Pictures by Anindya Shankar Ray; Parno’s jewellery and dress: Pranay Baidya
We met the Dutta Vs Dutta director and his three main women at Top View, on Lee Road, this Diwali afternoon. Anjan Dutt, who loves his adda, set the tone for a freewheeling chat on inhibitions, rumours and the challenges of being an actress.
Anjan: Roopa, when you first got into the movies, how did your family react?
Roopa: I came in around 1986 and it was not so much of a problem with Ma, but even a small article in a newspaper would lead to chaos and confusion. Ours was a family of engineers and doctors, so no one would really say much but internally they did have a problem. And that is still there...
Anjan: What if you made it to the cover page or the gossip columns?
Roopa: Orrey sarbonash! I would have to hide it all the time — any newspaper or magazine clippings. I wouldn’t let magazines enter the house.
Anjan: But you were always independent. You would drive, go for rallies, smoke…. Did you see yourself as a rebel during those times?
Roopa: There are two sides to it. I think it’s good to be a rebel to a certain extent but at the same time, if everyone in the family wants to go his or her way, there’s no peace.
Parno: I dropped out of college and started working. It wasn’t about being rebellious. It was more about being determined and confident about what you want to do.
Anjan: Arpita, how were things when you decided to become an actress?
Arpita: My parents wanted me to be a singer. Neither did I have any plans of becoming an actress. Ishkaboner Bibi was the first television serial I did. My parents did not really have much inhibitions, but my father was also not very excited about me joining cinema… he wanted me to continue with my studies and my singing. My mother wished I did something in the performing arts. All of a sudden things changed after I won Sananda Tilottama.
Anjan: So they never had a problem with you modelling?
Arpita: Not really.... They weren’t rigid but neither was it a very desirable thing for my father. My mother was always with me.
Anjan: And when you got married to Prosenjit?
Arpita: Orrey sarbonash! How do I tell you in one line…. I left my house, Anjanda. I stayed away for a year and then I got married to him.
Anjan: They didn’t attend your wedding?!
Arpita: Absolutely na! And even now he (Prosenjit) doesn’t enjoy 100 per cent acceptance.
Anjan: Do you go to your house on special occasions?
Arpita: I haven’t visited my house for the last 10 years….
Anjan: I didn’t know this… it means that you did connect with your role in Dutta Vs Dutta, didn’t you? Especially if I look at my life, Cheena’s (Arpita’s character in the film) life…. What about you Parno? Did your family want you to be an actress or were they also like ‘meye bioscopey namchhe manei kharap hoye jabe (The girl is getting into films, she will go bad)’?
Parno: No, it was never like that. Aami toh khub kom boyeshei peke gechhilam (I was precocious), so I had decided that I wanted to be famous, to be honest, when I was eight! (Laughs) Baba and Ma were very supportive, surprisingly. When I started working, there were many who had run away from home to act in films. Many who were exploited because they were alone and didn’t have their parents’ support. I was in Bombay for a while and I used to see a lot of girls from Jalpaiguri, Siliguri and Jamshedpur who had landed there. I never had to do anything like that. I did my first Bengali serial in 2007 and my parents were in fact quite happy for me. They’re proud that I’m doing well. Anjan: So can we conclude that the Bengali middle-class mindset has changed?
Parno: A little bit maybe but I don’t really interact with my extended family. When I had started modelling, if I was coming home a bit late, neighbours would say ‘modelling korchhe maney nongra kaaj korchhe (she must be doing the dirty)’. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care about what people say…
Anjan: I don’t think any of us has ever cared about what others say. Or else we wouldn’t have been able to survive.... Do you think reality shows have made a difference?
Arpita: Yes, reality shows I think have played a major role. I had judged Dance Bangla Dance for a year and most of the participants came from the suburbs.
Anjan: In my times, movies were a no-no. I’m talking about the ’70s when Bengalis had opened up politically... socially, people were liberated. Going to Park Street, having girlfriends, moving around freely… no problem. I also drank at home. But cinema was not the right thing to do.
Arpita: Why I don’t know. I think because of uncertainty. For men it is uncertainty in their career and for women, the common theory is, to be in this profession you will be exploited. It’s a fixed notion.
Parno: I think when you’re in the glamour business, everything you do gets highlighted. It’s the women who get affected more than the men.
Anjan: Not really. When I kissed Roopa on screen or did a couple of films with Mamata (Shankar), rumours did go around and it wasn’t very easy for (wife) Chanda. Not that we were fighting at home but I could feel the sense of embarrassment with (son) Godot (Neel) growing up… a kind of tension that the western world has never had. Inspite of our liberated views, listening to so much of rock ’’ roll, there was still that tension, even if it was for two days. I don’t know how Bubul (Roopa’s husband) must have reacted to Roopa and my intimate scenes in Yugant, and I don’t think either he or Chanda would have been like, ‘wow, what a shot!’ But today I’m not very sure how Parno’s family would react when I’m jumping on her in Ranjana (Ami Ar Ashbona)… or she kisses Rono (Ronodeep Basu) in Dutta Vs Dutta. I don’t know how many see romance in cinema as work.
