ARPITA CHATTERJI: LABORATORY IS MY MOST CHALLENGING ROLE TILL DATE

Arpita Pal@ Laboratory Bengali Film
Arpita Pal@ Laboratory Bengali Film

Happy with the way her portrayal in her comeback Bengali film Ekti Tarar Khonje has been received by the audience, but disappointed that the film did not do too well though everything was just so, Arpita Chatterjee, the actress who combines beauty with brains, was nailed down for an interview about her enactment of Neela in Raja Sen’s Laboratory where she is playing the daughter in a tenuous mother-daughter relationship with Raveena Tandon playing Sohini, her mother.

LABORATORY will be released in the US simultaneously with the Indian release possibly in the second half of September this year in three cities. DATABAZAAR MEDIA VENTURES has acquired the exclusive rights for the film’s US release. The first stop will be the Tagore Society in Houston.

What made you accept the role of Neela in Laboratory?

I can cite three very significant reasons right away. One is that it was going to be directed by Raja Sen, a veteran National Award-winning director I have never worked with. The second is that I would be playing a Tagore character in a film based on a Tagore short story. The third was that the film demanded that I share screen space with Raveena Tandon who once was a raging actress in Hindi mainstream and went on to prove her talent in off-mainstream films like Satta and Shool.

How would you describe Neela in Laboratory?

Laboratory explores a very conflicting, love-hate relationship between an ambitious, aggressive and dominating mother and her daughter Neela who is as aggressive as her mother is. This is the reason why their relationship, when the daughter grows up, brought up by Sohini as a single parent after her father dies, she tries to rebel against her mother because their ideologies are different. Neela’s is as complex a character as her mother is. She has been married and widowed quite early in life but does not wear widow’s weeds and tries to have a gala time at parties and do’s. She is brought up in a progressive atmosphere considering the time setting of the story. Only Tagore could have tackled the issue of a woman’s beauty pitted against her brains. Only Tagore could have portrayed a woman like Sohini who throws caution to the winds when she has a relationship with a man who is not her husband, just to fulfill her aim of realizing her husband’s dream.

Are there any deviations from Tagore’s original story?

There aren’t any deviations from Tagore’s original story. When Raja-da sent me the original story in Xeroxed form, I thought it was the synopsis of the script. I was shocked to find that Tagore had encapsulated within a few printed pages of a brief story, such a futuristic story that is contemporary today. The two women who dominate the story are modern and non-conformist in many senses. I played out the character according to the director’s specifications blindly. I did not need to provide inputs because Raja-da knew everything down to the last detail.

What kind of homework did you put in before the film took to the floors?

I had several sit-in discussions with Raja-da so that I could internalize the character to the minutest detail. It was not easy because this is my first period film in addition to being a film based on a Tagore story. The story is set in a time gone by, around 70 years ago as Tagore penned it towards the end of his life. But the character is contemporary and modern. I can rightfully say that Neela is the most challenging role I have played till date. Before this, the only character from literature I performed on screen was in Devdas where I played Parvati under the late Shakti Samant’s direction. Indrani Haldar portrayed Chandramukhi while Prosenjit played Devdas. The discussions with Raja-da took me along the film smoothly.

How was the working chemistry with Raveena Tandon?

If I have to use one word, I would say ‘wonderful.’ She has no starry airs, is extremely down-to-earth and is great fun to work with. I met her after several years. We had met briefly when our production house was producing Guru Dutt’s Saheb, Bibi, Ghulam for a satellite channel and she was playing Chhoti Bahu. I was a bit nervous to begin with because over the years, I have understood that if your comfort level with your co-actors and actresses is not good, the discomfort gets reflected in your portrayal and as a result, your acting suffers and sometimes,  so does the film. Stars are known to be irritable and I was scared that her irritation might affect me and subsequently, my performance. But thanks to Raveena-ji, this did not happen even once. I loved the passion with which she learnt her lines herself and insisted on dubbing for the character too. She was very friendly and accommodating on the sets. As we both are mothers of small kids, between shots when the lights were arranged, we would sit down to exchange tid-bits about our kids. I have begun to call her Rabbo – my nickname for her. Yet, inspite of her bindaas approach, she is a thorough professional.

How about working with Ranjit Mullick, one of the most revered character actors in Bengali cinema?

I have known him for long and worked with him too. Sharing the studio floors with him is an added responsibility for me. Prosenjit, my husband, insists that I must take care of Ranjit Mullick while working with him. At that point, I am not just his co-actress, but his local guardian and I am Prosenjit’s wife. It is a role that extends beyond my work in the film. His wife would call me up on the sets to ask if he was smoking too many cigarettes, whether he was taking his meals on time. It is a responsibility that has become an integral part of me over the years. With Shaheb Chatterjee on the other hand, who plays my boyfriend/fiancé, it was fun all the way.

What major differences have you discovered between Aveek Mukherjee and Raja Sen as directors?

They are different in their respective approaches. Aveek is a cinematographer first and a director afterwards. So his perception is as if through one window – the visual frames, their intercutting and so on. He already knows what the final frame will look like on screen before having shot the scene. He can visualize the entire film totally as if from a single window. Raja Sen is a director, first and last. He has to coordinate with the other technicians to direct and is also open to suggestions. Aveek perceives the entire film through his mind’s camera eye. Raja-da perceives the film entirely through his directorial eye and directs his technical team about what he wants from them. There are directors in the industry one needs to work with as a training ground. Among them are Raja Sen, Shakti Samant, Rituparno Ghosh and the late Asit Sen. With Aveek, we had lots of fun though he is quite strict on the sets but he is young. I remember working under Asit Sen’s direction for a telefilm called Adhiswari based on a literary work. It is one of my best roles till date.

You have worn the saris in period style and the jewellery is also period. How was it done?

Ruma Sengupta, the regular designer and image maker for Raja-da’s film did wonders with our clothes and jewellery, hairstyle and make-up. She won the National Award for costume designing for Raja-da’s period film Krishnakanter Will some years ago. She researched a book called Thakurbarir Andarmahal which is about the women in the Tagore home. She went through images in this book and took ideas on how these women dressed down to draping the sari in a particular style. We folded the pleats at the back instead of in front. We draped the sari this way for a party scene towards the climax to add authenticity and the right flavour to the entire presentation. Even the hairdos we sport are typically period.

Do you have any comments on the musical score for the film?

I would like to comment on two songs which are very close to my heart mainly because of the way they have been picturised. One is a Tagore song that goes swapno modir neshay mesha ei unmattotaa which sort of introduces my character into the story. The other is a party song that has the typical period flavour of the time in terms of the lyrics, the beat, the rhythm and the melody picturised on June Malliah in a party scene where she plays a crooner.

If asked to choose five of your memorable films, which ones would you tick off?

Not difficult because I have not done too many films to choose from. I would like to mention Pratibad, a potboiler directed by Haranath Chakraborty, Devdas, Utsab directed by Rituparno Ghosh, Ekti Tarar Khonje and Laboratory.

by: Shoma A. Chatterji

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