stardust for steel town
The building from where the FCP Acting School functions in Durgapur
| The SMPAi building. In the front is a poster of Samrat Mukherjee, the Bengali TV actor who is the director and principal of the acting school
| Actor Samrat Mukherjee speaks to students at SMPAi in Durgapur
|Students practise dance moves at SMPAi.
Pictures by Arup Sarkar
Lights, camera, action…the location has shifted.
One doesn’t have to go all the way to Mumbai, or even Calcutta, to train for showbiz. The first stop can be Durgapur.
Two acting schools, not common outside the metros, are doing brisk business in the steel town.
Known faces from Bengali television soaps, anchors and film directors are dropping in at this industrial town once a week or so to teach an aspiring crowd of mostly teenagers, who are making a beeline for acting, dancing, fighting or anchoring courses at the schools.
Some of them are being encouraged by their families.
FCP Acting School at City Centre boasts of 300 students; the other, SMPAi, at 54 Feet Road near Benachity, over 400 students. They opened about a year ago.
Payel Chatterjee, 20, the daughter of a Durgapur Steel Plant technician, wants to join Tollywood while Pankaj Saha, 22, is looking forward to becoming a news anchor. Deepika Sarkar, 19, dreams of becoming a model.
Payel has joined FCP for a one-year acting course. Pankaj and Deepika have joined SMPAi for the media sciences and modelling courses.
Payel, a student of first year English honours at a college in Durgapur, is learning western dance at the acting school.
“In our school we have separate classes for different courses. I opted for acting in which I am taught dance, action and dialogue delivery and expressions. We also perform plays in small groups,” says Payel, a die-hard fan of Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan.
“I took part in plays in school and at our local cultural club. But I needed a professional touch, which I will acquire at the acting school. It is grooming me,” says Payel, dressed in blue jeans and a pink top.
Increasing social acceptance of a career in glamour is behind the spread of acting schools beyond the metro. There is not much conflict now between a film career and respectability.
Partha Chatterjee, Payel’s approving father, points at the change in the parental attitude. “Earlier, we never used to indulge our children to opt for professions in the tinsel world as we did not think it would be suitable for them. But now, the world has changed. My daughter is doing her graduation from a college in Durgapur and her acting course simultaneously. I want my daughter to become a heroine,” he says.
With the growing demand, acting schools have mushroomed in the town and some local channels are also making TV soaps, where many new faces are getting chance to live their dream.
“We conducted a survey about our business prospects in Durgapur for two years before launching the unit here. We are getting a good response from the students. We have courses in acting, modelling, dance and media studies,” says Samrat Mukherjee, director and principal of SMPAi and a familiar face in prime-time TV soaps.
“We are soon going to get an affiliation from a recognised university,” the actor said.
The manager of FCP acting school, which has branches in many towns in Bengal, said: “We opened the school only one year ago and have already got 300 students, most of them are girls. It is not that everybody is trying to become an actress. The demand for TV anchors is also growing. The boys are mainly interested in acting and modelling.”
Some known faces from TV serials take classes, often at the school in the heart of town.
The institute charges between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000 for each year-long course.
Pankaj, whose father runs a grocery shop at Benachity market in the town, worked at a local television channel as an anchor and found it difficult.
“I was not so smart and could not speak so fluently. So I joined the acting school here to learn anchoring,” says Pankaj, who took a break from studies after passing higher secondary three years ago.
He is now studying to be a graduate in a distance course, as a bachelor’s degree is required by all reputed organisations.
At the anchoring class, Pankaj learns pronunciation, body language and voice modulation. Television anchors take classes. The institute refused to divulge their names.
“We groom our students to present themselves on the screen, whether for news reading or acting. We teach them how to speak or express different emotions to make them better and smarter. Dance and catwalk are also taught, as is fighting. We do not promise anybody a job in a TV serial or film but many of our students are working in showbiz,” says the counsellor of the Calcutta-based FCP.
Those who have passed from the school have found work in small films and local TV channels.
Faces from tinsel town are not an uncommon sight in Durgapur, outside acting schools. Actors like Prosenjit, Dev, Swastika Mukherjee, Koel Mullick and Paoli Dam regularly drop in at the town’s multiplexes to promote their films.
“I wanted to see Paoli from up close after watching her in the controversial film Chhatrak. She came for the premier of her film Teen Yaari Katha and I saw her at the multiplex at Junction Mall. It was amazing. Parambrata Chatterjee also came,” exclaims Manoj Banerjee, a BPO employee.
Of late, Durgapur has also hosted film crews for shooting.
Yash Raj Films chose a colliery in nearby Pandaveswar to shoot Gunday, which released on Valentines Day. The entire crew, including Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh and Irrfan Khan, stayed at the three-star Citi Residenci in town for two weeks. Some action scenes were shot.
The Bengali film Samadhi, which featured Govinda, Gracy Singh and Firdous, that was released during the Pujas, was also shot in Durgapur.