Inside the mind of a hero - PROSENJIT unplugged
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- Published 8.05.09
The struggler and the star, the man and his movies — t2 peeks into the mind of Prosenjit
On deciding to be an actor...
I was four-and-a-half years old when I first acted in a film, Chhotto Jigyasa. It was all fun and games for me. The film was produced by my father (Biswajit) and screened in Russia. I got several offers after that but my parents turned them down.
My launch as a hero was Duti Pata in 1983. I think I was 16 or 17 years old then. I wanted to become a director but because of family reasons I had to start work when I was very young. So, getting into acting wasn’t planned. But after Duti Pata, I seriously started thinking of becoming a hero. I did a lot of films after Duti Pata, but mostly as second lead. I never said no to any role, I took up whatever came my way. I started doing theatre too.
On making his debut...
Duti Pata was the first film in Bengali that had a Bobby kind of love story. It was also the first colour film in Bengali. I knew I had to do something different with Duti Pata in order to make a mark. I had to break away from the conventional style of Bengali heroes. So I wore flashy clothes and I had dance and fight scenes in the film. It was all new for the audience.
On the struggle to be Prosenjit...
The advantage of being Biswajit’s son was that a lot of people knew me but I never ever approached anyone for work just because I was my father’s son. Early in my career I realised that I needed to discard the cloak of being Biswajit’s son because I didn’t have his support. In fact, it was like a block. My father didn’t launch me. So, I went around as a newcomer. I started off with a salary of Rs 500 and I took whatever money I was offered because I had to find a foothold. And I didn’t have a mentor.
In Manu Sen’s Sankranti starring Aparna Sen and Om Puri, I was offered the role of Om Puri’s son. Just a week before the shoot, I was told that I was too good-looking to play a servant’s son. On the day of the shoot, I was approached again as they couldn’t find a replacement. I was determined not to do the film but my mother made me understand that nursing an ego was not important. At times it’s necessary to let go of certain things in order to achieve success. Since then I started ignoring insults and focusing on my work instead.
During the four years between Duti Pata and Amar Sangi, I went on doing theatre. I did theatre at Star for seven-eight years with Mahendra Gupta. I did one-wall theatre with Aparna Sen and Dilip Ray. I would drop into Ajiteshjethu’s (Bandopadhyay) rehearsals. If an artiste was absent, I would read out his part. I have also served tea on several occasions. And I learnt everything about the backstage. I never wasted any time.
I also realised that grooming was very important if I had to stick around as a hero. Back then you didn’t have any stylists or consultants. So I started picking up dance steps and got an acquaintance of mine to teach me karate-kung fu. My key tools were observation, practice and motivation. From waking up in the morning to going to bed at night, my only thought was how to be successful.
I had friends when I started off but my friend circle slowly became smaller. It wasn’t intentional. I just didn’t have the time to maintain friendship. I didn’t have an outside world that a young man of my age had. I struggled so much that I never had the time to think about all these things. An actor’s relatives and friends often think he is snooty but it’s not so. I am not in full control of my time. I had to spend time on my own grooming, from tip to toe. What look I would sport, what my hairstyle would be, what clothes I should wear — I had to do my own homework the night before going to the floor the next day.
I used to live in Dum Dum when Tapan Sinha signed me for Atanka. He told my mother that it would be impossible for me to travel all the way to Tollygunge everyday for shooting. I couldn’t afford a flat then, so I rented a small ground-floor room in a guesthouse near Ballygunge station. Several of my films were box-office hits while I was living there and my living conditions didn’t matter to me at all.
From hero to star to superstar to character actor...
I divide my career into three phases. Initially, it was about how to get success. In the second phase, my concern was how to sustain the success. And the third and last, which I am getting into now, is to be an actor. I want to remain an actor. When my son (Trishanjit) grows up, he should be able to tell people that his father didn’t only dance and fight in films, he also acted very well in some films.
If Duti Pata launched me as a hero, Amar Sangi (1987) established me as a star. In between in these two, I did about 20-22 films, mostly second leads, but some of them were big hits.
After Amar Sangi, I started having 10-11 releases every year. I had 18 releases in 1989! Of these, around nine — Asha Bhalobasha, Bidai, Amaar Tumi, Chokher Aloy, Aparanher Alo, Akrosh, Bandini, Jhankar and Amar Prem with Juhi Chawla — were superhits. But these were all romantic, Amar Sangi type of roles. That’s what people wanted to see me in.
Sangharsha (directed by Haranath Chakraborty) in 1995 is an important film in my career. I did a negative role and created an image of an angry hero. I didn’t work for a year and a half from 1995. Mentally, I was going through a very bad phase. But careerwise, it turned out to be very good. It increased my longevity. There was a vacuum and I came back with a bang in 1997 with Moner Manush. It was a huge hit. The Prosenjit-Rituparna pair started with Moner Manush and we did 50 films after that. I had 21 releases in 1998! I think that’s a record of sorts (laughs). This phase culminated with Sasurbari Zindabad in 2000. That’s when I started doing comedy. Sasurbari Zindabad set a box-office record.
Then, Utsav happened in 2001 and changed the way people saw Prosenjit. It’s a milestone in my careergraph. I think I got into a different league altogether with this Rituparno Ghosh film. Till then I had the masses, now critics started appreciating me.
