A director's actor
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- Published 9.06.11
Saswata Chatterjee — or Apu, with whom I have worked in Teen Yaari Katha and Cross Connection — is a star son without airs. Probably that’s why it took him longer than usual to reach the place he has always deserved. Creative, sensible and humorous, Subhendu Chatterjee’s eldest son is a favourite of directors; he’s the kind one specially finds roles for.
What’s keeping you busy at the moment?
I am concentrating on films. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in television. I will work in that medium as it has provided my bread, butter and jam for so many years. It is also a medium that has given me the scope to experiment with different characters. It has polished my acting for which I’m asked to play various roles in films today.
What films are you working on?
I’m doing Suman Ghosh’s Nobel Chor. I am supposed to do another Bomkesh Bakshi film with Anjan Dutt. I have Anindo Banerjee’s next film and, of course, your film Hercules.
Let’s go back a little... when and how did you come into acting? Was it easy for you, being the son of an actor?
On the contrary, it was difficult. I came into acting when the profession was at a crossroads. The late Nineties was a difficult period for actors in the Bengali film world. The mainstream filmmakers were too scared to take risks with new actors and except for a few known faces, no one was entertained. As for the other kind of films, they were few and far between. It was impossible for good actors to get roles. Newcomers were asked to do two scenes and a fight sequence. Even the hero had a formula role — a bit of melodrama, a few dances and fights. That was all. There were no roles like the one Prosenjit had in Autograph.... So, the only alternative for actors was television. Some looked down upon television, especially those in the film industry. But they have realised that television lives on its own merit. Stars cannot make a serial or a mega serial a hit; it’s the megas that spawn stars.
So your identity as an actor is based on television....
You could say so. I started my acting career with a Hindi serial directed by Saibal Mitra, based on Samaresh Majumdar’s Kaalpurush. There was Mohan Gokhale and Mamata Shankar. I knew enough Hindi to get by. In fact, the audience that had turned away from Bengali films between the ’80s and ’90s returned to television. Stories that would not be done in films were done on television. I concentrated on television, though quite a few films of a different kind came my way…. Raja Mitra’s Nayantara, Madhabi Mukherjee’s Atmaja, Goutam Ghose’s Abar Aranye, Mrinal Sen’s Amar Bhuban, Moloy Bhattacharya’s Teen Ekke Teen. But it was while working with Ravi Ojha in Ek Aakasher Niche that he chose me as the lead for a full-on mainstream film. Ek Aakasher Niche as a serial was a trendsetter, but the film Aabar Aashbo Phire did not reach the height as expected.
What would you say was the turning point in your career?
Ek Aakasher Niche on television and Anjan Dutt’s The Bong Connection in films. Though in a small role, I was noticed in Bong Connection and the film did well. In Chalo Let’s Go… I had a good role. Anjanda has given me major roles in several films. Finally, in Bomkesh Bakshi, I have been much admired as Ajit.
What about Sandip Ray’s Feluda series?
I acted in Baksho Rahasya and nine other stories. I was Topshe to Benuda’s (Sabyasachi Chakrabarty) Feluda. Rabi Ghosh was Jatayu in two stories, Anup Kumar in two others and Bibhu Bhattacharya in the rest.
Why couldn’t you continue as Topshe in the films?
Topshe, as described in the Feluda stories, is of a certain age and I had overshot that. Probably at that time I was looking more like Jatayu, so Babuda (Sandip) could not take the risk! I had once nurtured the dream of playing Feluda someday but later realised that the description didn’t match my physique. I feel Satyajit Ray would’ve been the ideal Feluda. His acting prowess, his presence and understanding were phenomenal. Thank god he never went into acting. He would have given a lot of acting legends a run for their money!
Was it sort of predestined that you would be an actor?
Not really. I was brought up very ordinarily. Though my dad worked in the Tollygunge studios as an actor, neither my brother (Subhodip) nor I ever went to the studios. In fact I was scared of going to the movies… the dark hall and the big images. I had watched Hatari in a hall and was frightened when the rhino came charging. I preferred to go to the theatre for plays. It was much later that Rabijethu (Rabi Ghosh) influenced me on taking up acting as a career.
When I was in high school, my dad asked me what I wanted to do. I was quite aimless, enjoying life, eating, sleeping, watching girls…. I remember my parents were called to school once because I had failed to do my homework. When I completed my NIIT diploma, dad asked me again, over a glass of beer, about what I wanted to do. A nine-to-five office job scared me, so I said I wanted to be an actor.
And you became an actor...
It wasn’t so easy. My dad sent me to Jochchan Dastidar to learn acting in his group. I was excited because I loved the stage. As I waited to meet him, I saw a schoolmate of mine mopping the floor. When I was called in, Jochchanda asked me: ‘Can you sweep and mop the floor?’ I couldn’t figure out what acting had to do with sweeping floors. “The rehearsal room is your temple, keeping it clean is what you should learn first,” replied Jochchanda. For a year and a half, I cleaned, did odd jobs and worked as his understudy. After that he took me in as an actor.
Who is your idol in films?
Uttam Kumar. When I saw Uttam Kumar’s first few films, I felt I was thousand times better than him. But the way he improved with each film and the height he reached finally, I don’t think anyone will match that in the next 500 years.
I was called by Ray to play a part in Joi Baba Felunath. My mom did not want me to miss school, so she gave me a crew cut and when I met him he rejected me rightaway as my hair was too short. He liked children with long hair and big, innocent eyes.
What is your wife’s (Mohua) contribution in your success?
Behind every successful man there is a woman… his wife obviously, because women are never behind unsuccessful men! (Laughs out loud.)