Actor-filmmaker Anirban Bhattacharya on his upcoming film, Ballavpurer Roopkotha
Bhattacharya's upcoming film will be a fun family film, just like the ones that existed in the pre-internet era.
Ever since the world was swept over by the giant OTT wave of fascinating content, Bengalis have been ranting about the poor, at times pathetic content churned out by the local streaming giants here. The Bengali series stand no chance in comparison with the regional offerings, be it the plots, -- that are mostly too banal or overdosing on inessential sleaze -- or the scale of the budget.
But Mandaar (that released in November last year), with its distinctly mature approach, has been hailed as a landmark in the Bengali OTT space. And the credit goes to actor Anirban Bhattacharya for singlehandedly taking the quality of Bengali web content several levels higher with his directorial debut. Just like acclaimed filmmaker Pradipta Bhattacharya's six-part romantic thriller, Birohi, Anirban’s Mandaar (a screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth) too does not stereotype the rural Bengal, and earns appreciation for its stellar cast and contextualising sex, greed, violence and expletives.
The introvert actor, thespian and filmmaker, Anirban speaks at length about his future projects and more.
The year 2021 had been remarkable for you, both as an actor and a debutant director.
I can't say if it was remarkable as an actor but 2021 definitely has been special for Mandaar. We shot it in January and it was released in November and I was so nervous about its reception. I am grateful for the overwhelming response it got. But as an actor, it wasn’t that a great year, in fact, 2021 was a more satisfying one for me with a variety of roles in films and series like Dwitiyo Purush, Detective, Byomkesh and Dracula Sir, where I could explore the actor in me. This year, my films Mukhosh and Golondaaj released and in the latter I had a guest appearance. But I’m extremely happy that both did well, especially in times as this.
Why do you think makers in Bengali do not try a story in a rural set-up? Were you sure that the audience would appreciate the rural plot?
The last time we saw rural plots in Bengali cinema, it was in the films by Swapan Saha. Anjan Choudhuri, Anup Sengupta and Haranath Chakraborty. Since a little before 2010, there has been a distinct shift away from rural stories since most of the new filmmakers hail from cities and it's a tad difficult to make a film based in villages without understanding the depth and dynamics of a rural setting. Merely showing a bullock cart or paddy fields doesn't constitute a rural plot. At the same time, I believe, more than the setting, the story is crucial. If that is well-told, the rest doesn't matter.
Mandaar's story emerges in a muffasil set-up which has a bit of everything – it has a rural dialect, the area closer to the sea and has a forest region which gives it a rural touch. But at the same time, it has a semi-urban feel. But while scripting it, all I cared about was the story, I had to ensure it was interestingly told.
Was keeping it theatrical a conscious decision?
From the very beginning, Pratik (Dutta) and I scripted the story from a theatrical point of view. I wanted it to be very dramatic. I did not want to go the realistic way since that had been successfully tried by Vishal Bharadwaj in Maqbool and on such a scale that it can't be touched. So, we got away from realism and adopted a theatrical approach.
Now you are going to direct a feature film, Ballavpurer Roopkotha.
Abhishek Daga (creative producer) asked me to make a small-scale interesting film. I worked on 2-3 concepts and Badal Sircar's popular comedy play, Ballavpurer Roopkotha, was one of them. Pratik and I are restructuring it into a more cinematic script but we are sticking to the essence and it will feel like a theatre on screen. The drama format is kept intact. This is a fun family film, just like the ones that existed in the pre-internet era.
With so many Bengali films waiting in the pipeline for release, do you think the scenario in Tollywood will change for the better?
I feel it will take 3-4 really good films in a row to bring back the good times. No matter what gimmicks one employs during a film’s promotions, if it doesn't have anything to offer, it will fall flat on its face. Apart from content, what Tollywood also needs is perhaps a great lot of investment. But having said that, there's no overnight solution to the current predicament.
Your upcoming projects?
I just finished shooting for my debut Hindi feature Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway with Rani Mukherjee. Also, I filmed for Dhrubo Banerjee's series Tiktiki with Kaushik Ganguly and it's in the post-production stage.
As a filmmaker, I am working on another series, Bottolar Goyenda based on Swapan Kumar's fictional detective character Dipak Chatterjee. But that will go on floors later this year.
In the theatre space, there are two dramas I will be a part of. One is a Shakespeare classic, and another is Berobar Poth Nei, based on Jean-Paul Satre's No Exit. The latter will be staged by my group Hathibagan Sangharam and we are planning to stage it at the National Mime Institute in January end if things are fine.
I am also planning to direct a musical on Alibaba later.
How have you evolved as a person and an actor?
I thought about all that in 2020, but last year, I realised there is no time to be reflective, all that we are doing or do is to run and chase things. We are in the last lap of civilization and, till we are alive, we have to just keep running to survive. In this post-modern and post-art era, there's no time to pause and reflect.