In Ranaghat, where I come from, Durga puja was not such a big affair in those days. Being a suburban town, there used to be only one or two pujas and mostly organised by big families. So, we concentrated on Saraswati or Kali pujas. But things changed when I moved to Mumbai.
Along with an orientation in Hindi movies, I came to be acquainted with the purest form of Durga puja that still continues to be unadulterated. Over the years, like most Bengalis of Mumbai, I have never failed to listen to the Mahalaya. My family — mother, brothers, their wives and sometimes Bosky (daughter Meghna) also — accompanies me when I visit these pujas.
In the initial stages, I remember how we used to sit for hours for the prasad that used to be delicious. The taste of khichdi, labda and payesh still lingers after all these years. In those days, I would visit pujas at Ramakrishna Mission. I still do, but now there are other pujas at Juhu and Bandra, where I am often invited.
My culinary skills are well-known. At outdoor shoots, I have often rustled up machher jhol-bhat for the entire unit. However, I have never cooked at puja pandals, though I would have loved to. Some years ago, the prasad of a Bandra puja pandal had got burnt. I was so angry that I ticked them off, saying that the next time they needed a cook, they could as well hire my mother or me. The organisers hid their grins at my outburst.
Many Bengalis from the industry, like Pramod Chakraborty and Shakti Samanta, would come to the prominent pujas and we would have a really nice adda. All that has changed, but the Pujas are still pure in the sense that there’s no gimmickry with pandals or idols. When I go to the Natun Palli puja on Linking Road, I keep staring at Ma’s face for hours… So pure and innocent.
Sometimes, I wonder how it is possible for the artisans of Kumartuli to conjure up different facets of Ma’s face in different cities. Without sounding biased, I think the idols of Mumbai are more appealing than those in other cities.
The pujas of Calcutta, which I see on television these days, have, however, changed a lot. I think the innocence and adventure is missing now. The last puja I had ever visited in Calcutta was in 1993 — somewhere in north Calcutta — where I had to stand in a queue and offer my prayers. In the course of my shootings, I have often seen pujas in Kashmir, Hyderabad, Delhi and elsewhere, but the Mumbai pujas are still a lot different from the rest.
I have often toyed with the idea of organising a Durga puja at my place. Now, many Bengalis in Mumbai, like singer Abhijeet, are organising them, but in hindsight, it’s too much for me. So, I hold Kali pujas at my place. For me, Puja is like a sudden burst of sunshine that lifts the childlike spirit in me.