Write Up by: Shrabanti Basu, Interviewed by: Ankan Basu
We proudly present an exclusive interview with Amitabh Bhattacharjee at Calcuttatube. The telephonic interview was conducted on December 5th, 2008. I must say that I enjoyed every moment of the conversation. The early riser actor gladly shared some of his valuable morning time with me. I really appreciate his warm interaction with CalcuttaTube.
CalcuttaTube: Tell us something about your early career and educational background. We know that you are from Delhi but we don’t know very much about your past.
Amitabh Bhattarjee: I completed my graduation in English literature when I was in Delhi. Then I went to work for Doordarshan. After some time I got back to school again – Psychology honors this time. But I did not complete my second Bachelor’s and went back to work. I used to work as a graphic designer, and then moved to the field of media, working as an assistant director – assistant producer. Then in 1999, I worked with Pradip Sarkar as an assistant director and moved to Bombay by 2001. While I was working there as a freelancer, I was offered a role in the movie “The Legend of Bhagat Singh” by director Rajkumar Santoshi. Raasta is my first Bengali film, followed by some other films in Kolkata. I finally settled in Kolkata in 2006.
CalcuttaTube: You have worked with Mithun Chakraborty in Raasta. Have you worked with him in any other movies?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: I have worked in “Tulkalaam” with Mithunda. There is another movie called “Swapne Dekha Rajkanya” where Mithunda made a guest appearance.
CalcuttaTube: Most of the recent Bengali Films made in Tollygunge are copied from films made in Tamil, Hindi or some other regional language and the original movies or stories are not even acknowledged. How do you feel about it?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: I feel very bad about it. If we look back about two decades or so in the past, Bengali movies were remade in other regional languages. It was true for our music as well. From those glorious days, we are now down to a situation where we are imitating things that have once been ours, from other languages. What is even worse, the imitations being made are not even quality products. The transformations are mostly trashy. Those movies have no production values. This definitely makes me unhappy.
CalcuttaTube: Lately Tollywood has given us a few good movies. Though we still lack good, original stories for most of the films being made, but there are some new directors who are trying very hard to give something better to the audience. This has caused an increase in the number of movie goers for Bengali films in Kolkata and suburbs. What is your opinion about it?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: I agree. Lately some movies have been made in Tollywood that are unique in their own ways. We have to advance with time. We now have better technologies available in the Bengali film industry, which were not available even a few years back. Competition with other regional film markets is also rising. So we are amending our film production accordingly. We are also observing higher budgets for the Bengali cinema these days.
CalcuttaTube: You have shared screen space with various legendary actors of the golden black and white period of Bengali cinema such as Soumitra Chatterjee, Dipankar Dey, Biplab Chatterjee and many more. How do you feel working with them? Please share your experience?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: It feels really great working with them. As I have already said, I am from Delhi and have been living in Kolkata only for the past three years of my five-year acting career. I feel very happy working with them because they have contributed enormously to Bengali films at one time and I have always watched them on the television screen or in the black and white movies. May be, I do not know a lot about the history of those days because of my upbringing in Delhi, but working with the legendary actors of the Bengali cinema makes me realize the “feel of Bangla“. The interaction between “seniors” and “juniors” is also very important to me. There have been multiple incidents where they have helped me correct my pronunciation, gave me useful tips that I would not have got anywhere else. I must add that I have learnt how to behave with and respect our seniors. You have to have enough dedication to work with such legends. But sadly, the practice of paying respect to our seniors is vanishing very rapidly these days. Some of the newcomers are incessantly arrogant. They do not always show proper respect to the older teammates. I have seen this happening in front of my eyes, which is very sad. However, I treat my seniors with due deference and feel that we, the newcomers, should take our steps in the industry holding the hands of our seniors.
CalcuttaTube: Have you ever felt that the senior actors may have some kind of frustration regarding this?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: That is very hard to say. However, I feel that they may be unhappy about the quality of work in the industry. They have worked with legendary directors at one time. Even if they had received only a fraction of what they got from the earlier directors, they would have been much happier. We do not have that many brilliant directors like we used to have 20 years back. I do not have any intention of hurting anybody personally; the directors may have to act under pressure or make compromises under different situations. But there was a time when the directors did not make this kind of compromise. However, the surrender to whatever externalities there exist – it is making us all suffer. The dimension of work in Bengali cinema has increased in a sense, but the quality of work has diminished a lot. Sometimes it is very hard to cope with situations like this.
CalcuttaTube: You have worked in many theatres. How has it helped you? Have you ever been to any acting schools?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: No, I have never been to any acting schools. To be honest, I have hardly acted in any plays and the reason behind that was my lack of fluency in Bengali. Most of the time I used to work backstage. In fact, I have worked in “jatra”. There used to be a group called “Chena Mahal” in Delhi. When it broke up, another group named “Anweshan” was formed, with which I have worked. Then I joined theatre. Though I never actually acted in a play, I certainly have learnt a lot of other things.
