On the couch, Mr Coach

Moumita Chaudhuri chats with actor Dibyendu Bhattacharya about Bollywood, roles and labels acquired along the way  

By Moumita Chaudhuri
  • Published 9.09.18
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Picture Credit: Moumita Chaudhuri

When we meet Dibyendu Bhattacharya three months after the release of Prosit Roy's Pari - he played the morgue attendant - the first question we ask him is this: why do magazines and newspapers repeatedly refer to him as the cheapest actor in the Hindi film industry?

We are meeting Bhattacharya in his home in Joka in the far end of south Calcutta. He is here on a break from Mumbai.

He looks visibly amused by the question. We had expected anger, now we are anticipating sarcasm, but he says in a candid tone, "What can I do if they don't want to pay me all that much?" He says that even his role in Pari did not fetch him a handsome package, but then that entire film was shot on a shoe-string budget.

Bhattacharya's role in the film was small but crucial. He plays Sahu, who works at the morgue and is also part of a cabal - Auladhchakra.

There is a scene in the film, Pari, where he is seen with two others pilfering the dead - plucking out a gold tooth, tugging hard at a chain, pulling off a ring from a bloody hand. For someone who says he has never been inside a morgue, not even for the sake of getting into the skin of the character, Bhattacharya 's act is convincing, dark.

The wall behind us is adorned with a smattering of frames, all of himself, from his various acting ventures. "These pictures are from the days when I was a student at the National School of Drama (NSD)," says Bhattacharya.

There is one in which he is dressed as a beggar. It is from Ram Gopal Bajaj's play, Bhook Aag Hai. "The story revolves around a schoolgirl from a very rich family. She has to write an essay on hunger. But neither she nor her parents know what hunger is. So her parents bring home three beggars from the street. She studies these beggars and writes her essay."

Bhattacharya is dressed as poor Tom from Shakespeare's King Lear in yet another frame. He had been cast as Edgar in the play directed by John Russell Brown. Brown, who is from UK, was a guest lecturer at the NSD that year.

Recalls Bhattacharya, "I was required to change my looks at least twice. In the middle of the play, I had to take a bath and slip into the prince's robe and the very next moment, I had to rush back to the green room where they would smear my face with dirt before I re-entered as poor Tom. And for all this, one would not get more than three to four minutes. The play was on."

One more photograph that arrests the gaze is of Bhattacharya dressed up and made up as a woman complete with pallu over head, red bindi and sindoor. "This is from Thanku Baba Lochan Das by B.M. Shah. It was done in nautanki style," he tells The Telegraph.

All tales lead to Pari somehow. We ask him about shooting; after all, it was in his home city. Among the cast were other Bengali actors such as Parambrata Chatterjee, Anirban Bhattacharya and Joydeep Mukherjee. Did they spend a lot of time together on and off the sets?

For the first time he seems to avoid a direct answer. Instead, he talks how he used to spend the evenings with the new director and the technicians in the crew. "All day, we used to shoot in the interior of south Bengal - it was full of dirt, mud, and the water infested with insects. In the evenings, four of us - director Prosit Roy, cinematographer Jishnu Bhattacharjee, sound mixer Ravi Dev Singh and I - would enjoy a spot of adda. We had befriended a chef who would serve us a simple maachher jhol-bhaat. It was soothing after a hectic shoot," he says.

We ask him how he has come to do a certain kind of role - he played Chunnilal, the friend of Devdas in Dev D.; Ambica, one of the comrades in Bedabrata Pain's Chittagong, a film on Masterda Surya Sen; a casanova in the play, Raja ki Rasoi, and a servant in Carlo Goldoni's play The Servant of Two Masters. Subverted individuals, characters living on the periphery of our consciousness.

Bhattacharya vehemently moves his head from side to side. He does not agree. When we keep harping on it he pays himself a compliment - "I am versatile," he says. "These roles come to me because they are the most difficult of roles to play, and directors think I am the one who can do it right."

Bhattacharya who has undergone rigorous training at NSD, claims that directors often ask him to teach acting to newcomers in Bollywood. "Anurag Kashyap had sent Sidharth Malhotra to learn acting from me. Yash Raj Films also had asked me to teach Arjun Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra and Vaani Kapoor. I am the acting coach for many."

But his priority has always been acting and not teaching, Bhattacharya emphasises.

We ask him about his future ventures and he tells us how web content is on the rise. He has been approached by a production house in Bengal to work for its web platform. He seems excited. "I have always wanted to work in Bengal. This one might be the starting point."