Porey Paoa Sholo Ana is a rural take on small pleasures of life, says actor Kharaj Mukherjee
In Bengali cinema some of the most gifted character actors are not the most handsome. The great Tulsi Chakraborty (1899-1961) -- who immortalised his acting skills in Ray's Paras Pathar -- was one. Kharaj Mukherjee is another.
“I have been rehearsing non-stop for our upcoming play,” says bleary-eyed Mukherjee rather apologetically as he opens the door after the bell rang for a couple of minutes. In a plain sleeveless navy tee and a pair of canary yellow printed cotton shorts, Mukherjee speaks like an actor possessed as we settle on a couch in his cosy living room for the next three hours.
Apart from his acting skills, Mukherjee is remarkable for his unpretentious tongue. Sridevi's daughter does not have a fraction of her looks, he says, back from a shooting stint in Mumbai with her. He also has a rather low assessment of director Srijit Mukherji for his "gimmicks".
For Mukherjee, whose tryst with acting started in the early 1980s with theatre, it has been a long time indeed before he came up with his own play. “I had been deeply involved with late thespian Ramaprasad Banik and his group Chena Mukh and later Theatre Passion since my college days. Despite a busy schedule later on in life, my ties with theatre were never really severed. But I could never come to terms with the politicking in group theatre and I distanced myself for a while,” he remarks. Nevertheless, he acted intermittently in two plays, Bhusundir Mathe (His debut theatre act) and Prothom Path (The last play written by Banik) all this while.
“But I realised that I was stagnating and not trying out anything new in theatre. So, I wrote a play five years ago, but somehow or the other the production got delayed. It was Supriyo and his team from the theatre group Behala Bratyajan, who insisted that I stage this play with them,” he says, getting out of the slumber with a hot cuppa. Mukherjee is the playwright, director and also reprises a role in the play Porey Paoa Sholo Ana, which will debut on stage, on July 1, in Kala Mandir. The actor, who is also a good singer, mentions that his son, Bihu, who is also the drummer of a popular city band, Moksha, has composed the music for this drama.
Besides this play, Mukherjee has also stolen the thunder in this year’s highest grossing film, Haami, with his reprisal of a rogue politician, akin to one very popular political figure in Bengal. He has also done a few Bollywood projects, among which is Dhadak, the launch vehicle of late actor Sridevi’s daughter, Jahnvi Kapoor. Talks are also on for a substantial role in Salman Khan’s next, Bharat.
As the conversation proceeded organically, the 54-year-old artiste poured his heart out. Excerpts.
Tell us about your new play, Porey Paoa Sholo Ana.
This particular play is all about the small pleasures of life, losses and gains of the rural people. It’s their story in their language. The plot revolves around the missing of a jackpot. We want to bring back plain entertainment value in theatre. The audience wants to have a lot of fun and entertainment while watching a play, not only sombre and serious messages. There will be a subtle message but in an entertaining manner. That’s why I have kept a lot of music. There will be bhajan kirtans and item songs as well.
You are working with many amateurs in this play. How do you find this generation of theatre actors.
Yes, a few of them are new to the medium and some of them also suffer from stammering. But I can bet you will not be able to guess that when you come to watch our play. It’s a different feeling to work with today’s generation. But there is one thing I feel that is lacking in today’s generation of theatre actors. They are not as sincere or hardworking as we were. In this age of net surfing, they are very inward looking. The only way for a person to grow as an actor is to mingle with all kinds of people, which nowadays youngsters fail to do.
You are just back from Mumbai after your work in Dhadak. How was it working with Jhanvi Kapoor? Did she remind you for her mother?
No way! No one can be close to how beautiful Sridevi was. I saw her in Chennai during the shooting of Tohfa, and like all other young men, my jaws dropped, too, I was awestruck, watching a paragon of beauty from such a close range. Her daughter is nowhere close to her in terms of inheriting her looks. I told Jahnvi, too, about my chance encounter with Sridevi. I find Ishaan Khattar (Actor Shahid Kapoor’s half brother) to be a disciplined actor.
Who is your favourite actor in Tollywood?
I was never a fan of Suchitra Sen in terms of her acting. I feel Sabitri Chatterjee and Supriya Devi were far ahead as actors. But no one else could carry superstardom the way Sen could. She remained in the limelight till the last day she was working and once she left it all, nothing could be seen or heard about her. That was something amazing.
And among the current crop?
Do you think any superstar has arrived after Bumbada (Prosenjit Chatterjee)? I think the age of superstars is over now. It’s the rise of actors in Bengali film industry. Looking forward, I don’t think any single star will reign supreme, rather it would be an age of the actors. The audience now, appreciates actors more than stars. It’s a content driven age, where good films will work, with or without the stardust.
And who, according to you, are good filmmakers in Bengal?
I just love Kaushik Ganguly. He is a great storyteller and also a very good actor. In fact, Ganguly is the only person I am jealous of as an actor. He is one hell of an effortless actor. I also find Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s work commendable. He is the Tapan Sinha of new generation, who wants to offer people something new every time. He has brought the culture and discipline of group theatre in cinema.
And Srijit Mukherji?
Emon kichu ekta ahamori noi (He is nothing special). He is very average. I don’t like his work that much. You can’t always fool people with gimmicks. There are many, who want to emulate the late director Rituparno Ghosh. Oto sosta naki? (Is it that easy?)
What: Porey Paoa Sholo Ana, a play written and directed by actor Kharaj Mukherjee
Where: Kala Mandir
When: July 1, 6.30 p.m.
Tickets: Kala Mandir, Academy of Fine Arts, bookmyshow.com