Parno: Na, pare na! Because I was in a relationship where he had a problem.
Anjan: Who, your boyfriend?
Anjan: But how old would he be?
Parno: Around 33 or 34! He did have an issue with it… ‘Why, why do you have to kiss him? Why couldn’t you say no?’ I was like, ‘It’s part of my job. Not that I am doing it for fun’. So yes, most people still do have this problem.
Arpita: I never had this problem... maybe because we (she and Prosenjit) both know the state of mind involved while doing such intimate scenes. It’s our bread and butter and we don’t believe in hypocrisy. My concern is my son. If his Baba kisses 10 women on screen he doesn’t have a problem, but he is very possessive about me! (Laughs) I sometimes take him to the sets. I keep telling him this is work.
Parno: Well, I do feel awkward in front of my folks if there are such scenes. I make sure I sit on one side of the hall and they are on the other side.
t2: Anjan, you cast Roopa, Arpita and Parno as members of your family. How did you see them fit in?
Anjan: I needed very good performers. Length-wise, Arpita’s role might be longer than Roopa’s or Parno’s but each is very important and well-etched. Also, I needed people who I could trust. I’ve worked with Roopa for many years and Parno recently but Arpita I hadn’t worked with. I had heard nice things about her… that she’s an easy person to work with. Because I was going to share a lot about me and my life, how much one would be able to understand and accept was a factor. Physical appearance was not so important, it was more the actress who I would be able to connect and find it easy to work with.
Arpita: And I still remember the first phone call from Anjanda. I couldn’t imagine a director talking to an actress in that manner. He was like, ‘I have a very, very small role for you. See if you want to take it up at all...’ I’ve usually seen the opposite, where directors exaggerate roles to get you on board!
Anjan: But Arpita’s character was quite complex. Not one with a very straightforward life. So I did have this slight tension about Arpita, whether she’d be able to handle it. After all, she’s also Prosenjit Chatterjee’s wife, has done mainstream cinema... how she would react to scenes, how much I would be able to tell her, how long she would sit inside the make-up room…. I wasn’t too familiar with that world but it turned out to be just the reverse. I found her to be very non-starry. I didn’t know she was such a powerful actress who could put on weight or lose weight for a film. I would love to work with her again and again. Oh, and I do have a sister, who is not called Cheena, but will come to watch the film. And my Jamaibabu, who was at one time an extremist, will also be there.
Parno: I lost five kilos for this movie…
Anjan: Everyone can lose weight. The question is, will you put on?
Parno: Yes, of course. The film I did last year, Ekla Akash, I did put on weight for that role.
Anjan: The thing is Bengali films pay so little that you can’t depend on just one film. So how can you take the risk of putting on weight if you want to take up other film offers?
t2: Roopa, your association with Anjan goes back to your Yugant days…
Roopa: I’ve worked on a number of short films for television under Anjan’s direction. I have always liked his writing but what I find most difficult is that he never shows much during the shoot. He just reads out your part and leaves it to you.
Anjan: For me, casting is the most important thing. After that I can’t do anything more because an actor has to know what to do.
Roopa: Yes, that’s true. But what I really like is the way he reads the script out. Even now, before giving a shot, I ask him to just read my lines once. His scansion of the lines gives you an idea of what he wants. He won’t tell you those small things you need to incorporate. Later, you have to gauge from the way he says ‘cut’ whether your shot was good or not!
Anjan: But I feel bad that I haven’t been able to give her a role yet which is beyond her. Something like what she did in Antarmahal. To break yourself down and do something very different. In my films, Roopa has sailed through the roles quite easily. Even in Yugant, we were really not in a position to do the roles assigned to us. We had to attend numerous workshops….
Roopa: Yes, those workshops really helped. As it is, I was a bit awestruck by Anjan Dutt.
Anjan: For one of the shots, Roopa even tried teaching me how to drive. In fact in one of the scenes where I am seen driving, it’s actually Roopa’s foot on the accelerator!
Parno: So did you finally learn how to drive?
Anjan: Yes, I drive...
Parno: But I’ve never seen you.
Anjan: That’s because no one in my family gets into the car if I drive!
Roopa: I remember the intimate scene in Yugant where Rinadi (Aparna Sen) was just not being able to convince Anjan to touch or roll up the sleeves of my blouse. He was standing there looking wooden, not moving, like someone was about to beat him up! So eventually to make him comfortable, I went up to him and said: ‘Anjan, amar tomakey khub bhalo lagey (I really like you)’.
Anjan: Yes, Rinadi was going mad shouting instructions! Touch your lips, pull out your tongue… Maney nana rokom cholchhey!
Roopa: And when I told Anjan ‘Amar tomakey khub bhalo lagey’, he even responded with a ‘Thank you!’ (Laughs out loud) My favourite scene was the one where I cried in the bathroom.
