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Tolly on song in Singapore

DAY FOUR (September 9)

10am at Cathay Cineleisure. It’s the last day of screenings for Darpan 2012 and the enthusiasm of its patrons has not wavered one bit. This Sunday morning belongs to the ghosts from Anik Dutta’s Bhooter Bhobishyot. Kadalibala, looking pretty in a black and blue flowing dress, along with the film’s producer Joy B. Ganguly, is there to greet the stream of audiences trooping in to see the film that has turned out to be the biggest draw.

Yes, it is a packed house with organisers having to turn down requests for more and more tickets.

Srijit Mukherji introduces the film to the guests while Swastika ‘Kadalibala’ Mukherjee gushes, “I am so grateful to Bhooter Bhobishyot for the kind of love I’ve got as a ghost, more than all the human characters I’ve played till date!”

After a two-and-a-half-hour long ride around Chowdhury Palace with its bhoots, Bhooter Bhobishyot is the talking point for everyone — Singaporean Bongs, non-Bongs and the handful of Chinese — as a couple in an elevator whisper to each other, “Toh kuch bhoot achhe bhi hotey hain!"

(From right) Ananya Chatterjee with Darpan organiser Sreyashi Sen and Singaporean MP Foo Mee Har

GOING GLOBAL

12.30pm. A stickler for time, Prosenjit is the first to arrive, taking turns to sign autographs, pose for a click and even play host to guests at Darpan 2012, what he describes as “the first few steps at going global with Bengali films”.

Prosenjit and Churni on stage

The panel discussion that follows is about ‘My City My Film’ featuring Mir as moderator and Prosenjit, Srijit, Joy B. Ganguly, Churni Ganguly and Mirabelle Ang, a Singaporean film and documentary maker with special interest in social and political affairs.

Festival chair Mir steers the point, “Usually people come and shoot one song-and-dance sequence in Singapore and feel they’ve done a film in collaboration with Singapore but that is not what we’re aiming for. We aim to go further on this…”

Srijit agrees on the need to do something “more organic that is interwoven with the narrative of a film”. Joy turns the clock back to the time he produced The Bong Connection, “a pure collaboration” shot in Houston and Calcutta, and highlights socio-cultural activities of Bengalis on both sides of the world. Joy harps on the possibility of collaborative ventures with Singapore instead of flying all the way West. Responding to the viability of a film with creative ideas managed and truly owned by the people in Singapore and Bengal, Churni reminds us how “Bengali is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world”.

Prosenjit takes it all a step further: “During such festivals we come together and brainstorm but once it’s over we go back to our respective work and everything remains the same. My earnest request is to sit up, increase the marketing the way other regional industries are doing it...”

Kaushik Ganguly is the tambourine man

Mirabelle sums up: “I hope the conversation doesn’t end today and we keep staying in touch. Everyone is curious about new cities and films are an interesting way we learn all about it before we go there.”

Prosenjit, playing the good host, stays back to receive and accompany Singaporean member of parliament Foo Mee Har for a special closed-door screening of Kaushik Ganguly’s Laptop for grassroots leaders and members of the Ayer Rajah constituency while many rush to an adjacent hall screening Sandip Ray’s latest Feluda adventure Royal Bengal Rahasya, the last film screening at the festival.

We will rock you!

8pm. A musical riot is unfolding on the open grounds of the Migrant Workers Centre. Mir and his Bandage have been pumping it up with their brand of wit-laced songs and performances at a charity concert for the Bangladeshi migrant workers in Singapore, as part of Darpan 2012 celebrations.

Joy Sengupta digs in

A sudden interruption with a loud roar greets Prosenjit’s arrival, along with Parambrata Chattopadhyay, for a surprise visit as he strides towards the stage to hoots and whistles. “Do you love me?” he shouts and back they yell “Hyan!” with requests for “Bumbada, apnar dialogue!” But little do they know the treat in store for them. “Jaoar aagey ekta gaan geye jabo!” announces their favourite Bengali hero. And sing he does, wistfully rewinding to his trendsetting days of Amar Sangi with Chirodini tumi je amaar. Moving in step with the beats and singing in true tune from start to finish, Prosenjit is a superstar.

Swastika with her daughter Anwesha, Srijit Mukherji, Satrajit and Rai

Next up, Parambrata’s turn to display his musical side as the 22shey Srabon actor picks up the guitar, grabs the mike and jams on Ranjana ami ar ashbona after charmingly dedicating the song to “Singaporeans and Bengalis jara lukiye prem kore (with hush-hush love affairs).”

As Prosenjit is escorted out by a security cordon struggling to keep the crowd at bay, some excited fans splash water on their hero. “Today reminded me of my Purushottam days, when during one of my shows around Bengal, an excited fan came to plant a kiss on my face and in his state of excitement bit my cheek!” smiles Prosenjit, soaking in the fan frenzy.

From the likes of Nityananda, an oiling mechanic, for whom Prosenjit is a favourite “romantic hero”, and from construction worker Shahin Alam, for whom he is the “action superstar”. For both the Bangladeshi migrants living in Singapore for four years, it is their best reward after days of toil to watch and hear their “Raju Chacha” and “Moner Manush” up close and personal. “We don’t miss any of his films. There is a place called Tekka Market where we go every month and get our refill of Prosenjit films!”

