The midas touch test
The undisputed star of Bengali cinema, Prosenjit Chatterjee, returns to Bollywood after seven years with OTT series, Jubilee
In the 2011 film, Autograph, Prosenjit Chatterjee’s character says, “Aami Arun Chaterji, aami industry (I am Arun Chaterji, I am the industry)”. He wasn’t bluffing, not as Arun, not as Prosenjit. He is credited to almost single-handedly reviving Bengali cinema in the 90s and early 2000s.
It was perhaps his overwhelming popularity in the east that encouraged him to try his luck in Bollywood. In 1990, he debuted in David Dhawan’s Aandhiyan.
He went on to star in other Bollywood projects such as Shanghai (2012) and Traffic (2016). He is back now, but on OTT: Jubilee, which released on April 7 on Amazon Prime, retells the history of Bollywood of the 1940s and 1950s—the era of jubilee films that would run for 25, 50 or even 75 weeks in theatres. Prosenjit plays Srikanth Roy, the powerful owner of film studio Roy Talkies––vaguely based on Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani’s Bombay Talkies. The series also stars Aparshakti Khurana and Aditi Rao Hydari.
“This is my 350th project. I am celebrating a jubilee in its true sense,” says the 60-year-old actor, adding, “Roy has many shades: he is passionate about movies, and experimental––he tries to bring in new technology. He is also, however, someone who can go to any lengths to protect his studio, and in the process becomes ruthless. That’s what I loved about him.”
An added attraction was working with director Vikramaditya Motwane known for Udaan, Lootera and Sacred Games. “I have always wanted to work with new-age directors, and he (Motwane) has been on my wish list for his unique sensibilities. Plus, he said I was the only choice for Roy, who is an amalgamation of many actors of the past,” Prosenjit says. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the actor’s career flourished during the jubilee era of Bengali cinema. “My film Amar Sangi (1986) ran for 75 weeks. It was a platinum jubilee,” he recalls, adding, “The era of jubilees is over; young actors will never know what it was like to celebrate one. Fortunately, I got to see more than 70 silver and 40 golden jubilees in my career.”
This is, however, not the first time that Prosenjit has been offered a lead role in a Hindi production. He was chosen for films such as Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) and Saajan (1991), which he turned down. He regretted the decision after the films did well, but at that time, he simply wasn’t ready to make the move. “I did not know if I would be the number one actor in Bollywood. In Bengali cinema, I had 300 producers ready to bet on me. But, now I am keen to take risks,” he says.
Being experimental is not new to Prosenjit. He did it with Unishe April (1994), when he played a supporting character in a women-centric film; in Chokher Bali (2003), when he chose parallel cinema at the peak of his commercial success; and again in Srijit Mukherji’s Autograph (2010), which set the tone for contemporary Bengali cinema and Prosenjit’s career. He has since appeared in stimulating films such as Praktan and Chalo Paltai, as well as engaging thrillers such as Baishe Sharon and Zulfiqar, among others.
“At one point, I did 10-12 commercial films in a year, but I wanted to experiment. I picked Autograph. Then I did Kacher Manush, after which I wanted to do something for children, and Kakababur Protyaborton happened. I want a new fan every day,” he says.
Prosenjit is Bengali cinema’s undisputed jubilee star. Will his Midas touch work in Bollywood too? Jubilee will be the test.