Filmmaker duo Shiboprosad Mukherjee, Nandita Roy and actor Soumitra Chatterjee on Tollywood and more
The year 2018 ended on a sweet note for filmmaker and producer duo Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy. Their film Haami became the highest Tollywood grosser of the year. What’s more, Pavel’s Rosogolla, presented by their production house Windows, is running full house despite other films including Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero having released alongside it, on December 21.
The duo just finished shooting their upcoming film, Belashuru, in Santiniketan. The movie takes off with the same cast and crew of their 2015 film, Belaseshe, one of the highest grossing Bengali films ever. But Mukherjee stresses that the story doesn’t take off from where the earlier film ended. “It’s not a sequel in the true sense. Just as Haami had the same protagonists from our film Ramdhanu, in Belashuru too, the characters are the same, but the story is very different and has no reference to Belaseshe,” reiterates the 44-year-old Mukherjee.
Here, again, the protagonist is Soumitra Chatterjee. A favourite star of the late celebrated auteur and Oscar winner Satyajit Ray, Chatterjee, now 84 years old, has been active on stage and screen for the past six decades. The actor —who can still put his juniors to shame in terms of zest for life and talent, and has won almost every honour in India including the Dada Saheb Phalke award — still regrets missing out on playing Goopi in Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. We caught up with the director duo and Chatterjee at the actor’s home on Christmas, to chat about the state of Bengali cinema, hits and misses, and a lot more.
How was it working with the same unit again for Belashuru?
Soumitra Chatterjee: It always feels great when a family reunites, and if the location happens to be Santiniketan, it’s a cause for double the merriment. We are working together after three years, but the bonhomie and camaraderie still remains the same.
Shiboprosad Mukherjee: It was a fun-filled shoot, and both Nandita and I feel so happy and blessed that we can again work with such talented actors like Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta. In fact, it will be our fifth film with Soumitra...
Nandita Roy: The shoot is almost over, except a small part, which will be shot in Bangladesh this month. We are hoping for a Puja release later this year.
Will this be your first Puja release? How excited are you about the timing? Director Srijit Mukherji has been ruling the Puja box office for the past five years now.
NR: Yes, it is technically our first Puja release, but as producers, we released Anindya Chatterjee’s Manojder Odbhut Bari last Puja, and it did pretty well, despite other big budget Bengali films.
SM: Regarding facing competition from Srijit’s films, we had a simultaneous release in 2015 May, with his Nirbaak and our Belaseshe — and the rest in history. So, it’s not something new.
NR: Initially, we planned to release Belashuru in May 2018. But since our film Kontho’s release has been postponed to May, we pushed Belashuru to the Pujas.
And how are you feeling about Rosogolla’s success at the box office, despite the release of another Bengali children’s movie, Adventures of Jojo, on the same date?
NR: Euphoric! It was Pavel’s second film, but technically, his first big release. The protagonists were newcomers and my faith in new talent has been further reinforced.
SM: I want many more Bengali movies to release on the same dates, but they should get an equal number of screenings at theatres. The battle should be just...
SC: It’s always desirable for all the Bengali films to do well. But, I see that there’s no respite from monopolists in the film industry. There’s a radical change among the nonBengali producers nowadays. In our times, non-Bengali producers like the Kanakarias and others had a love for Bengali films. I really doubt whether such love and care is there among the non-Bengali financiers now (alluding to the big production and distribution houses of Tollywood).
Were you tensed about Shahrukh Khan’s Zero releasing on the same day as Rosogolla?
NR: No, many well wishers told us to postpone the release, but we stood our ground, since this is the 150th year of the making of the confection rosogolla, and hence, the best time for the film’s release.
SM: All I can say is Shah Rukh Khan earned a rosogolla with Zero. (In colloquial Bengali parlance, rosogolla or golla is also synonymous with scoring a zero.) Soumitra, you have a career spanning over 60 years now. How has Bengali cinema and the industry changed over the years?
SC: I have realised that change is the only constant here. Bengali cinema has gone through various phases. During the ’50s and ’60s of the last century, out-of-the-box movies were made by stalwarts like Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha. Tapan Sinha’s films, especially, were thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. The ’80s and ’90s saw remakes of Southern films, which had no similarity with Bengali culture or way of life. We have emerged out of that phase and are seeing very well-made, content-driven films now. There are many young people who are thinking differently and making films with unusual subjects, which the audience is accepting with open arms. I was really impressed watching Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Asha Jaoar Majhe. We should encourage such movies. For a film to click, the content should be very good. The audience should be able to relate and laugh and cry while watching the movie. Essentially, content is the king...
SM: Definitely, the audience in Bengal is very discerning, and accepts good content. This is not true so much in other parts of the country.
Is the concept of a ‘star actor’ becoming irrelevant lately?
SC: To a great extent, yes. A big star can only create an initial interest in a movie, but ultimately, a movie works on word- of-mouth.
SM: This is even truer in the age of social media...
SC: Yes. Pre-release marketing and promotion triggers excitement in the beginning, but the audience gives the final verdict, based only on content.
Which director have you enjoyed working with the most?
SC: Obviously, Satyajit Ray. I have done 14 films with him, and it was the most satisfying period of my acting life.
Are you more of a film actor than a thespian?
SC: Some people think I belong to theatre, while others think I am for the silver screen. But very few people know that I’ve been addicted to films since a very young age. I used to skip school to watch movies at Bangabashi cinema hall, near our school in Howrah. I remember watching the Ashok KumarSuraiya starrer Khiladi seven times. My elder brother was a partner-in-crime and I remember watching Gone with the Wind with him when I was in class eight. We used to turn our backs towards each other and smoke cigarettes pretending that we couldn’t see each other! (Laughs.)
What’s your take on art or parallel cinema?
SC: This distinction between art and commercial films is baseless. I remember Satyajit Ray saying during a felicitation for his movie, Pather Panchali that no filmmaker would like to project his movie on his own wall and watch it. The box office is important. However, the concept of it might not match with others. I believe in that too.
Any regrets as an actor?
SC: At times, I regret missing out on some roles. I always wanted to enact characters from Shakespeare’s stories, especially Hamlet. But then, I have passed my prime. Hence, I have done King Lear and continue to stage it whenever I get the time. I will always regret not getting to play Goopi in Ray’s Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne (1969). But I believe Tapen Chatterjee was born to play Goopi. I haven’t yet worked with Kaushik Ganguly, maybe he hasn’t yet come up with something where I can be accommodated as an actor.
Tell us what we can expect next from you, Shiboprosad and Nandita?
SM: We are producing another movie by newcomer Pritha Chakraborty (named Mukherjee Dar Bou), which will be released this Woman’s Day. It’s a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship story, starring Rituparna Sengupta, Koneenica Banerjee and Aparajita Auddy. Kontho will release this May and Belashuru during Durga Puja. We are also planning for a long time to do a movie on Gauhar Jaan, the first superstar of India.
Any plans for a web series?
NR: Of course! The moment Soumitra Da gives us dates, we will start shooting for our first web series.
SM: We plan to work in at least 10 films with Soumitra...
That sure sounds like a sure-shot formula for success!
NR: We are both extremely hard-working people, and we work from our hearts, without thinking about the outcome. We also keep our eyes and ears open to whatever happens around us, and we keep tabs on newspapers for unique story ideas.
SM: It’s not as if we are sitting on a heap of ideas. We also trust our gut feeling a lot while deciding what will work and what will not. That’s how Muktodhara was made when we stumbled upon an article praising danseuse Alokananda Roy’s culture therapy and work with prison inmates. The idea for Ramdhanu was born at a friend’s birthday party over an animated conversation on how difficult it has become to get a child admitted to a school, and the same goes for Haami.
NR: Belaseshe too was conceived similarly. We got inspired by a small thread in a play by Sohini Sengupta. Likewise, Posto happened when lawyer Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee fought a similar case that we read about in the newspapers.
What is Nandita like, to work with?
SM: Like a cranky CEO! She is never happy or easily pleased. Nandita rejects almost all my ideas, since I often share an idea in one sentence (laughs). I am made to do backbreaking research and submit heaps of matter, before she okays anything!
NR: Yeah, most of the times, I drive him mad. But he also obliges happily, and the results are for all of you to see.
After plenty of success in the last five years, do you ever feel the pressure to keep delivering hits? NR: We never think about how the audience might react to our films. We make our films only if we are convinced about the content.