The day ends with a Tolly team evening spent at Myra’s Beach Club, a fun little bistro that opens out to a stunning stretch of sand and surf.

Bangladeshi migrant workers catch a glimpse of their favourite stars

DAY FIVE (September 10)

It is a morning of strategic dialogues on the final morning of Darpan 2012 at a closed-door session with the 88-year-old Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry on Stanley Street. The voices from T-town include Prosenjit, who was also convener and key initiator of the first FICCI Frames regional chapter in Bengal Media and Entertainment Business Conclave last year. Then there’s Parambrata, Joy B. Ganguly, Joy Sengupta and Srijit, for whom it’s a “strong sense of déjà vu, almost like life coming full circle” — in an earlier avatar he was an econometrician who worked closely with the chamber of commerce and industry.

Mir belts it out for an enthusiastic audience

Highlighting the purpose of the round-table meeting that Mir describes as the “fulcrum of the festival”, Prakash Pillai, vice-president of the SICCI board, explains: “We want to have a broad-based understanding of the possibility of collaboration and co-production with the Bengali film industry and see if we can work together.”

Singapore’s bong connection

“Are Bengali movies profitable? Where is the largest concentration of Bengalis in India? What about their varying tastes?” Some of the questions that pop up while Mir points out two of his findings from the festival days that could be the kickstart to fresh thoughts. “People want a dedicated television channel where they can watch Bengali classics and contemporary releases. Secondly, they want the films releasing in Bengal to release on the same day in Singapore.”

While producer Joy B. Ganguly defines the average cost of a Bengali film to the board members and describes Singapore as a “big market with a fairly large Bengali-speaking audience that we want to start penetrating”, it is also the “time difference and distance” that could make shooting here a feasible option, feels Srijit.

SICCI suggests that they could start off with Bengali films releasing in “one dedicated hall” and gradually take it out because that is how the Hindi and Tamil films made their way to the plexes. They also want Singapore to be “Tollywood’s base for global expansion”.

Prosenjit with Bandage members on Arab Street

SICCI also assures the Tolly changemakers of support from the state-backed IDA that “gives a grant, which is usually 50 per cent of the production cost if a film is shot in Singapore and covers 30-40 per cent of costs incurred during the shoot in Singapore”.

The mood is one of optimism as Prosenjit signs off: “With our improved content, now is the right time that we want to take things forward fast and show that we can stand as strong as the Tamil and Telugu industries, in the next three years.”

An afternoon well spent over a fruitful discussion and a bespoke lunch of maachher jhol and bhaat for the Tolly crew.

Men of the moment

7pm, and the seventh floor of the 32-storeyed One Marina Boulevard, also called the NTUC Centre, is buzzing with guests and stars gathered for the closing night. Prosenjit — looking the quintessential Bangali babu in a white flowing kurta, hair neatly gelled back and serious specs in place — strolls in with Swastika’s daughter Anwesha in tow for his big night — a night when Singapore is going to honour the man for his contribution to Bengali cinema.

“Darpan is a unique celebration of Bengali cinema appealing to not only Bengalis but also those who love art and it goes with the tapestry of Singapore’s art and culture. It provides new insights into other worlds and helps build tolerance. Darpan should become a must-see event in Singapore’s annual cultural calendar,” smiled MP and guest of honour Foo Mee Har, looking beautiful in a black embroidered sari.

A collage of video clippings took the audience on a trip down Prosenjit’s movie highway, his drive to take Tollywood out of the regional territory and his avatar as the ambassador for charitable organisations. And then the moment arrived when Foo Mee Har along with Vanaja Thekkat, first secretary of the Indian High Commission in Singapore, handed over a trophy to Prosenjit and a handpainted antique batik shawl with trademark floral and peacock motifs, exclusively sourced from The Intan, Singapore’s first private home museum.

“I have no words to express how this appreciation has touched me. I remember the time when I was barely 16 and had entered the industry at a stage when the only buzz was that the Bengali film industry was dying. I was probably among the few who always believed that Bengali cinema cannot die and this honour and appreciation is a reward of that faith and conviction,” said Prosenjit.

(From left) Parambrata, Srijit, Prosenjit, Joy Sengupta, Joy B. Ganguly and Mir with SICCI members

“I usually stay away from felicitations but I’m so glad to be here today because I see this as a platform and a start for Bengali cinema going further and beyond to new places.”

And what a cracker of an evening it turned out to be as Mir and his merry men took the stage. From his Mirakkel hits like Awesome saala and Maduli to Sufi and Bengali hits, the men in black rocked Singapore.

The evening hit a crescendo when they were joined by Tolly’s hero number one. Starting with Oh nadi re, ekti kotha shudhai shudhu tomare to big shout-outs for an encore of his Amar Sangi act the previous evening, Prosenjit drew awe and admiration from the crowds as well as the Tolly brigade who joined him in singing Chirodini, the once-upon-a-time love anthem.

The music was hands-on with Parambrata riding the stage to drum up a beat on the cajon and Kaushik Ganguly playing the tambourine and a frenzied crowd dancing the night away in the aisles and even on stage.

The last and most happening night got even better as everyone’s favourite “Bumbada” turned a tad emotional and took the Darpan gang and his industry mates to the quaint old Arab Street for a treat of Mediterranean bites, adda and more live singalong moments on the cobbled pavement till late into the night.

Truly awesome, saala!

Mohua Das


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