|Arijit’s look test for Madras Cafe
From film exhibition to cameos to a full-fledged role in Goutam Ghose’s Shunyo Awnko… Did you ever think you’d become an actor?
Not really, it all started as fun. Goutamda was making Abar Aranye and he had come to me for the remake rights to Aranyer Din Ratri. A week later he called me to his place, made me wear a green shirt and stand next to the window. Next he took a photograph of me and said he wanted me in his film. My reaction was ‘Goutamda, I’ve never acted! Pagol hoyechho naki?’ He explained that in Aranyer Din Ratri, the tribal was a girl. In this one he wanted it to be a boy and felt I’d fit the character well. So off I went to north Bengal for the shoot and my string of cameos began.... Now I really enjoy it, I’ve become very relaxed. I ask the director about the mood of the day and go about it accordingly.
Do you remember your first time in front of the camera?
Yes, the first shot I took was with a jar full of mahua, that I was meant to sell to Subhenduda (Chatterjee), Soumitrada (Chatterjee) and Samit Bhanja with Rinkudi (Sharmila Tagore) standing on the side. I was a little stiff at first but I was asked not to get bothered about the camera. Once the first shot went through, I never had a problem. The actors on the sets were all veterans who I’ve shared a very informal relationship with, so I was never really nervous, but yes overwhelmed.
You play a key role in Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe. Tell us more about that...
I play the commander of Jaffna, a character named Mallaya. I met Shoojit at a party, he tapped me on my back and said ‘I have a role for you in my film.’ Vicky Donor had just released and was getting great reviews and all I could tell him was ‘It’ll be an honour, sir’. Soon after, his team got in touch with me and I was asked to go to Cochin. I read my part of the script and felt comfortable. My first scene was with John (Abraham). I shot for three days in Cochin. Three more days of my shoot is left, which will be in Bombay in March.
Didn’t you feel the nerves while working in a Bollywood film with John Abraham?
Luckily, I knew John from before because I had hosted him at Star Theatre during the release of his film Goal. I also knew Shoojit as a friend and his associate director, so I didn’t have too much of a problem. My scenes were positioned in the LTTE camp and I had a few dialogues with scenes of interrogating John. I’m not certain how meaty a role it is but the presence of the character seemed strong.
Have you been working on yourself to look and act the parts?
Not really… I’ve just got comfortable after nearly 30 cameos that I’ve done. For the last few films I’ve needed less prodding. For Shunyo Awnko I had to be broken down completely. Whether it was eating panta bhaat or talking in whispers with Konkona (Sensharma), I had to keep a low note and keep my voice and face down. Shohagdi (Sen) being around also helped because I would often ask her if she felt my body language was right.
Do you wish directors would take you more seriously and cast you in different roles?
Yes. See, earlier if anyone would ask me to do a bit role here and there I would do it. But in the last few months I’ve become a bit tight and choosy. I ask them if they really think they’re doing justice to me getting me to play a particular role. At the end of the day, if the mannerisms of an actor match those of the character, the job is half done. But if someone asks me to play a village headmaster wearing dhoti and holding an umbrella, it would require a superhuman effort from me. I’m most comfortable playing an educated corporate kind of character or someone totally rustic and crude.
The first four or five films which I did were gratis. I was either filling in for someone or giving in to casual requests just for fun — whether I was on my way back home from the airport or in the middle of work. That went on for two or three years till I realised that I need to start taking money. Nowadays when I’m not very certain about a role, I just scale up costs because then I can tell whether they really need me or it’s just another casual call.
But you never watch any of the films releasing at Priya every Friday…
Yes, that’s true. I don’t have the patience for it so you can’t really call me a movie buff. I get bored within 30 minutes and then I just walk out. Unless it’s the kind of mindless action stuff that you forget about once you leave the hall. What I love watching are the Bond, Rambo and Mission Impossible series or a Dabanng or old Bachchan films but if you ask me to sit through Black, I’ll go mad!
What kind of roles do you think you’d be good in?
Never a hero but I think I’d make a good zamindar-er dushtu chhele or anything to do with sports because I’ve been used to it in real life. I’m a life member of the National Rifle Association of India and very good at handling weapons and horse-riding. Also because of my education and mother’s background, I’m very comfortable with the hills and forests.
What’s the best compliment that has come the way of Arijit the actor?
Someone after watching Shunyo Awnko said, ‘Dadul, that’s the last thing I thought you would manage!’
Who are your favourite actors?
No one comes close to Amitabh Bachchan. Second is Hrithik Roshan. In Hollywood I like Tom Cruise, Jacqueline Bisset and Farrah Fawcett.
A director you wish would cast you?
Rinadi (Aparna Sen) and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury.