Tolly stars Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Paoli Dam in conversation, as Konttho hits theatres
The month of May is not only about the gruelling heat, IPL cricket rivalries, and the elections. Every year this month, the urban Bengali audience of Kolkata expects to watch a new movie from the filmmaker duo of Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy. Looking back at their hits so far — Belaseshe, Praktan or Haami, the biggest blockbuster of 2018, Mukherjee and Roy have made a habit of casting a spell at the summer box office, with their unique stories on the silver screen.
Their newest film, Konttho, which hits theatres today, tells a story of struggle, love, hope and optimism — subjects close to the hearts of most middle-class Bengalis. The story of a survivor of laryngeal cancer, Konttho will see Shiboprosad in the lead, alongside Paoli Dam and Bangladeshi actor Jaya Ahsan. We sat down with the gorgeous Paoli and the ever-witty Mukherjee at Flurys on a sunny morning, for a free-wheeling chat on the movie, thoughts on marriage, and their respective careers. Excerpts:
What took you so long to work with each other?
Shiboprosad Mukherjee: Ask her!
Paoli Dam: He took time to cast me! (Laughs.)
SM: No, I always wanted to cast her, but she had no dates for us...
PD: Shibu approached me for the movie Accident, but for some reason, I couldn’t say yes to the film then, and he approached me again for Aleek Sukh, which I also couldn’t do. I think there’s a right time for everything.
SM: Yeah, maybe we were destined to be paired together in a film...
How was it to be shooting together?
PD: He is a brilliant actor. Everybody’s heaping praises on us for the song Sobai Chup. I think Shibu should act more often, besides filmmaking.
SM: Some actors enrich the industry with their body of work, and Paoli is definitely one of them — be it with Kaalbela, Natoker Mato or Tritiyo Adhyay. That’s commendable as Bengali mainstream films hardly offer women-centric roles. How many films like Raazi, Queen or English Vinglish are made here?
PD: For me, the struggle was at many levels. Besides singing and dancing in scenic locales, there was hardly anything more that I could do in a typical potboiler. Hence, I consciously chose my films, and I was lucky to get casted by some very good filmmakers, including Goutam Ghose and Kamaleshwar Mukherjee.
Shibu, take us back to your struggle as an actor?
SM: I started off at a time when stars ruled big. I didn’t want to get stuck acting in serials, so I concentrated more on filmmaking. Southern remakes were ruling the roost, and producers wouldn’t bet big on original content. Gradually, post-Ramdhanu when we started achieving staggering numbers at the box office, it changed the equation. Now, it’s all about content rather than star presence.
PD: Konttho would never have been possible without Shibu — it’s his best act so far.
Paoli, you too started off with television...
PD: I did a lot of telefilms, and I still remember, once while shooting with Bharat Kaul, I delivered a dialogue without knowing where the camera was. TV taught me about camera angles, focus, lighting and other technical aspects.
Tell us about your coping mechanisms, and how you face up to times of difficulty.
PD: My films are my only answers. I have worked with some good directors and I utilised the scope I was given.
SM: I have always believed that ‘Apna time ayega’ (laughs).
Paoli, how challenging was your role in Konttho?
PD: I play Pritha, a news reader. She and Arjun have a beautiful marriage, and a son together. She is a middle-class girl, balancing her life well, until cancer comes their way. Then it turns challenging, both mentally and physically. I met wives of laryngeal cancer survivors, and it was a heart-rending experience to hear their struggles. They go through a huge struggle, which I tried to portray on screen truthfully.
Shibu, tell us how the experience was for you?
SM: Playing Arjun was difficult, as the character has lost his larynx. I had to use my oesophageal voice. My acid test was when Konttho’s trailer was shown to over 600 oncologists, at a seminar organised at Tata Memorial Hospital in Kolkata. I was a bit circumspect about how the doctors might react, as they deal with such patients daily. It was the biggest compliment when they came and asked me whether I was a patient or an actor.