There is a Bengali community in Delhi. We may call the Bengalees living in Delhi as “probasi”, who are living there for 50 years or more and still carrying their Bengali tradition. In that sense, one may think that the Bengali culture in Delhi started with these people who once came from Bengal 50 years back or so. May be, it is nothing revolutionary, but the fact still remains that there is an underlying Bengali culture in Delhi. There are many things that one can learn from there too.
CalcuttaTube: When is your new movie “Ami Yasin Aar Amar Madhubala” releasing?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: I did not get a chance to talk to Buddhada (Buddadeb Dasgupta) yet, but I think it should be released by the end of December 2008, or within the first half of January 2009. There is another movie “Eka Eka” which is also set to release in early January 2009.
CalcuttaTube: You have worked with various directors. Apart from the legendary Rajkumar Santoshi or Buddhadeb Dasgupta, who else do you think is promising, or you would like to work with?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: I must mention Bratyada (Bratya Basu) because he introduced me to the Bengali film industry. It was his movie, “Raasta”, that made me famous among the Bengali viewers. Raasta was my debut Bengali film and I think it is the best film so far. I would like to name another movie “Shikar” directed by Sharon Dutta. It was a thriller and I had a double role in it. Then Tapas Majumdar, the director of “Eka Eka“, is making parallel films in Bengali. I think Manas Basu is also very promising and is capable of giving good films to the industry.
CalcuttaTube: Romance, thriller, comedy – what kind of films do you enjoy working in? As an actor, what kind of a role do you think suits you the best – action or romance?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: I do not consider myself to be an actor at all (laughing)! I do whatever my directors ask me to do! Anyway, the traditional concept of “hero” in movies is gradually changing internationally. To be a hero in a movie you do not have be there from the beginning to the end. A person can make an appearance just a few minutes before a movie ends and can still be the hero. But we still have those “name tags” left. So, if a hero starts acting in a character role, then what would the other actors do, who used to do the character roles? So, the “hero” is an actor who is given an “important role” in a movie and has to portray a character according to what the director wants.
CalcuttaTube: Well, you said that you do not consider yourself to be an actor at all. Who would you name as actors and actresses of the recent Bengali cinema?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: Well, if you ask about the heroes of Bengali movies, I would say – Amitabh Bhattacharjee (laughing)! Well, so far I have worked mostly with new directors who were working in their first or second films. I have not worked with any senior directors except Buddhadeb Dasgupta. I would not say anything right now about my work with Buddhada, else the charm of the movie may be lost. As for other actors, I like Jeet very much and have great respect Bumbada (Prosenjit). I really can’t think of anybody else as a hero right now. If you put the responsibility of carrying on an entire film on Jeet or Bumbada’s shoulders, they will perform the job gracefully. The newcomers need to be given some more time to achieve that potential to be called a “proper hero” in that sense.
CalcuttaTube: Let me ask you something, though you have already talked about this partially. Songs and their placement in Bengali movies had always been very crucial and had a huge impact on the audience. Even the lyrics and music put to the words got a lot of attention from the directors in the past. The songs used in Bengali films these days are pathetically substandard. This is true for dialogues too. For example, in a recent Bengali film we heard the dialogue, “Tumi Amake Ek Glass Dudh Khawwabe, Ami Tomake Ek Glass Dudh Khawwabo, Tarpor Amader Ekta Dudher Moton Baccha Hobe“! How awful! Why can’t we do more justice to the script, music, lyrics? It is not that we do not have talent in the industry. We have singers and composers like Nachiketa, Srikanta Acharjya, Kabir Suman and many more, who have amply demonstrated that they can meaningfully contribute to the Bengali film industry.
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: Well, let me give you an example. A cobbler can make nothing but shoes. Even if he becomes rich one day and opens a big store, he will still have to stick to making shoes. He can never make “exquisite quality leather”. A person who has made ordinary sweets all his life can never make anything like rabdi. A janitor who has been given a lumpsum amount of money will probably procure a huge garbage bin. A constructor of slums, loaded with money, will still continue making slums. These people cannot come out of their confinements and, even when they are gifted with resources, do not know how to use them. It would have been better if it had not been that way, but sadly enough that is what the reality is. We can feel the situation but cannot always take measures because we are helpless. The educated folks cannot come down form their level of intellect, and the uneducated folks cannot uplift themselves to a cultural point.
CalcuttaTube: Why do we always have to choose rural folks as our target audience?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: It has been a trend of the Bengali film industry over a decade or so to target the rural population. The audience in Calcutta does not go to the movie theatres to watch a Bengali movie. The movie halls in Calcutta show Hindi or English movies all year round. The revenue for Bengali films comes mostly from the rural areas, and not from Calcutta. The actors and actresses of the Bengali films are less popular among the educated urban folks. The viewers of the Bengali movies are mostly rural farmers, taxi drivers, or rickshaw pullers. The Bengali movies are an “outlet” for them. On the contrary, the literate and elite class Calcuttans prefer to go to a concert, a tennis match or see Maradona coming to the city – things that are more “exclusive” in nature. But a movie cannot be made for a limited number of audience, and has to be made for the mass, because they are the ones who generate the income for the film industry. At the end of the day, “the money is counted”. So the films are made the way the actual audience of the films wants to watch them. No wonder we are getting stuff like “Tumi Amake Ek Glass Dudh Khawwabe, Ami Tomake Ek Glass Dudh Khawwabo, Tarpor Amader Ekta Dudher Moton Baccha Hobe”! A rickshaw puller may be enjoying this kind of a dialog. That is probably entertainment for him.