I did Pratibad the same year, which was commercially very successful. Chokher Bali released in 2003 and I had four-five big commercial hits — Agni, Paribar, Surya, Ram Lakshman — the same year. From then on, my focus has been to position myself as an actor, not only in Bengal but globally at the international film festivals.
On his Bollywood attempt...
I didn’t plan to get into Bollywood. Director Pahlaj Nihalani would often insist that I go to Bollywood. He took me in Aandhiyan (1989), which had Mumtaz as my mother. It was her comeback film, but somehow Aandhiyan didn’t work. Though I was appreciated, Mumtaz wasn’t accepted as a mother.
By then I had established myself in Bengal and so when Aandhiyan didn’t work, I came back and did many more hit films. If I wanted to make a mark in Bollywood I would have had to stay there, which I didn’t want because I wanted to focus on my core area Bengal. And I think that was the right decision. I turned down Hum Apke Hain Koun...! but I don’t regret. It was luck. I refused Saajan too. I was offered Sanjay Dutt’s role. Sudhakar Bokade was the producer.... All the directors and producers of those times were my good friends. I had lots of good offers but I didn’t feel like doing another Hindi film.
I never felt comfortable working in Bombay — the way they worked, the relationships, the dynamics... Bombay functioned in a very different way then. Sixty per cent of it was chamchabaji, which I couldn’t see myself doing. I had struggled my way up and I didn’t want to destroy that.... Now things have changed a lot in Bombay.
On Prosenjit the man...
If you are a star, people will misunderstand you and I think that’s not unnatural. But if I can’t do a certain thing at a certain point in my personal life, it’s because of the situation I am in. Many a time, when I am home I regret things that I should have done at some point of time. But it is not in my hands. Even if I want to be ordinary, I can’t be. I can’t go to the grocer in Gariahat market to shop. At the same time, it’s also true that given a chance, I won’t go to Gariahat market. Because I stick to what Uttam Kumar had once said that one should not overexpose oneself. These are small things that I have kept learning and implementing in my life all along. And I have never failed. In the Eighties, when there was no television, people fought and bought tickets in black to see us on screen. Why? Because there was some magic about us. If you don’t have this quality, you can’t be a star. You cannot be accessible to everyone.
I have a small group of friends. Our friendship goes back 30-35 years. They are more like family now. I love to be with this group. It’s the only place where I open up. Here I am not a star, just Bumba. It’s like a window for me and it’s very essential to have one.
As a family man, I think I am bad. I have provided my family with money and security, but when it comes to the personal touch, I am a big zero! Arpita (wife) deserves the credit. She must have felt a vacuum but she has accepted me as I am. Now for the first time in my life, I am taking an official leave of three weeks for a family holiday!
MY LEADING LADIES:
I have worked with about 100 heroines (!) till now, including the top Bollywood names of those times — Juhi, Farah, Neelam, Sonam, Anuradha Patel.... I have done the maximum number of films with Satabdi Roy (30-35), Debasree Roy (20-25), Indrani Halder (25-30), Rituparna Sengupta (about 50), Arpita (we did very few but the chemistry worked on screen) and Rachana Banerjee (more than 30).
Of the Calcutta lot, Debasree is the finest actress. Chumki could combine acting skills with glamour, which was a huge plus for her. She was trendy for her times. She could dance better than any Bombay heroine. She could carry all kinds of clothes. She was fabulous on screen.
Satabdi was more girl next door. She too was a huge success with the Bengali audience. She had the maximum number of hits in her time.
After Debasree, it was of course Ritu who had the potential of being glamorous alongside being a good actress. Someone who could do both Sasurbari Zindabad and Paromitar Ekdin.
More than Ritu, my most hits are with Rachana. She’s a lucky mascot for many Tollywood directors. Rachana is also the most professional of the lot. Maybe because she started off with south Indian films. I don’t remember ever having to wait for her on the sets for even five minutes.
Watching films is my first love. I watch films of all languages — Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hollywood of 60s, 70s, 80s, and World Cinema…. Earlier I would see films for pleasure, now it is to learn and implement. I watch films 25 out of 30 days. I have eight-nine trunks loaded with old-format videos. My most recent watch is a relatively old film, I Am Sam (picture right).... Listening to music is my second love. I know how to play the tabla and the drum.
whether he will discourage son trishanjit if he follows in his footsteps…
I don’t know about Arpita, but I will definitely not discourage my son (picture right) if he wants to be an actor or a director. But I probably won’t launch him as a hero. As a father I would like to give him all other support. He should take up acting as a challenge, not because he is Prosenjit’s son.
on life after the ARC LIGHTS...
I would want to associate my brand with social activities. I want to start working for the people of my industry by the time I am 50-plus. Most people in our industry earn a lot but don’t know how to handle their finances. I am thinking of doing something in these avenues.
on joining politics...
I don’t want to join politics because I don’t have a knack for it. Second, I will lose, for instance, five Trinamul cine-goers if I join the Left Front and five Left Front cine-goers if I join Trinamul. So, why should my producer suffer because of my political leaning? Third, if I join politics people will have to believe in what I would say and I need to do a lot of social activities before that.