‘Superheroes’ Jisshu Sengupta and Mir are off to Fantasy Land

Tollywood

By Ushnota Paul
  • Published 10.08.18
  •  

It’s 5.30pm. Jisshu Sengupta and Mir are sipping tea and munching on sandwiches at The Park. Their film AranyaDeb, which premieres today on Zee5, is the first Bengali original film to be launched on the digital entertainment platform. t2 caught up with team AranyaDeb — director Debasish Sen Sharma aka Mickey and his actors Jisshu and Mir, who play Aranya and Deb, respectively. 

What’s AranyaDeb about?

Debasish: There exists two Calcutta — one is the busy, cosmopolitan Calcutta, and the other is lazy, old-school Calcutta. The two characters Aranya and Deb represent the two facets of Calcutta in their own way. The story begins in the mid-1980s, travels to the ’90s and then comes to the present time. It has a timeline of four decades. We find a fairy tale in this film... we redefine the word ‘superhero’. We see many superheroes around us these days but our superhero, Aranya, is different. He is hidden in all of us and around us.

Jisshu: I look at it as a story of two friends — they get separated and meet after many years. For me, it’s a story of friendship. Though I think Mir has a different version. We may have known or heard about such a story, maybe even seen it just next-door to us, but we have never seen it on screen. It’s the first of a kind and I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Mir: Let me clarify. The biggest drawback of this film is that there’s no song-and-dance sequence shot in pretty foreign locales!

Jisshu: Damn! And I wanted a nice, lavish house, but I got a dilapidated house to live in. 

Is it the first superhero film in Tollywood, or is it metaphorical?

Debasish: It’s metaphorical, layered and partially real. I can’t label it because for me even Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is a superhero film. You can say this movie has urban superheroes of our time.

Why call it AranyaDeb? Is it an adaptation of the Phantom comic strip?

Debasish: It is not an adaptation. It has references of the Phantom comics or AranyaDeb in some parts of the movie. I was a big fan of the comics as a child.

So, Aranya and Deb are two childhood friends...

Mir: The one thing that will strike you is how there’s always a bonhomie and camaraderie between these two characters. When you see them in their school sequences, you’ll see how one always has the other’s back. It’ll take you back to the old-world charm of Bengali films. It has been recreated because the boys grew up during the 1980s. One finds a good job, lands up in the corporate world and is well-established.

The other is still lurking around trying to find his ground and is not ambitious at all. He is in his own world. He has his own childlike charm, which Jisshu in any way exudes. Here you’ll find him in a character that’s carefree and careless as well. Generally we show childhood sequence of the actors and then they grow up. But in AranyaDeb, the narrative goes back and forth. The two boys who played the younger version of Jisshu and me are splendid. You have to watch out for these boys! 

(Top) Mir and Jisshu at The Park; director Debasish Sen Sharma (above). 
Pictures: Pabitra Das

The boy (Vishal Dahal) who plays a young Jisshu looks uncannily like him…

Debasish: Both the kids, Vishal and Basumitra Guha (who plays a young Mir), have worked with me in theatre before.

Mir: The shot where we are running on train tracks as kids in half pants and eventually grow up wearing full pants has been deleted (laughs).

There is a lot of north Calcutta in the trailer. Jisshu, did you need any preparation to play a north Calcutta boy?

Jisshu: The biggest plus was that my in-laws used to live in north Calcutta. So I know a lot about it.

Did you face a lot of challenges in terms of art direction and props while recreating the 1980s?

Debasish: It wasn’t very difficult during the interior shots. We were in real trouble while shooting the exteriors. Think of the cables, the big outdoor advertisements! There’s one flashback scene where Aranya and Deb are travelling from one part of the city to another. Our cinematographer Subhadeep Dey and I had to be super careful while taking that trolley shot. We had to take tight close-ups so that posters of ads and our present day blue-and-white Calcutta didn’t show on screen.

The film also stars Arunima Ghosh and Sreelekha Mitra…

Jisshu: Yes, I got to work with a lot of good actors in this film. And the character who plays opposite me is Debaroti Chakraborty, Mickey’s wife. There’s a beautiful relationship between these two characters.

Mir: Let me explain it for Jisshu. You sometimes need someone who will listen to you without being prejudiced, without judging you. This character played by Debaroti is exactly that to Aranya. She plays along with his idiosyncrasies, doesn’t criticise him. She doesn’t do all those things that people around Aranya keep on doing.

The music by Anindya Sundar Chakraborty sounds very different…

Debasish: The texture of the music in the film has a lot of western classical influence. That contradicts the visuals throughout. That’s the fun. 

This is your first film together. How was that experience?

Jisshu: Fantastic. There are a lot of funny photographs that we can’t share. (Laughs)

Mir: We have co-hosted a few shows together before. That’s when I thought that the chemistry between us works beautifully. We were looking forward to do something together in cinema. 

Mir, when Debasish narrated you the story, apparently you thought it was an animation film?

Mir: I did! And the way he narrated the story was making the other characters sound very interesting to me. That was a first. When you hear someone narrate a story to you, you wait to know what your character is doing, how many scenes or lines you have. But I got so engrossed in the story and the way Mickey narrated it to me, I wasn’t bothered about counting my scenes. That’s what pulled me towards AranyaDeb.

And how was it being directed by Debasish?

Jisshu: I loved it. A lot of directors tell you exactly what they want from you and that’s fine. But then there are some directors who listen to your point of view. Mickey used to listen to those points and suggest me to do things my way. For an actor, that’s a huge boost... makes you give a lot more to the film. He trusts you, listens to you and gives you the permission to do what you want. I think it’s wonderful.

Debasish, how did the concept of AranyaDeb come to you?

Debasish: Many years back a friend had narrated a small story to me called Ishwar Man. There was a superhero element in that story. After that I have watched many superhero films. Somewhere both these ideas clicked together. 

What was going through your mind while casting Aranya and Deb?

Debasish: I wanted to work with Mir but wanted to cast him in a character that’s very unlike him. I didn’t want to see Mir doing anything similar to what he already does on screen. Deb is an urban, corporate, smart guy. As far as Jisshu is concerned, he has a boy-next-door charm to him. It was very important to showcase Aranya’s simplicity and innocence. 

Any funny stories from the set?

Mir: There’s a sequence in the movie where Deb forgets to pick up his daughter from the dance class. His wife reminds him and he is worked up. So Mickey comes to me and explains that I’d have to be really tense, get into the car and drive away in the shot. I don’t know how to drive and I just couldn’t tell him that. I told him, “Mickey, Deb’s very tense at this point. He can get into an accident. He shouldn’t drive his car.”

Debasish: I got convinced by this logic! He was so confident.

Mir: I got my own driver to drive the car for me in that scene. It’s only after the shoot that I told him that I can’t drive a car!

AranyaDeb is the first Bengali feature film releasing on Zee5. What prompted you to release it on a digital platform?

Debasish: Our movie-watching habits are changing. We are getting hooked to digital viewing. It’s a world platform. Digital is the future.

Who’s your favourite character from Bengali comic strips? Tell t2@abp.in