Dwijen Bandopadhyay on Bengali theatre, his journey, inspiration, dreams and reality-Interview

Bengali Actor Director Dwijen Banerjee
Actor Director Dwijen Banerjee

Oct 25, 2010 (CalcuttaTube): Dwijen Bandopadhyay, the genius Bengali actor, famous for his comedies on television and his masterpieces on stage shares his journey as an actor, his thoughts on the art, the issues and dreams involved with theatre and more.

Read the exclusive interview at CalcuttaTube.

CalcuttaTube: Please tell us something about your journey from the very beginning.

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: I had an environment for culture at home. My father was a doctor. He encouraged us to read and we had a huge collection of books at our ancestral home. So we three brothers got acquainted with cultural things. In my family and relations, there were many important literary persons.

I never lived at my ancestral home as my father practiced in Kolkata. But there too he kept practicing different cultural activities. From my very childhood I got to see good movies and theatre. My father took us to see ‘Pather Panchali’. At that time, I did not know the essence of that. But we were told that it was something very important.

Another thing was that at home we never faced any problems about reading books. There was no discrimination among children’s books and grown ups’ books. We could read anything we wanted to. It was not that I understood all grown up books in my younger days, but I was welcome to read.

We also read all magazines of our time like ‘Mashik Basumati’, ‘Desh’, ‘Shonibarer Chithi’, etc. This grew a reading habit in me. I remember spending the pujas reading festival numbers. I hardly got out with my friends during those puja days.

All these taught me to do assessment of different forms of art.

My elder brother is a doctor. He is also a poet. So I came across a lot of poets and theatre personalities. With time, I came much closer to theatre. But in those days, I thought that I can never do theatre as I lacked that talent and discipline.

In one Durga puja we did a play in the neighborhood. Once we did ‘jatra’ too. My brothers participated in that too. Anyway, I was inundated with praise from my audiences. Then I felt that maybe I can do it.  But at that point of time, I did not have the commitment one needs to have to stick to a theatre group.

I was studying Chartered Accountancy at that time and was working in ‘Amritabazar Patrika’ in the accounts department when a friend took me to a group and I got associated there. I got the lead role in Nilkantha Sengupta’s play ‘King King’. I got to be the king. Then I acted in the play ‘Daansagar’ (PremChand). All my works were very much appreciated.

After some time, some of us came out of that group, founded ‘Shudrak’ and staged the play ‘Amitakshar’ (1978). That was when people started knowing me. Theatre gave me recognition.

With time, I got to work with Sambhu Mitra in the repertory theatre ‘Galileo’r Jibon’ (‘Life of Galileo’ by Brecht). Sambhu Mitra did Galileo and I did Andrea.

Then I left ‘Shudrak’ and decided to part with theatre. But folks came to me and requested me to form a group and keep on moving. That is how ‘Sanstab’ got started in 1982. In 1984, we produced our first play Nabhendu Sen’s “Abhimukh’. It was a difficult play but it received rave reviews.

And we never had to look back. So far all our plays have been acclaimed. We staged many different plays thereafter. In 1990, I directed Mohit Chattopadhyay’s play ‘Sundor’. This time audiences loved my directorial approach. Another famous production of ‘Sanstab’ was ‘Mustijog’.

I have also worked in the play ‘Nilam Nilam’ (Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’) staged by ‘Gandhar’. Another important play was ‘Vamma’ (Anton Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’) by same production.

I again worked with Sambhu Mitra in the play ‘Dasha Chakra’ which was staged outside ‘Bahurupi’. This way I continued working with different stalwarts.

In 1996 I joined the commercial theatre with Soumitra Chattopadhyay. I knew him since I did ‘Amitakshar’ but we were not still friends. We worked in the play ‘Nyay Murti’, the last play staged by ‘Biswarupa’. From this time onwards, I acted in almost all plays by Soumitra Chattopadhyay. It was a very important time of my life.

In 1997 I joined Rabindra Bharati University as a lecturer.

From 1990 I got to work in TV serials. My audience liked me there too. That brought me fame. My first TV serial was ‘ Abar Jokher Dhan’ written by Hemendra Kumar Ray. Some other important TV works are ‘Chuni Panna’, ‘Raja Gaja’.

Most of them are comedy.

CalcuttaTube: Why are you not explored that much in cinema?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: Not all film directors are aware of theatre.

But ace filmmakers Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Tarun Majumdar regularly watched theatre. I came across Ray while doing Amitakshar’ (1978); he watched me in the play. I worked in Tarun Majumdar’s film ‘Chander Bari’. But I do not get offers from mainstream commercial movies.

Recently, I worked in Srijit Mukherjee’s Bengali film ‘Autograph’. Srijit has a theatre background.

I also worked in ‘Prem By Chance’, though it did not do well at the box-office. I had an important role all throughout the film.