CalcuttaTube: Recently I see that many actors and actresses from Kolkata are launching their own websites or fan clubs. Have you ever thought about having your own site or fan club?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: No, not at this point. I am not even sure if I need a site in future. I am a little old fashioned by nature. If I don’t work, then what is the point in knowing me over the internet? It may be good for some people. Then again, I don’t know what would be the use of pushing yourself on the audience. However, it is a totally different issue. Some people are having sites and fanclubs. I don’t have one, and can’t say much about it. “I don’t believe in websites and all.” It may increase one’s accessibility. But if that would bring people to the theatres to watch your movies, life would be much much easier!
CalcuttaTube: Are you working in any Bangladeshi films? Do you have any ideas about the Bengali film industry in Bangladesh?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: No, I have not never worked in Bangladeshi films. I don’t have any idea about the film industry in Bangladesh at all. I had the opportunity to meet Ferdous a couple of times, about four years back. But we haven’t met each other since then. We have worked together in Dilipda’s “Okritoggo”. That was how I came to know him. The movie was a joint production of Kolkata and Bangladesh.
CalcuttaTube: This year, Tollywood has been inundated with new faces like Rahul, Hiran, Dev and many more. Do you think the ‘Prosenjit Era’ has finally come to an end?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: I think, it is probably better to ask the question in a different way. I think we have to move on with time. Bumbada is getting older. He has driven the Tollywood film industry for 25 years. The reason behind that was that no other actor could take his place. You cannot deny the fact that several other actors got a chance to establish themselves, but did not shine. It is definitely a good sign that the new generation is coming in – like Hiron, Rishi, Dev, and others. Many new faces are still streaming in and will in future. This is inevitable. The Bengali film industry has suffered big time, simply because we did not have enough efficient actors. I am not getting into the controversy of “why we did not have enough actors” or anything like that. On the contrary, the Bombay film industry has at least 20-25 “heros”. So, the Bombay film industry is flourishing and has a bigger market. In Kolkata we are not being able to make bigger scale movies. I am sure that if we make Hindi films in Kolkata, they would be “much better than Hindi films.” I am very progressive in that sense. May be, I feel that way because I have worked behind the camera. As an actor, I feel that if you have a good script, and a good director who understands the making of a film and would make a film for its own sake, then we will make much better films here. Tollywood has lots of talented actors.
CalcuttaTube: What would be your “dream role”?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: Dream Role for me is to be a director (laughing)! Dream role can be anything if you can think of it as one. I don’t know if there is anything that you can specifically call a dream role. It may be the character of the chief of army who got killed in the Bombay blast or a character that portrays a taxi driver or the role of gladiator in a Gladiator-like movie. As a person I may have lots of dreams, but it does not work that way.
CalcuttaTube: Do you watch Bengali films other than the films you have worked in?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: Yes, I definitely do. I often sneak into the movie houses for the late night shows.
CalcuttaTube: Tell us about your heroines. Who have you enjoyed working with?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: I have done three films with Rimjhim Gupta, about a couple with Swastika Mukherjee, one with Koel Mullick, one with Rituparna Sengupta, one with Chumkidi (Chumki Chowdhury) and some other films with some newcomers. But I have not worked at stretch with any single actress. So, it’s hard to say much about them. There are many new faces streaming in, who I think have enough potential and just need some more time. Rome was not built in a day. We often expect the newcomers to give us a blockbuster overnight. It may work that way if you are born to the Roshan family in Bombay and Rakesh Roshan is your dad. Otherwise, it is next to impossible. It takes time to become a star or a legend in the industry. Bumbada has also become what he is today after his long struggle. He was still there 25 years back. He has been working in films since the black and white period. But nobody knew him as a star then. Often, your struggle in the industry remains unnoticed till the stardom brings it into limelight. “You have to grow with time”. Unless you are prepared for a job and ready to take the responsibilities, it cannot be imposed on you. “Your position will come to you when you are ready for it.”
CalcuttaTube: What would you like to say to your fans at the CalcuttaTube?
Amitabh Bhattacharjee: Please stop piracy, watch more movies, and be happy. The video piracy really needs to be stopped. It makes the whole industry suffer. People don’t bother to go to the movie theatres if they get to watch the new releases on a pirated VCD. Please go to the movie halls to see the movies. And also don’t get too obsessed with just every movie you watch. We should aim to develop a “class” for the Bengali cinema.