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Racing to the top

He’s the new poster-boy of the Bengali film world. Parambrata Chattopadhyay has vaulted into the limelight nationally as the rookie cop in the highly praised Kahaani. His recent Bengali release Bhooter Bhobishyot is still running to packed houses and he has a string of movies about to release in the coming months.

The success of Kahaani has propelled Parambrata into a new league. Ever since the film’s thumping success he’s been inundated with thousands of phone calls and congratulatory messages from all over the country. But he refuses to be moved by the torrent of praise and is weighing his next move with utmost care. He says: “Right now, I am in no hurry to sign Hindi films. I do see a lot of interest in Bollywood and I’m reading a few scripts that have been sent to me. I still need some time to sort things out.”

At a time when Bengali cinema’s getting adventurous and trying out newer subjects, Parambrata likes to see himself as a front- runner of the newly evolved Tollywood. But even more crucially he’s very different from most movie actors — in fact, you might say that acting was his fallback career choice.

“I consider myself a filmmaker rather than just an actor,” he says emphatically.

Consider this: How many movie actors take a year’s sabbatical to learn about global cinema? Parambrata took a year off and went to study film and television production at Bristol University in the UK. “Since I have made my passion for cinema my profession I took a year’s sabbatical to learn more about world cinema,” says Parambrata who first appeared on screen at the age of 19.

In fact, Parambrata returned just in time for the Kahaani shoot after finishing his course. And he was travelling in Europe when he received a call offering him the role in Kahaani. Says the movie’s director Sujoy Ghosh: “I briefed him about his role over the phone. Taking him for this role has been the biggest blind gamble I’ve ever played and he did full justice to his character.”

Bhooter Bhobishyot (top), Parambrata’s Bengali release soon after his Bollywood debut with Vidya Balan in Kahaani (above), is still running to packed houses.
Pic: Aranya Sen

But Parambrata also moved quickly to fulfil his behind-the-scenes ambitions of becoming a director after coming back from Bristol. His first film Jiyo Kaka was released early this year. “I’ve been itching to direct a film for a long time and as soon as I came back I started work on it,” he says.

Parambrata feels that his film course has made him more confident about choosing subjects. “I am more focused now. It has helped me understand the nuances of filmmaking better,” he says.

It’s important to remember that Parambrata comes from a very different background from most movie actors. He’s the grandson of legendary director Ritwik Ghatak and his parents were also in movie industry related jobs. His mother Sunetra Ghatak Chattopadhyay was a noted film critic and head librarian of Chitrabani, a film library in Calcutta and his father Satinath was a journalist and cultural editor of a Bengali daily. “Films and music were part of our daily discussions at home. By the time I reached Class VIII, I was sure that cinema would be my calling,” says Parambrata.

Perhaps that’s why it’s easy to believe him when he says he’s not seeking stardom. Instead, he insists that he’s determined to be known as an actor who can make his mark by doing convincing roles. “I have never believed that cinema is just for entertainment. Of course we all want our films to sell, but at the end of the day I want to make realistic cinema. And as a student of cinema, I want to be seen as a performer rather than as a star.”

Ask him what it is about him that appeals to audiences and he says: “I like to bring a certain amount of honesty and intellect to the table. And this comes across in the roles I choose to play onscreen.” As for selecting his scripts, he makes sure that content is king. “Many people believe that I am a snob when it comes to choosing scripts,” he adds.

Even apart from Kahaani, he’s been having a great run in Tollywood in recent times. Bhooter Bhobishyot directed by Anik Dutta is still running to packed houses. In it Parambrata plays a filmmaker who makes the acquaintance of a bunch of ghosts who are on the verge of losing their ‘haunt’ — an old zamindari mansion — to a greedy promoter, and who want him to help them voice their concern over urbanisation displacing tradition and heritage.

The coming months should also be good ones for the actor. He has several movies about to release, and others for which shooting is underway.

The actor with Raima Sen in a moment from Maach, Mishti ‘N’ More.
Pic: Sanjoy Chattopadhyay

His most recent release — just over a week ago — is Teen Yaari Katha, an adult comedy directed by filmmaker duo Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha. Then there’s the eagerly awaited Hemlock Society directed by Srijit Mukherji. This movie, which is releasing in June, is a black comedy inspired by the right-to-die US organisation of the same name. (Parambrata also starred in Mukherji’s 22shey Srabon, where he played a young crime branch cop determined to crack a murder mystery.)

