Anjan’s autumn Sonata

Anjan Dutt still feels he’s a misfit and is pinning all his hopes on Hemanta. He tells t2 why

By Arindam Chatterjee
  • Published 3.08.16
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Parambrata Chattopadhyay and Jisshu Sengupta in Hemanta, which releases on August 12

On a flight back to Calcutta from London a few months ago, Anjan Dutt decided to try something new. He had his first vodka on the plane. And he had it straight. When we walk into Dutt’s home a few days ago, we spot a bottle of vodka in his liquor cabinet. “It’s a new beginning. After finishing Hemanta’s shoot, I decided to go back to my old self which enjoys drinking for fun. I am here to enjoy life, so I shifted to something new,” says Anjan, whose film Hemanta (produced by Greentouch Entertainment and Lundia Group), based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, releases on August 12. 
A t2 chat...

Why did you shift to vodka? You were drinking wine last year...

Wine doesn’t go with me. I am still that edgy guy. If I want to go out and have a drink, I’ll go to Olympia. For biryani I’ll go to Aminia, for Continental, Mocambo. That old Calcutta is with me. But the old-world Anjan Dutt has to survive in today’s world. I have to be on Facebook, look out for young actors, watch television no matter how shitty it is. 

You are also tweeting regularly. Is it to promote Hemanta?

Absolutely. I want to be a part of the world. 

So, why did you quit drinking whisky?

I was drinking too much. I had gone to Bali on vacation and was having one-and-a-half litres a day. I came back and said, ‘Enough is enough. I can’t kill myself.’ That was two years ago. I felt that I was becoming suicidal… I was into that zone… nobody understood me, I am a misfit. The films were not working. I started admiring James Dean, Heath Ledger. Jim Morrison was pulling me more than Bob Dylan. These back-to-back flops (Ganesh Talkies, Shesh Bole Kichhu Nei) were happening and Byomkesh Bakshi was working, and it was getting on my nerves. Later, I realised I have so much to give. I never cared to have a lot of savings because an actor’s life is an insecure life. Actors are multi-personalities… they are potential criminals, jokers, lovers… they are anguished, they are outrageously shameless, essentially lust-driven, spiritual. We are a lot of things punched together. We are dangerous people. And we cherish that. (Midway through the conversation, Anjan takes a couple of calls on Hemanta’s promotions... about making a second teaser) 

Do you like all this... making trailers, teasers, posters?

I love it. We live for these moments… what I wear to the premiere matters to me still. Putting on my dark glasses, my nice black coat and walking down…. I am very concerned with what my cast will wear to the premiere. Kelate kelate choti pore chole gelam, chhobi toh banano hoye gechhe… no, no, that’s not done. We live in the glam world. 

Anjan Dutt plays the piano at his Beniapukur home. Picture: Rashbehari Das

What made you want to take up Hemanta?

I looked at what Vishal (Bhardwaj) was doing… he was reinterpreting those classics. So I took Hamlet and invested modern, contemporary ideas in it. Computer hacking, the digital world were brought in carefully while keeping the basic structure and philosophy the same. Hamlet is still relevant. The sensitive individual is still in a crisis — whether to just deny the world or live in it and try to do good work. This is my crisis. This is the crisis of any thinking young individual here — whether to hang on in Calcutta and fight the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or disown Calcutta and walk off.   

How is Parambrata as Hemanta?

He still has that indecision which a good actor should have. He isn’t cocksure. Deep within him there is that sensitive person, someone who doesn’t devalue intellect. Here I have tried to discover the acting Param set out to do… the angry, misfit, erratic, potentially violent lost soul. That’s the iconic James Dean character. As an actor, I don’t see Param as a good guy. Param is the person who is always doing something and thinking something else. Param can play a negative hero. I don’t see him as Romeo. And I have lived through Param as Hemanta. 

Arindam Sil’s Eagoler Chokh releases on the same day as Hemanta. Is that worrying?

No, I am not worried. Hamlet is a classic that has never failed. It takes a huge amount of talent to destroy Shakespeare (laughs). Also, people are tired of watching the same kind of Bengali films… everybody is trying to do detective thrillers or social drama or love triangles… there’s a sameness in terms of ideas and a certain kind of audience has switched off. They are young people and they don’t watch Bengali films at theatres anymore. If I can address the audience who has switched off and they come on the first week, I think I am on my game. I don’t want mashima or shejokaka or Runu pishi to watch my film. They won’t understand. 

But they made Praktan a hit…

Praktan worked because of the TV audience. They are taking a day out and watching something like their favourite TV shows on the big screen. 

What’s wrong with that?

They won’t come to watch any other film. They’ll only watch something that is close to the melodrama of television. They’ll not watch a Ranjana… or Madly Bangalee.

But your Byomkesh Bakshi (2015) had actors from television, and it became a hit. 

I am happy with Byomkesh but I am also not happy with Byomkesh. Byomkesh is typifying me. It is making me lose my dynamism. I am not just a Byomkesh filmmaker, neither am I a songwriter of Bela Bose. You cannot identify a director with one kind of cinema. Sandip Ray has been slotted as a maker of Feluda. Now, after making Bow Barracks Forever, The Bong Connection, Ranjana… or acting in films, if I have to keep doing Byomkesh for the rest of my life, it will be the greatest tragedy. I have to get audiences outside the Byomkesh zone. 

But only Byomkesh gives you that elusive hit film after some flops. How do you view this?

Whenever I am trying to play safe, I am getting an audience. And I don’t want to do that. I don’t like playing safe. It’s like fighting my own self. I don’t disown Byomkesh. It is a part of me. But that’s not my identity. They are coming for

Byomkesh because it has a certain nostalgic history in their minds. If we don’t break that, the future audience won’t grow. If I lose out with Hemanta, it will be a disaster for me. It will really hurt. I am taking a calculated risk in order to save my artistic sensibilities. I’m not an arthouse filmmaker. I want to be with the next generation. 

What are the producers saying? How are they gauging what is working and what is not?

Most producers are dated in their minds. They have a certain surplus money, and so they are coming in to making films. They are not clear about what they want to do. One is never sure what will work. The producers are not gauging, they are just tottering and stumbling…. The industry is in its own coterie. The directors, producers, actors, cinematographers, music directors… either they are back-slapping or back-stabbing. However, my producers have never dictated terms. 

Why do you think you are a misfit?

I don’t do certain things done by most people. I don’t consider myself to be a part of Tollywood. I don’t like the term Tollywood. I am not a Bangla film celebrity and I cannot subscribe to the ways and workings of the system. I cannot work with stars. I need actors. That’s why my budget is small. There is a rumour in the industry that I cannot handle big budgets. Why not?! A helicopter shot doesn’t define money for me. Scale has never been important to me. Money for me is getting the best guitarist or keyboarist to do my score. 

But you had once told us that you’ll get more money from doing 10 concerts than directing one film...

But I won’t do a maacha show in Burdwan. So there I’m misunderstood again. I have gained maximum popularity by being a singer-songwriter. If I do good work and if I have an audience, I’ll survive. But I won’t suck up.  

You have cast yourself in a lot of films and telefilms. Why? 

That was from the pain of not being recognised as an actor that I cast myself. Call it self-indulgence or what you will, but I seriously think I am a good actor. My actor self needs some recognition. If my industry doesn’t give it, I give it myself. I have proved myself in Ranjana… and Dutta Vs Dutta. So I asserted myself.