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Prosenjit past & present

Prosenjit tells t2 how and why his antony in Jaatishwar is different from Uttam Kumar’s
Pictures: B. Halder

Do you remember the first time you watched the film Antony Firingee?

I watched it in Mrinalini cinema in Dum Dum when I was a kid. But I am not sure when I saw the film. Maybe I watched it later, and not during the release of the film.

Is it one of your favourite performances by Uttam Kumar?

It is very good, the way he portrayed the character back then. But we saw only the romantic side of Antony. There are other facets to him too. At that time Uttam jethu was the charming, romantic hero. But he also did Bicharak, where he was not a romantic hero, and he was superb in it. I feel those characters are really challenging.

The moment you agreed to do Jaatishwar you must have known that there would be comparisons with Uttam Kumar. How did you deal with that?

In 30 years of my career I have got a lot of offers to do films of Uttam jethu and Soumitra Chatterjee. I never thought that I was doing a role that Uttam Kumar had done, and I was going to show that I was good or bad. No. Jaatishwar is not about Antony’s life. It does not romanticise Antony. He comes as a character, and if you see the film you’ll understand that the film is also about Rohit Mehta (a musician played by Jisshu Sengupta). Maybe I am doing Antony but Jisshu’s character is also Antony. But then the real hero of the film is Kushal Hazra (Prosenjit in a double role). This film has nothing to do with that Antony Firingee. So I didn’t have to think of comparisons. Even then, I know people might compare, but only till the release of the film. Somewhere one is bound to get influenced by the works of such great actors like Uttam jethu. They are our teachers. It’s very difficult to get out of the romantic hero model set by Uttam jethu. That won’t change even after 50 years.

Why did Srikanto Acharya dub for your Antony portions?

I had to learn Portuguese. But finally I didn’t dub for Antony. As an actor it was difficult to say it, but after I completed my dubbing for Antony, I said, ‘Let Srikanto also try and dub it.’ No actor says this. Even if two characters look the same, you can’t think they will sound similar. I said, ‘Let’s think about the film.’ Antony has more songs than dialogue, so I thought if Srikanto does it, it will sound more real. People will relate to it. It has worked. Also, I am playing another character (Kushal). I can’t change my voice so much. Srijit (Mukherji, director) was saying the other day that he hasn’t seen any other actor agreeing to let someone else dub for him for the sake of the film.

What sort of homework did you do to play Antony and Kushal?

Here we are focusing on Antony’s philosophy and his musical side. And love drives Antony’s journey. At the end of the day, you have to have love. I had to do some research on Antony but somehow playing Lalan Fakir in Moner Manush helped me play Antony. I had gone through the process (of playing Lalan) for nine months.

Since Antony’s a foreigner who comes to India, I had to get a different body language. And finally when this man becomes more like a Bangali, again his body language starts to change. I have touched on all these nuances in my portrayal. I am very lucky to have played both Lalan and Antony, iconic figures in music, within a span of three-four years. And both the roles are quite similar.

Have you tried to play Antony differently than Uttam Kumar?

I had to steer clear of mostly three ‘baggages’ — Uttam Kumar, Biswajit and Lalan. I had to keep in mind that I shouldn’t be like Lalan. And I had to do a lot of research and homework to create a character (Kushal) who would win the hearts of the audience. Normally we don’t get to play such characters. Kushal is a small-town librarian. He is lost, he is losing it. We don’t want to say much about him.

What sort of questions did you have after listening to the script?

Usually I have two questions. ‘When will you start the film?’ and ‘how are you approaching this?’ I told Srijit if you give me some time I want to change my body shape. For Kushal, I wanted to be lean, and I got three weeks for that. I lost five-six kg.

Antony to Kushal, what’s the connect?

Kushal is the bridge between Antony and Jisshu’s Rohit, a musician, who is the modern-day Antony. He is the main person between the two characters. At the end of the day it’s a love story. Antony’s journey was for someone, and Rohit’s journey is also for someone. I had three-four weeks to get ready to play Kushal (after playing Antony) and that time frame was really crucial. Getting into that mode was quite challenging. Usually what happens is the ambience of the set changes when I arrive. Things become quiet. Of course, this happens because everyone loves and respects me. But here, for a while, I had managed to become a part of the crowd. This was the beauty of playing Kushal and I wanted that for the character.

You have been working with Srijit since Autograph...

If Srijit looks at me now, I’ll know what he wants to convey. He knows that.

How has Srijit evolved as a director?

Srijit has forgotten to say ‘pack up’ (laughs). We shoot all day and night! Jokes apart, he is very sharp. While making Autograph, he had the dream, the vision, but then he would also depend somewhat on the team. His confidence level and technical knowledge grew manifold after Autograph. He knows how to use the technical knowledge correctly.

What do you feel about the role of music in Jaatishwar?

The film chronicles the history and evolution of 200 years of Bengali music. This film will have archival value.

Prosenjit as Antony Firingee in Jaatishwar, which releases on Friday

Are you happy with your performance?

Srijit is saying this is my best performance till date. If people remember me for these two characters, I’ll be very happy. I am not an actor like Naseeruddin Shah. They are spontaneous, superb.... I have heard so many negative things in my life. My hard work and dedication made me what I am today. I’ll never say I am an educated actor. I am a commercial actor. But why are commercial actors seen in a different way? They are so good. Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand are great. I have a lot of respect for them.

For me, the challenge was if I could do a Bikram Singha, let me also do an Autograph or a Moner Manush. I never say I am very talented. I can work very hard and also inspire my team to give their best. And that’s the equation I believe an actor-director should have. When I do a film, my director has to give me all his attention. If he looks at anyone else, I get angry! (Laughs) You have to look at me! You have to focus on me.

With Reliance Entertainment rolling out one Bengali film after another, what does the future hold for the industry?

We need to have corporates. It’s important for the industry to get corporatised. The entire world has changed. We have to be on the same level. Shree Venkatesh Films operates in a corporate manner. People in India are talking about Marathi and Bengali cinema and I am so proud of that. This is the right time for us to do a lot of good things.

And you are pushing the envelope with each film?

I am constantly trying to reach out. We are making cinema that we can showcase in the larger arena. And I want to tell everyone to come and watch films and spend some money. Don’t buy DVDs. Until we earn in dollars, and our producers earn in dollars, we won’t be able to sustain this. We have to grow the market. Let all the Bengalis in the world donate us one dollar each! (Laughs out loud)