s nothing to identify with (laughs). I don’t have those problems. Thankfully! Indra is connected to Churni (Ganguly) and Saswata (Chatterjee), who play a couple in the film. My role is very complex and layered.
In Laptop each story has a shock value. What is it about the track you are a part of?
I don’t think the story is going to shock the audience but it certainly has an emotional drama. It definitely has a strong end. It’s the last of the four stories and actually if you ask me, I enjoyed the other three stories more than I enjoyed my story (laughs)!
Why is that?
Just as a viewer, you know. As a viewer I felt my story was the least important, the least gripping!
Which other role in Laptop would you have loved to play?
I would have loved to play Kaushik’s (he plays a visually challenged novelist). That’s a lovely role.
Bengali cinema is going through an exciting phase with several new directors entering the scene. Are you clued in?
I haven’t seen any of the films but I have heard very, very good things about everybody’s work. I am very aware that this is an exciting time for Bengali cinema.
Would you like to be a part of it?
If the story, director and script are good, then the same parameters that I go by hold. Look, I haven’t changed in 16 years, so it’s not going to happen tomorrow, you know.
Are you happy with the offers you get from Tollywood?
Yes, very happy. I think I get good offers partly because of the box-office track record of my films, which has been extremely good. And partly because, I think, people have been happy with the kind of films I have done. Whether it’s Mr and Mrs Iyer or The Japanese Wife or Antaheen, Anuranan… there has been a certain appreciation, both critical and commercial. Therefore the offers that I get are extremely well thought out and I keep choosing carefully. I see Bengali cinema being a part of my life till the day I die, really!
Will you ever do a masala film?
Of course not. I will never do it. I have never done it in Hindi or English, so why should I do it now? Maan Gaye Mughall-e-Azam was one film that I did but it had a great cast. It had Paresh (Rawal), Kay Kay (Menon), Pawan Malhotra. You can argue that Pyaar Ke Side/Effects and Jhankaar Beats were also pretty mainstream but it’s very different from the Bengali mainstream, so....
Is there a role that’s close to your heart?
No. I have really never thought of it that way. Once upon a time I wanted to play Hamlet but I am too old for it now!
Tell us about Moth Smoke, which you will direct soon.
It’s based on Mohsin Hamid’s novel. It has all the commercial elements of cinema. There’s betrayal, passion, lust, eroticism, tragedy, a son’s love for his mother. It’s part English, part Urdu. The script has been ready for nine years. We have had 18 drafts and we are on draft 19! Mahesh Bhupathi and Lara Dutta of Big Daddy Productions, along with Anurag Kashyap, are producing the film.
What took you so long to do the film?
I didn’t get money for six years! I am yet to finalise the cast. We start shooting from October 15. Besides, I am not a working director. Something has to excite me. I would have made Moth Smoke six years ago and then there would have been a gap of only five years between my first (Everybody Says I’m Fine) and my next film. But because I didn’t get the money, the gap is now 11 years! I am going to direct more and act as much as I do now.
Will you ever direct a Bengali film?
Whatever. As an actor if I am not language-specific, why should I be so when I am directing....
Are you doing Rangan Chakravarty’s Ami Charulata?
I liked the script and we are still talking about it.
Are you part of Aparna Sen’s next film, Goynar Baksho?
No. But I am putting a lot of pressure on her. Everyday I am sending her money! So we will see (laughs).
Any other film coming up for release?
Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam will release in the next two-three months. I am considering films from Bangladesh, Kenya, England and one from Bombay. Right now, the film from Bombay seems to have the edge!
And are you able to devote time to rugby?
I still play the occasional weekend game but I have been getting seriously fit for the last month or so and I am toying with the idea of playing a couple of very serious games this year. You see, I won’t be acting from July onwards, so I don’t have to bother about my face. I am hoping to play a couple of games in July-August.
Have you heard of Jungle Crows, a rugby team in Calcutta?
Yes, I have seen them play in Orissa. I haven’t interacted with them much. They were very talented when I saw them play.
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