Anjan: And do you remember that your mother-in-law had come to watch the shoot that day and I had that scene where I had to slap you! I have a problem, I can’t act very false and I slapped her so hard that in a few minutes, her cheek was completely swollen. Rinadi screamed so much at me…. ‘Tor lajja kore na (Aren’t you ashamed)?!’
Roopa: But that actually worked in the scene.
t2: Arpita, you said Dutta Vs Dutta was your jackpot. Will this give a push to the second phase of your career?
Arpita: See, I never see things that way. For me what matters is the sincerity with which I justify my character. Working with Anjanda… words like beautiful and wonderful are not enough to describe. I’ve never been a very careeristic person. Like I’m very impressed with Parno who has been very focused from a young age. When I’m working on something, I put in 100 per cent but I’m not career-driven. So, for me, spending time with Anjanda, boudi (Chanda), their family... was a fortunate thing. I loved the wonderful bonding between them. I also got back to singing… so yes, this has been a very significant film in my life.
Anjan: You had stopped acting in between…
Arpita: Yes, for about six or seven years.
Anjan: Why? For the child? (Arpita nods) I respect that. It might sound chauvinistic but Chanda’s contribution in bringing up Neel is much more than mine. I think in our society, both parents cannot be equal during a child’s growing-up years. The mother is more important. When you’re an actress and you take a break for four or five years, people might never call you back but to be able to do that, I think, is very brave. Otherwise you can’t have a family in this profession.
Arpita: In my case, Dada (Prosenjit) was very clear from the first day that for him cinema was first priority. It wasn’t about career. Tomorrow if he decides not to act, he’d still be doing something to do with cinema. Parno: Tumi Bumbada ke Dada bolo?!
Parno: Dada keno bolo?!
Arpita: I don’t know… I couldn’t kick that habit. Everyone used to call him Bumbada. Ekhon Bumbada aar bolina but yes, Dada…
Parno: And no matter how liberated Bengalis are, when it comes to getting their son married to an actress, parents are like, ‘Na actress ke biye korish na!’ I’ve actually heard this. It’s very difficult to find a quintessential Bengali boy for a girl like me.
Arpita: That’s why I am saying, don’t think about marriage now.
Parno: But getting married is so much fun! I get to dress up…
Arpita: So you can dress up like a bride when you’re modelling.
Anjan: That’s why she wants to get married! Shaajbe boley… bhabtey parchho?!
t2: Parno, you got your big break with Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbona. How did you hold your own this time with so many experienced actors around?
Parno: I just had scenes with Rono and I don’t have to worry too much when Anjanda’s around. But this time he didn’t shout at me!
Anjan: Parno was doing things on her own. Apart from asking her to be a bit Anglicised, I didn’t have to tell her anything.
Parno: I tried to be more ladylike, the way women used to be in the ’70s. Rono was very sweet, very cute but so much younger than me! (Laughs)
Anjan: Yeah, it was important for her to look younger than Rono. I wasn’t very sure but both Chanda and Godot were confident that Parno would look the part.
Parno: Anjanda, even for Ranjana… Chanda aunty and Neel pushed for me. Why don’t you ever do that?
Anjan: I always tell other directors, but you don’t want to take up small roles...
Parno: It’s not about a small role. I don’t want to do something where I just have a few scenes making phone calls. It has to be exciting. Just being a sweet housewife or a girlfriend, sitting there dolled up with four dialogues doesn’t work for me. I can’t do macha (stage shows to interact with audiences, popular in the districts) or jatra either, so I’m like screwed from all ends.
Arpita: But why can’t you do macha?
Parno: Because you have to mouth dialogues and sing songs!
Arpita: Not necessarily. I’ve been doing macha for 10 years, I’ve never had to say dialogues. Neither did Dada.
t2: Was it fun dressing up to relive the ’70s?
Roopa: Yes, I have seen my jethimas and what going to the club in the evenings meant. Here I enjoyed dressing up for my role but every character in Dutta Vs Dutta was so interesting that I would have been happy doing any of them.
Arpita: I had to sport two different looks. One before marriage, which was extremely loud with eyes heavily done up and bouffant hair. The next change was a complete contrast to the first look. I really enjoyed it.
Parno: That was the trend in the ’70s. My mother was very stylish. She used to go to college wearing singlet kind of strappy blouses, big-dial watches, bouffant buns and chiffon saris. And my friends would say, ‘Oh, no wonder you’re like this… it comes from your mother’. I want to go back to that time because I love the way people would dress.
Arpita: She was looking ravishing! With her short hair and short dress, Parno reminded me of Marilyn Monroe…
Parno: Oh my god! (Blushes) At least this was one film for which I got to dress up. Short dresses, high heels, winged liners, loud mouth… Oh, I had a ball doing this movie!
Arpita: I remember one shot where Rono is singing and you walk up to him quietly, give him a kiss and walk away. How coolly a girl can kiss a guy, her attitude, her walk… that shot was brilliant!
Mohua Das of t2 steered the chat
Would you like your son to marry an actress? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org
Dutta Vs Dutta releases on Friday the 23rd