Parambrata says shooting for Hemlock Society has been memorable as he has never played that kind of role before. The movie’s about a young man who runs a training workshop to give people the technical knowhow on committing suicide. Parambrata had to work overtime with the director to get under the skin of the character.

He’s equally at ease doing light movies. Take, for instance, his upcoming film Mach Mishti ‘N’ More, directed by Mainak Bhowmik. “It’s a tale of lives and loves of three young boys and I play one of the brothers,” he says.

He will also be romancing actress Paoli Dam in Basanta Utsav directed by Rhitabrata Bhattacharya. He says: “It’s a relationship-based film with five stories woven into one. The backdrop is Holi celebrations in Santiniketan and all the narratives deal with desire, quest for love and meaning of life.”

So what is it about this young actor that has the fans craving for more? His best friend and actor Rudranil Ghosh says: “The biggest quality that works in his favour is his intelligent look which gels with the character he plays in every film. Also, he puts the director in a comfort zone as he’s a director himself. A director has to do less homework with him.” Ghosh and Parambrata started their film production company, Workshop, last year.

Parambrata also reckons he’s lucky to be part of the change that has come to the Bengali film industry. “A lot of contemporary directors are willing to take risks in terms of content and experiment with various styles of filmmaking. Things are changing in Bengali cinema and I want people to remember me as part of that change.”

Srijit Mukherji’s hit 22shey Srabon saw Parambrata share screen space with Tollywood star Prosenjit Chatterjee

Perhaps it was not surprising that Parambrata made an early foray into both television and the movie industry. He appeared first in director Anjan Dutt’s television series Half Chocolate. In 2002, when he was 19 years old, he made his film debut in Hemanter Pakhi directed by Urmi Chakraborty. He followed it up with his second film Bhalo Theko, directed by Gautam Halder — coincidentally opposite Vidya Balan who was also making her cinematic debut.

After that the offers came flooding in even though he was still studying English Literature at Jadavpur University. But the biggest milestone happened when Sandip Ray signed him on as Topshe (detective Feluda’s assistant) for the three Feluda films Bombaiyer Bombete, Kailashe Kelenkari and Tintorettor Jishu. “Playing Topshe has been the best thing in my career and a learning experience. But after doing three in a row, I was itching to do something different,” he says. He then proceeded to act in a slew of other films like Anjan Dutt’s The Bong Connection and Chalo Let’s Go and Gautam Ghose’s Kaalbela.

During the course of his 10-year career, there have been movies that he found tough. One such film was The Bong Connection. “There was a lot of hype surrounding it considering it was the first crossover Bengali film. I’d just started out as an actor then and I was terribly scared of Anjanda on the sets. The film was shot in Houston and it was difficult to adjust in a completely new environment,” he says. In the film, he’s a middle-class Bengali boy who emigrates to the US.

Another tough role was playing a village boy in Shekhar Das’s Kaaler Rakhal. “Getting into the shoe of a typical village boy from the interiors of Bengal was challenging considering I am an out-and-out city boy,” he says.

But he’s not losing sight of the future. He has a full plate of roles on offer. But he’s also taking time out to finalise the script for his next movie which he’ll be directing. He adds, “I am planning to direct a thriller next and am in the process of locking the script.” Besides directing his next film, he is also spreading his wings as a producer with Rudranil. “Initially, we are concentrating on being line producers and creative producers. But we will slowly get into full time production in the coming months,” he says. (Line producers are usually in charge of the business aspects of bringing out a movie.)

Currently, they are line producing a film made by director duo Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha which will release in June. The next one coming up is a contemporary love story by Partho Sen called Balukabela.com that will release in July.

Even though he has had a successful career, he reckons he still has a long way to go. “Nobody can predict the hits and misses in this fickle world of movie-making. But I want my audiences to remember me as a passionate actor who likes to contribute creatively.”

Parambrata made his debut as a director with Jiyo Kaka, which also starred Rituparna Sengupta