Director Srijit Mukherji bets big on his Puja release, Ek Je Chhilo Raja
After ensuring Uma’s success in the box office, director Srijit Mukherji, who prefers to be called a storyteller, has become busy shooting his next film, Shah Jahan Regency. Based on popular writer Mani Shankar Mukherjee’s 1962 novel Chowringhee, the film, slated to have a Christmas release, will invariably evoke nostalgia and comparison with the 1968 film by the same name. Directed by Pinaki Bhushan Mukherjee, the movie starring Bengali icon Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi, among others, was a runaway hit.
Mukherji’s take on Chowringhee has undergone many changes including cast, with actor Prosenjit Chatterjee being replaced by Abir Chatterjee. Parambrata Chatterjee has been roped in to play Shankar. Also, Jaya Ahsan’s role will be portrayed by Swastika Mukherjee. Mamata Shankar will be seen in a grey role and Rituparna Sengupta has a very special appearance as a crooner called Gauhar.
Departing from his signature kurtas, Mukherji, looking dapper in a black tee and trimmed beard, takes out some time on the first day of the shoot to chat in his cosy apartment about his upcoming projects.
Shankar’s Chowringhee was immoratalised by the eponymous film starring Uttam Kumar. Why did you take the risk of doing a film on the same book?
I read Chowringhee during my growing up years and it rings a nostalgic bell among Bengalis. But my film Shah Jahan Regency is not a rip off from the book. It’s adapted from the book and the main plot remains the same, but I have changed everything else about it.
It’s a reinterpretation and reincarnation of the novel, if I can say so. Since it was written in 1962, much of the plot’s relevance is lost in 2018. For example, it was set in post colonial Calcutta, when the British were still around, and there was a huge, active Anglo Indian community. So you had characters like Marco Polo, Jimmy, Juno, and Byron. I did away with all these characters and their names besides the equations of the characters. Each character had a rebirth in my script. Also, Chowringhee, as a locality, is no longer a hub of hotels, with the entire activity being shifted to the E M Bypass area with the best five star hotels located there. I have kept the essence and events of the novel, but have given a twist to each of the stories, keeping the changed times in mind.
A lot of changes in the casting, too, have taken place with Prosenjit Chatterjee no longer playing the role essayed by Uttam Kumar. Jisshu Sengupta, too, is not in the film anymore.
Prosenjit Chatterjee opted out of the film because he thought the role is not suitable to try at his age and should essentially be portrayed someone much younger. Uttam Kumar played the part when he was quite young. I am thankful that he has the discretion.
But couldn’t you, too, as a director feel that he is not suitable for the role at the very onset?
I had a feeling like that but I also felt that we could have possibly pushed it in the narrative itself to suit Bumbada. But he asked me to take someone else. And as for Jisshu, he had to reprioritise the dates in Mumbai due to gall bladder operation and so our dates clashed.
So, after all this I had to rewrite the script to suit the new characters and new age groups with their new equations. There will be Abir Chatterjee, Parambrata Chatterjee, Rudranil Ghosh and Anjan Dutt. But I don’t want to reveal who’s playing who to retain the mystery.
When will the all new Shah Jahan Regency be released?
We will finish the shoot in 19 days flat and are targeting a Christmas release.
Oh, that means it will clash with another much-anticipated film, Pavel’s Rosogolla from Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s production house.
I don’t think it will clash with Rosogolla, but will peacefully coexist, because we will be catering to different audience and also, because the first half of this year’s box office records prove that there is enough space for all the Bengali films to do well despite releasing together. Both Drishtikone and Guptadhaner Sandhane that released together are box office successes. We have to keep that tempo going.
Jaya Ahsan, too, is no longer a part of the cast in Shah Jahan Regency. Instead, Swastika Mukherjee, your former girlfriend has been roped in. Grapevine say it’s because of a tiff between you and Ahsan.
I knew this was coming (Laughs). It’s nothing of that sort. While writing the script and reworking it, I realised that Swastika fits the role better than Ahsan. The characters determine their own destiny and it won’t do justice to Jaya’s credentials as an actor and my honesty as a story teller if we compromise while casting. There’s nothing more into it. Besides, Ahsan is very much a part of my Puja release, Ek Je Chhilo Raja.
That brings me to the question, Ek Je Chhilo Raja yet another much talked about movie. How differently have you portrayed Bhawal sanyasi?
It’s not only an entertaining film, but also a gripping one. It’s possibly going to be my best in 2018. The incredible series of true incidents make it intriguing and my focus in this film will be the court case. It will be a period courtroom drama that will thrill the Bengali audience no end.
What are the other projects you are working on?
I am working on a Hindi web series based on Satyajit Ray’s short stories. There will be 12 stories set in as many cities across the country and I will be directing the project from Kolkata and Mumbai. Also, I will commence shooting of another Bengali thriller this year.
Are you doing any Bollywood film after Begum Jaan?
Yes, I just signed and sealed a contract with a Mumbai-based production house for a Hindi movie, but I cannot divulge details before September.