PD: There were some sequences where he used his oesophageal voice, and we were spellbound watching him do so with such spontaneity.
Was it tough to keep the seriousness of the subject intact within a mainstream format?
SM: It took 18 years to ensure that the movie did not turn into a docu-feature, and yet retains the gravity of the issue. Konttho is inspired by a real-life story, but in the movie, we made Arjun a radio jockey, where his voice is crucial to his career and livelihood. But it’s not a story of defeat. It’s about how not to give up in the face of crisis.
Paoli, you have worked with almost all the leading directors around, including Srijit Mukherji. Tell us, who is better in your eyes, Shibu or Srijit?
PD: There are lots of differences between Shibu and Srijit. There’s no gossip about Shibu (laughs). Jokes apart, Konttho will always be a special film, because of the content, and the way it has been approached. I had a very small role in Srijit’s Zulfiqar, so there was no major involvement as compared to Konttho. If you ask me who is better, I will, of course, give higher marks to Shibu and Nandita. Frankly speaking, I have worked with Rituparno Ghosh, Goutam Ghose, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and others, who represent a different gharana of cinema, which is almost lyrical. What I like about Shibu and Nandita is that they create each character with so much care, which is rare among contemporary filmmakers.
For an interesting point to note, Shibu is visibly shorter than you in the film...
SM: The greatest people or actors were all short — from Charles Chaplin to Robi Ghosh. I am proud of my height, and I never make an effort to hide it. There’s no need to be a larger-than-life hero.
PD: During one shoot of us together, an assistant even suggested increasing his height, but he flatly refused. SM: We have seen Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan on screen, why not the opposite for a change?
You do look very good together...
SM: This is the first time that I am getting to romance someone on screen, and when it’s Paoli, I have to make it all mushy (laughs). So, I waited till the monsoons to get drenched with Paoli (both laugh).
Paoli, you just completed a year of marriage. How have you been balancing life at work and home?
PD: Before marriage, it’s all about yourself and your own comfort, but marriage changes your perspective, and you look at a situation from a neutral point of view. Also, I am more patient now.
SM: Marriage is all about patience and giving each other space.
In your relationships, do you find yourselves being more of a giver or a taker?
PD: I am a taker only while shopping. (Laughs.)
SM: When it comes to good food, I am the taker. Both my wife and mom are amazing cooks. Otherwise, I prefer to stay quiet, because the ball is swinging viciously and a slight nick can take the ball straight to the fielder (laughs).
Shibu, most of your films have female actors in important roles. But who is your biggest inspiration?
SM: My mother is my sole inspiration. I lost my father and uncle within a span of 12 hours, and the way she single-handedly brought us up is incredible.
Tell us about your future projects.
PD: I just finished shooting for Anvita Dutt’s web film Bulbul for Netflix, produced by Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate. I will be shooting for Kali season 2 in Hindi. Besides, there is Pratim D Gupta’s film opposite Ritwik Chakraborty, Kamaleshwar Mukehrjee’s Password and Leena GangulySaibal Banerjee’s upcoming film, Sanjhbati.
SM: We just wrapped up Belashuru, and as producers, we will be looking out for more talented filmmakers. After Mukherjee Dar Bou’s unprecedented success, we have decided to come up with another women-centric film for Women’s Day, next year.
Comfort wear for summer: PD: Anything in cotton, linen or handloom. I love saris and I am not a fussy dresser. SM: I love comfort dressing, and I love wearing clothes from Anupam Chatterjee’s Warsi. Diet and fitness: SM: I try to sleep as much as I can, and like to eat regional and local dishes. My favourite is Posto (poppy seeds). PD: I am more of a gym person, and I cannot do without fish. I like bland food, especially sashimi, but without the rice. Favourite web series: SM: Made in Heaven, Broadchurch, Four More Shots Please, Narcos, Suits and Mind Hunter. PD: Game of Thrones, Made in Heaven and Narcos.
Pics: Satwick Paul Costume: Anupam Chatterjee