When Aparna Sen finally returned to her for an important role in Goynar Baksho, her latest Bengali film that also stars daughter Konkona Sen, it was the third time that she was working with the immensely talented Moushumi Chatterjee.
The chatty Chatterjee who rarely does a film these days (she recently turned down Ayan Mukerji’s Ranbir Kapoor starrer Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, pertly telling him that there was nothing for her to do in the role of the nagging mother that he was offering her), is comfortably placed in Geetanjali, the building in a Mumbai suburb that father-in-law Hemanta Kumar built and left behind for his only son, Jayanta (Babu, as we all call him). Despite the many friendships that Moushumi cultivated outside her marriage and Babu’s own little-known adventures, the truth is that the two can’t do without each other. They have been together for far too long to seriously stray outside the fold and they share a very deep understanding and friendship that has withstood the coming and going of many a storm in their lives.
In other words, Moushumi and Babu make a contented couple, comfortable with older daughter Payal’s successful career at Disney Channel (she got a huge promotion recently) and her marriage which is going great guns. In fact, Moushumi spent two exclusive years preparing for Payal’s marriage, hardly even noticing that she was taking a long break from the studios. Second daughter Megha lives with her parents and has turned very spiritual-religious, regular with her pujas and prayers, even turning vegetarian three times a week. You just have to meet her two children to know that irrespective of what is perceived outside, Moushumi and Babu have done a fine job of parenting Payal and Megha.
To return to Aparna Sen’s Goynar Baksho, every time she has got together with Moushumi for a film, there has always been a little undercurrent of tension. The first time they worked together was over two decades ago, when they co-starred as sisters in Kari Diye Kinlam.
“Yes, there were small complications at that time,” Moushumi agrees with characteristic candour. “You know, minor things like, on the set I would hear that the director was being asked why I was wearing a particular sari. Since he had already okayed it with me, he would be caught between the two. And, if you had read Bimal Mitra’s book, you’d have seen that the role of Lokkhi (played by Aparna) slowly kept getting lengthened in the film.”
She giggles as she recalls those silly days (“The complications never bothered me because I was never really ambitious”), especially because she has discovered a new respect for Aparna in recent years. It happened after she was offered the role of Rahul Bose’s aged aunt in The Japanese Wife. Moushumi pulled off the difficult role of an overweight, 70-plus woman who had to mouth the dialect spoken in the Sunderbans region. That’s when she began to admire her director Aparna Sen’s writing and creative skills.
But The Japanese Wife too had its anxious moments. After the first day of doing a workshop for the film, Moushumi had decided to step out of the difficult assignment, uncharacteristically diffident about doing justice to it. It was only when she read Aparna’s statement in Mid Day the next day that Moushumi was delivering far more than had been expected that she sheepishly returned to the film.
And then a chance encounter with Jaya Bachchan made her realise that she had not really been Aparna’s first choice for the role in The Japanese Wife!
This time, Aparna took no chances. When Moushumi shot for Goynar Baksho, Aparna herself told her that Sharmila Tagore couldn’t do the role for some reason and Raakhee had also turned it down. Fortunately, Moushumi has always believed that what is destined to be yours will always come to you. So, just as she had gone ahead with The Japanese Wife as a challenge and acquitted herself well, she enjoyed her work in Goynar Baksho too.
There was only one little complaint: that Aparna always casts her as a 70-plus character. “Lose 10 kilos and I’ll give you a younger role,” Aparna promptly told Moushumi. Quite a difference from Sen’s earlier diktats to Chatterjee which were to stop going to the gym, to make sure she had rice and chocolates and to take it really easy to pull off the role of Rahul Bose’s heavy, 70-plus aunt.
When two Bengal tigresses work together, there’s never a dull moment in the story off-camera.