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Parambrata and Jisshu on the biopic Abhijaan, Soumitra Chatterjee and bonding with each other

‘We are friends and really fond of each other’

By Arindam Chatterjee
  • Published 19.03.20, 7:19 PM
  • Updated 19.03.20, 7:19 PM
  • 4 mins read
Soumitra Babu had spent a lot of time at the Coffee House in the late 1950s, right before joining films. He was politically inclined. Apur Sansar had not happened yet. He had a long association with Coffee House. Pabitra Das

January 19, 2020: Soumitra Chatterjee’s birthday. The living legend cuts a birthday cake and the quintessential Happy Birthday song is sung as Team Abhijaan shares deets about the film, a biopic on Soumitra’s life. Directed by Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Abhijaan (produced by Navratan Jhawar in association with Roadshow Films) has Soumitra playing himself at his present age in the film and Jisshu Sengupta playing the role of a younger Soumitra.

March 15, 2020: Jisshu Sengupta’s birthday. Jisshu cuts a birthday cake and the Happy Birthday song is sung as Team Abhijaan shoots key scenes throughout the day at the Coffee House on College Street. An album from The Telegraph.

Parambrata Chattopadhyay

What are you trying to portray in Abhijaan?

Through this film I am purely trying to capture the way I have seen him (Soumitra Chatterjee). The traits of the man which has intrigued me the most. My takeaway of the person… his life philosophy… which encapsulates his acting, theatre, his existence as an artiste, his political side and the person.

Tell us about the scenes you shot today at Coffee House…

Soumitra Babu had spent a lot of time at the Coffee House in the late 1950s, right before joining films. He was politically inclined. Apur Sansar had not happened yet. He had a long association with Coffee House. We will also do a scene here when he gets together with his friends after Apur Sansar had come out. Friends rib him with a line like, ‘Ki re tui star hoye geli?’ There’s another scene where he has become a true star, in the late-1960s. So today, we are doing a string of scenes in the Coffee House, which cover different time periods.

Is this a nostalgic throwback?

Coffee House will always be nostalgic for me. It has a different charm altogether. One of the main reasons for doing this film is that everything that I have not seen myself but would have always wanted to see... an era where I was not there but I would have loved to be. It’s like revisiting that era.

How is it like directing Jisshu?

Jisshu really understands the importance of these eras and the recreation of these. We are from that generation who still get goosebumps when we listen to the Pather Panchali theme music. Jisshu is so excited to play Soumitra. That is helping me quite a bit. Jisshu has always been a spontaneous actor. Which is why Jisshu is also somebody who blindly trusts the director and writer. Since I know him for many years, I know his strengths… he also knows the kind of sensibility I might like. We are friends and are really fond of each other.

There are a lot of expectations surrounding the biopic…

The expectations sometimes unnerve me but that happens only when I am on my own. Shooting this is so much fun. And I don’t let it affect me. While making it, it is all about putting your focus into it and giving it your hundred per cent. For me, the kick of it is the past… to see the different sides or facets of this person, to recreate eras.

Are you acting in Abhijaan?

I am acting in the present section. I am playing a very important character. I play the guy who is sort of moving around with Soumitra Chatterjee, listening to him. Many personal elements are there. I am also shooting him in the film with a camera.

You have this restless energy while directing...

Film shooting takes time and you have to constantly fight with all sorts of obstacles, obstructions, challenges.

Jisshu Sengupta

Since you are playing Soumitra, what are the things you are keeping in mind?

We have done films together. We have had many conversations. I spent a lot of time with him on the sets of Posto. Most of the times we only talked about cricket! He is a big fan of the game. I know him more on a personal level. I want to capture the essence of the person through my performance. I don’t want to copy him or get into any mannerism thing... and in fact he doesn’t have any. He is a different breed of an actor. The script is about the man, Soumitra Chatterjee, not the superstar we know of. I am trying to capture his jibondorshon, his political views, what was important to him. He is an actor who became a star. And somehow that is true for me as well. I am an actor who became a hero. That’s our common thing.

You played Uttam Kumar in Mahalaya and now Soumitra... two icons…

Of course that thing of tension is there. Soumitra jethu is also acting in Abhijaan. I am the luckiest actor from my generation who had the opportunity to play Uttam Kumar and Soumitra within a span of one-and-half years. I am blessed and I thank my stars.

Are there any Soumitra traits?

I am trying to follow two things… he used to walk in a straight line. He had a swagger. But not always. I am trying to capture his essence and ideology.

You are shooting on your birthday. Have you got used to it?

(Laughs) Last year I was shooting for a web series in Delhi on my birthday.

What’s it like being directed by Param?

He knows exactly what he wants. He has planned out the whole thing… it’s really nice to work with him. If I share something with him, and if he finds it cool, he tells me to go ahead and do it. That is because we are friends. He has given me that leeway. It is great to work with him.

Did you have a word with Soumitra about playing him?

I was supposed to play a different character in the film. One day Soumitra jethu called me and said, ‘You are doing this, right?’ Fifteen minutes later Param calls me up… he is like, ‘You have some time to talk?’ I was in Bombay. Param said, ‘Listen Soumitra jethu wants you to play him.’ I was like, ‘What?’ He told me the story then. And of course I was ready. Soumitra jethu has told me that he has full faith in me. ‘Do whatever you feel is right. I know you will succeed,’ he told me.

What will happen at the premiere?!

I will run away (laughs out loud). Soumitra jethu will attend. I’ll be there, but once the film starts....