Two to tango: Abir Chatterjee and Srijit Mukherji in a no-holds-barred chat with Indulge
This year was especially memorable for Tollywood’s favourite screen sleuth Abir Chatterjee and box office darling Srijit Mukherji, who stood out in a crowd of six Puja releases. Indulge had a chat with the actor and the director at ITC Sonar’s Fabelle chocolate boutique, over some Warm Chocolate Tian, Spiced Hot Chocolate and a Mason Jar full of creamy cheese cake and toffee. Excerpts:
So how do you feel about your first chat with Indulge?
Srijit Mukherji: All firsts are special, since it’s like a birth. Indulge has all our love and support.
Abir Chatterjee: We need a platform to put out our thoughts across to our fans. It’s great to have another magazine in Kolkata, let’s indulge in Indulge (smiles).
You both had superb runs at the box office this year...
SM: Yes, both Uma and Ek Je Chhilo Raja (EJCR) were among the biggest blockbusters and are doing well at the festivals including IFFI and Dhaka International Film Festival. The run would have ended on a sweeter note with Shahjahan Regency, but thanks to Shibu’s (filmmaker Shiboprosad Mukherjee) request to let Rosogolla get a better chance to perform at the box office, I shifted the release from December 21 to January 18.
AC: 2018 began with Ami Joy Chatterjee which released after a two-year wait. It was a small release, which was a tad disappointing.Guptadhaner Sandhane was a hit across all ages. Biday Byomkesh was a challenge for me, as I played an octogenarian Byomkesh, and also his grandson. For the latter, I required the energy of someone 10 years younger to me.
SM: Bengalis are sensitive about holy cows. In EJCR, I experimented with another holy cow, the real story behind Uttam Kumar’s Sanyasi Raja. With my first movie Autograph, too, I tested the Bengalis’ appetite for experiments. I shot EJCR like a dispassionate historian. If the character is suffering from
syphilis due to womanising, one needn’t turn it into liver cirrhosis.
AC: The Bengali audience has matured because of exposure to world cinema and a variety of web content. My Byomkesh movies are not just thrillers, but have socio-economic reference points, too. Byomkesh Gotro had references to Bhasa Andolan, wildlife conservation, colonial hangover, and communism.
It has been three years since Rajkahini that you worked together. Was there a tiff?
SM: Yeah, a script-related tiff.
AC: A creative tiff.
SM: Script-wise, Abir had a lot of expectations that I could not fulfill. He did me a favour by doing a cameo in Jatishwar, and fortunately, I could cast him in a meaty role in Shahjahan Regency.
AC: The best thing is Srijit never takes it personally if anyone turns down a role.
SM: For me, the film comes first. If it needs my greatest enemy to act in it, I won’t bat an eyelid before approaching him.
Srijit, are you hinting at Prosenjit Chatterjee, especially after a much-public spar over your puja releases?
SM: (Laughs) No, I had objections to certain things he said and I expressed my reservations. But it ends there, we are not toddlers. In fact, after that, we discussed two projects on WhatsApp. I couldn’t have made Autograph without Prosenjit, and I am eternally grateful for that.
AC: There’s a difference between disagreements and trolling. A film can be hit or flop, and we need to be open about that. You may not like a film — that’s subjective, but the numbers never lie.
What are your next releases?
AC: There’s Srijit’s Shahjahan Regency and Dhrubo Banerjee’s Durgeshgarer Guptadhan. I will be back as Nasir Ali in Kaushik Ganguly’s Bijoya, a sequel to Bishorjon. It’s a power-packed, emotional movie and the story will now be set in India. There’s also Maniak Bhaumik’s Borno Porichoy, a thriller, my second with both Moinak and Jisshu.
Who is the female lead in Borno Porichoy?
AC: Jisshu is the female lead! (Both double up in laughter)
SM: In Shahjahan too, you have two heroines — Parambrata Chatterjee and Rittika Sen, and Param is the bigger heroine.
AC: We complement each other when we work together in a film. I don’t believe in stealing one’s thunder like some other senior actors.
SM: Abir genuinely believes in team work and camaraderie.
AC: I have no aspiration to be a superstar. I feel the script is the biggest superstar.
Did the KKJ script ruin Prosenjit’s efforts?
AC: I didn’t watch it (tongue-in-cheek).
SM: I’m waiting for Bijoya to get back my favourite storyteller. Kaushik Ganguly’s films are about the tragedy or triumphs of the underdogs. KKJ started off brilliantly, but the plot deviated somewhere else altogether.
What films are you working on?
SM: 2019 will kick-start with Shahjahan Regency, followed by Vinci Da, the story of a prosthetic make-up artist and a serial killer. A thriller with Prosenjit will release during the pujas besides Gumnami Baba and Kakababu series. Gouranga, a biopic on Sri Chaitanya, with Jisshu, is also on the cards.