Fishy tales

He loves having his hilsa. She loves cooking her hilsa. Ritwick and Paoli stir it up for their food film Maacher Jhol 

  • Published 12.08.17
Paoli Dam rustles up maachher jhol for her co-star Ritwick Chakraborty at 6 Ballygunge Place. Their film Maacher Jhol will be served up on August 18

Masterchef Dev D (Ritwick Chakraborty in Pratim D. Gupta’s film Maacher Jhol, which releases on August 18) and his wife Sreela (Paoli Dam) walked into 6 Ballygunge Place just as the sky had turned a nice dull grey. The rain had stopped. And Sreela decided to surprise the man behind a couple of Michelin-star restaurants. Taking up khunti position, she rustled up a mean maachher jhol just for the star chef. Dev D’s verdict? “It was delicious!” Food fun over, Dev D and Sreela quickly stepped out of character and chatted with t2 as Ritwick and Paoli!  

Paoli: I cooked ilish maachh last Sunday. At one point of time cooking was my hobby. I would cook on a regular basis... like Continental, grilled items, things that take only a few minutes to make... fast to cook... I don’t have the patience to cook for long hours. And when you are cooking fish there’s a trick… you have to fry it less to get the maximum flavour. So I made the ilish maachher jhol with kaalo jire, kaancha lonka, begun, daanta, kumro, which takes me around half an hour. Only the begun takes time to cook. 

Is cooking a stress buster for you?

Paoli: I like to cook. The stress buster would be watching films! 
Ritwick: I can cook too... I started cooking for practical reasons. The moment I started living away from home on my own I had to start cooking. Once that necessity went away, I did not cook for a long time. But sometimes I miss that. 
Paoli: You need to be in the mood for cooking....
Ritwick: Yes yes. My culinary skills lie in whipping up chicken and mutton dishes. I am not comfortable cooking fish. I feel that if I have to make it, then I need a helmet, armour! That’s why I don’t try it, out of fear (goes LOL). But I am hooked to hilsa... love it.  
Paoli: As a child, I had made parathas. I was in a joint family, and our cook was really good. I learnt everything from him. 
Ritwick: It is really tough to make the round rotis! 
Paoli: For the Halka shoot, I had to make rotis. Thankfully, all those lessons from my childhood came to my rescue. The Halka team were full of praise, saying that I make nice round rotis!
So Ritwick, what was your first reaction when you got to know that you’ll play a masterchef in Maacher Jhol? 

Ritwick: The funny part is that I have not mastered the art of cooking yet! I played a violin player in a film (The Violin Player) but I am no expert in that either.

Pratim had told t2 that Ritwick is such a fine actor that he almost made his co-star, the katla fish, act! Here, the pabda fills in for the katla! 

The idea is to make it look convincing…

Ritwick: Yeah, and I want to achieve that. It’s not that I want to master the violin. Of course it would have been great if I could do that... but having six months is not enough to master the violin.  
How much time did you get to learn the violin for the film?
Ritwick: I got about 10 days. And the person who taught me had learnt it from age four. But for those 10 days I studied the violin from morning to night. The violin looks small but it is so complicated. For the shoot, I had to play the pieces. And of course the noise was so grating. It was really difficult to be moved by my violin playing! (Laughs)
Paoli: I was supposed to play the cello in a film and they gave it to me two hours before the shoot. I was like, ‘What is this?’ I would have loved to learn the instrument days before the scene. Then you feel it would have been great if I really knew how to play it. 
Ritwick: The same theory applies when I am playing a masterchef. I have to make it look convincing.  

Did you have cooking questions for Pratim?

Ritwick: Yes, I asked him what I had to learn... he told me to do some chopping.
Paoli: That’s really difficult! 
Ritwick: Chefs were always around on the sets when I was doing those scenes. Also, I had watched YouTube videos and picked up stuff. 

Fish is my life, and I had to do this film. People call me mechho... maybe I was a cat in my past life! I was very happy that Pratim was using the name Maacher Jhol in a Bengali film. The content is beautiful and the name is unique — Paoli

Did you read up on masterchefs and their styles?

Ritwick: Otota gobhire jaini. I did just what was necessary for the role. 
Paoli: You also had to learn French... 
Ritwick: Yes, French words. I knew the word ‘monsieur’ from before. And I learnt more which I can’t recall right now (laughs).
Paoli: I went on pause mode when Pratim told me about this film. Fish is my life, and I had to do this film. People call me mechho... maybe I was a cat in my past life! I was very happy that Pratim was using the name Maacher Jhol in a Bengali film. The content is beautiful and the name is unique. People will really connect with this. This is a true food film. Food is the main character. And I really liked the script. 

What’s the best part about Pratim the director?

Paoli: He is so cool. 
Ritwick: His coolness was attractive. I have seen him maintain his cool during the Shaheb Bibi Golaam shoot. And there I had to drive a taxi.

And word from the SBG set was that you are not the best driver in the world!

Ritwick: I am a really bad driver. I can only somehow drive to do a scene. If I am in a car, my thoughts wander. I tend to drift away. So I can’t do that in the driver’s seat. Pratim asked me to learn driving, I tried. But I was really tense. And I knew my acting would suffer. There’s a memory of an accident (when he was learning how to drive) that comes rushing back.
And for Maacher Jhol, Pratim asked me to learn French! And I was like, ‘How will I learn a whole language for a shoot?’ Learning a new language is a different deal altogether.

As actors, both of you are considered to be among the best we have. Was there any sense of competition on the sets?

Ritwick: No, we have worked together before. But I feel the great work hasn’t happened with her yet. We had done a telefilm together maybe six years ago, and that was pretty good.
Paoli: Whatever is there in Maacher Jhol is just apt for this movie. The film is not just about Dev D and Sreela.... Pratim’s ideas and content are just great (Ritwick nods in agreement).  
Do you ever feel the pressure to deliver your best every time in each film?  

Paoli: I feel nervous on the first day of the shoot (smiles). I don’t think anyone else can make out what I am feeling. 
Ritwick: I take around two days to get accustomed to the new team of people.
Paoli: And I try to tell the directors to keep it light on the first day! 
Ritwick: Of course if I know the director, or I am comfortable working with him and his team, then it becomes really easy.
Paoli: Workshops help. But that doesn’t happen too often here. Since that process doesn’t happen, the actors often get to meet each other on the sets. I often avoid watching the monitor on the first day of the shoot. 
Ritwick: I am somehow never happy with my performance in my films... I’m way too critical of myself. I watch my films in the theatre, and the viewing pattern is so odbhut that I can’t explain it. I can’t focus on the film, I only see my faults. 
Paoli: Seriously... I am also like, ‘Why didn’t I do this or that’...
Ritwick: I have realised something recently. If I watch my film one-and-a-half years after the release then I’ll be able to watch it in a neutral, objective manner.   

Arindam Chatterjee
Pictures: Rashbehari Das