Subhrajit Mitra’s much-feted film Avijatrik takes off from Apur Sansar, and highlights the journey of Apurbo Kumar Ray (played by Arjun Chakrabarty) and his son Kajol. “One very important point was Apu’s eyes should have that dreamy and kind character to them, no matter what. Whether he’s happy or grieving, he’s a soft-natured individual. I was massively attracted to the sort of person I was trying to play. I believe I got into Apu’s mindset way before shoot actually began. Or at least I tried to. I did not find it difficult to get into character, and I wasn’t in a hurry to get out of it either,” smiles Arjun. A candid chat...
Now that Avijatrik is finally releasing in Bengal in theatres, what are your thoughts?
It was planned for May 2020 and it got delayed by one-and-a-half years. That has obviously been disappointing but I’m glad it’s finally releasing for the public. Those who saw it at KIFF 2020 were all praises, so we have high hopes.
There will be comparisons… how are you looking at that aspect?
I didn’t think about that when I was shooting, and I’m not thinking about it now. We have made an original film based on an original script. We would never try to remake what the legends have done. All of us tried to bring what was unique to us. Be it acting, script, direction or cinematography.
Is this film one of the most significant films of your career?
Yes it definitely is. It is one of those films that allowed me to explore myself and see myself very differently. It gave me immense creative satisfaction and the entire journey will always be memorable. The opportunity to play Apu is a gift. A massive gift.
The film has already been screened across fests, it has got favourable reviews. What are your expectations from the audience here?
Audience reaction at KIFF 2020 was heartwarming. And they are the film lovers/movie buffs of Kolkata. If that is anything to go by, we are very positive and hopeful. However, no one has ever predicted a film’s future effectively, so we’ll just go with the flow for now. Although I have a strong feeling this film will resonate with people across all age groups.
How important is the audience feedback and opinion for you?
Extremely important. Avijatrik is a Bengali film, made for everyone but most importantly for Bengalis and Bengal — for our audience here. Twenty eight awards at international fests is obviously a huge honour, but till our home audience gives us a certificate of approval, the journey is neither fruitful nor complete.
What has been the most memorable part of the entire Avijatrik experience?
Playing Apu. Getting into the mental space of a father, philosopher, romantic, wanderer, writer, thinker and so much more — in the time period of late 1930s/1940. There is so much to know and explore. What a unique profession I’m in. Very thankful.
What kind of research work did you do to get into the character of Apu?
Honestly, not a lot. Subhrajitda is a great writer and guide. Relying on this amazing script was the best decision I made. It made things fluid. Not for once was I confused in any way, and my director was there throughout to guide me through every shot. Credit goes to him.
Could you relate to the character?
In many ways. Being a father, for instance, helped. That emotion is timeless, whether you’re in 1900 or the 2000s. The way Apu thinks is intellectually way superior to anything I could ever think, to any way I could try to live. Apu is someone to look up to. I’m glad some of him stayed back with me.
How was the shooting experience for you, especially in Varanasi?
Brilliant. Real locations lend a unique flavour to any canvas. Working with Baba, exploring the bylanes, trying to capture the old city — everything has been rewarding. Taki, Bolpur, North Bengal, north Kolkata, were all unique in their own way. I saw these places very differently while working on Avijatrik.
How was it like acting with your little co-star, Ayushman Mukherjee, who played the character of Kajol? Did he surprise you?
He did. He’s obedient, the credit for which undoubtedly goes to his parents. He had no problems following Subhrajitda’s guidance. Shooting can be hectic. It even went up to 18 hours at a stretch at times. A child has the right to be sleepy or cranky, but Ayushman showed no such signs. I’m amazed.
It is a treat watching you and your father sharing screen space. How was the experience for you?
Amazing. To share screen space and play his friend in a project like this is a dream come true for any actor. I was as wonderstruck as I look on screen. There’s always so much to learn from him. No one else could have done justice to Shankar’s character like Baba has. That baritone, that screen presence, that personality all combine to make it pleasantly intimidating. Watching this film on the big screen is not going to be just another movie-watching experience. It’s going to be dreamy, maybe even surreal.
We see Apu in various looks. How would you describe your look in the film?
I had to grow my hair and beard to unprecedented lengths. Haha! I liked how I look in Avijatrik. It was well thought out. The costumes helped immensely. Apu is mostly seen in Bangla shirts and a dhoti but he’s also seen wearing western clothes when he’s out and about. Even when he’s in western wear, there’s something very Bangali about him. Moreover, the body language of the 1940s was obviously way different from what we are now. I tried incorporating all these aspects in order to look the part.
How many times have you seen Avijatrik in theatres?! And what are your views on your own performance after watching it?
I probably could have done better. I’m not satisfied with myself. I’m waiting for the judgment from our audience. I’ve seen it about four times till date. As a film, it is a masterpiece. I’m thankful to the makers for choosing to make this.
Having completed more than a decade in the industry, how do you look back at the journey?
A fascinating journey with some regrets and a lot of learning. Immensely thankful to the producers and directors who chose to work with me and hoping I get to work with many more talented artistes.
What were the lessons learnt?
Nothing is guaranteed. It doesn’t matter how famous your parents are, you have to work hard. I’m glad that effort is appreciated and I continue to have work. There are people who are a lot more talented and handsome than I am. So I know I’m blessed to have what I have. I also know how hard I’m willing to work to hold on to all this.
Do you now think of doing Hindi films or web shows? Do you think of moving to Mumbai maybe?
Moving, no. Going to work, definitely! I could very well shuttle between Mumbai and Kolkata. I’m always open to bigger/better prospects. Self tests and auditions keep happening, so let’s hope I manage to crack something soon.