I have worked in Sandip Ray’s latest film ‘Gorosthane Sabdhan’. I have also worked in many of his telefilms too. I have actually worked more in telefilms, but never been exploited much in feature films. Recently I am working another commercial film ‘Jug Jug Jiyo.’

A few days back, Ravi Kinagi offered me a role in a film, but I could not accept because of date problems.

Actually I have a lot of commitments – television, theatre, teaching. So, I do not always manage to find enough time. Previously I did not get too many offers. These days I am getting a lot.

CalcuttaTube: Bengali audience knows you more for comedy. Did you want it that way or it just happened?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: No, it just happened. In my earlier days in theatre, I mostly did serious roles. In a couple of Bibhash Charavarty’s plays ‘Girgiti’ and ‘Kaji Saheber Kissa’ I did comedy roles however.

But after I did ‘Abar Jokher Dhan’ I started getting comedy roles. It was just accidental. But I think I have comedy inside me in my own way.

CalcuttaTube: You work on a lot of Mohit Chattopadhyay’s plays. Why is that?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: You will notice that I do not change make-up or looks frequently. I try to be myself, whatever I am that is what I show on stage or on screen. There is a thought behind this. I am a common man. And how a common man is in different situations of life is what I want to explore.

We saw Charlie Chaplin in a single look all throughout his films, except for a few rare cases.

I think acting is not dependent on make-up. This was my challenge. I always wanted to see if I could reach people through acting, and for what I am, not by some made-up looks.

Mohit Chattopadhyay’s plays are based on a certain type of reality, that is the ideal of the real. We all have one reality in which we live and there exists another reality inside us that we dream of. Mohit da’s plays deal with ideal of the reality that is depicted in a funny way and it penetrates the viewers very deeply. That is why I am so fond of his creations. I like his way of story-telling. There is poetry in his writing. The way he chooses his words, forms the sentences feel like a lyric, even when he is saying mundane things. He talks from a different angle. It attracts me. I find it very challenging.

CalcuttaTube: What is the concern about theatre among the youth?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: There is always a stream of young people coming in theatre. It is not true that newcomers are not interested in theatre or that there is lack of talent in them. If I do good theatre, I will always get folks. But if I myself am not too good at it, then I may not get these youngsters.

But the problem is the socio economic structure we are in right now. It is a very difficult one. We need to earn and exist here and at the same time have to do theatre. We have to see how to cope with all these. Like I am teaching and doing TV serials and then doing theatre.

You have to do something else to earn livelihood when you are doing theatre. You cannot survive simply with theatre. Government is giving salary grant to some groups, but it is not possible for everyone to get that grant. There is a huge number of theatre workers outside. And theatre is not a paying profession. How will they survive? This is one crisis.

There is one more thing. In this time of globalization, when you are working for someone in the corporate world, they demand a huge time from you. Even your personal life is hampered. So how will do theatre? So, time is another crisis.

If a brilliant person comes to theatre, he/she can enrich this art more. If you look at our previous generation, all our stalwarts have or had an outstanding academic career. So it was easy for them to uplift our theatre. Theatre won’t survive by mere average contributions. We always face this challenge that how we would get enough inflow of talents here.

In our immediate next generation we see a lot of talented theatre workers like Suman Mukhopadhyay, Koushik Sen, Debshankar Haldar, Gautam Haldar, Bimal Chakrabarty, Seema Mukherjee.

CalcuttaTube: Does cinema get more full house than theatre?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: Not necessarily. Not all movies get full house. Many films do quite bad at the box-office. Compared to their cost involvement they do not always do good business. But cinema has another advantage. If they sell rights to the television, it recoups the cost which is kind of a parallel business.

CalcuttaTube: Why do we not get enough advertisements or promotions of theatre on TV?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: It is not possible due to cost reasons. A film can do that kind of promotions, but not a play. These days media is focusing on certain directors and in newspapers we see previews of certain plays which is creating a market for those plays before they launch. But it is only for certain people. Most directors stay out of this focus. Theatre as a whole is not getting this advantage.

CalcuttaTube: Is it true that a period drama is more popular than current ones?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: I do not think so. Of course there are certain period literature that transcend over time. But not all of them; the reality we see in period plays or novels is different. So that does not necessarily ensure popularity. Popularity can be more guaranteed by marketing, which is out of reach for theatre.

Theatre in yesteryears spread by words of mouth. When we staged ‘Amitakshar’ in 1978 and it became popular that was how it worked. These days certain plays are getting media publicity. But still theatre is going on, though the survival is difficult.

CalcuttaTube: Does an audience come to see their favorite TV stars in plays?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: No. A TV actor does not have that market value that an audience will come to see him act in a play. Viewers mostly prefer to stick to television.

We are still obsessed with TV. It is a few decades that television has emerged. It will probably take 50 more years for us to come out of this TV passion. I think in third world, TV is an infatuation.

Theatre has become very costly these days for common people. If a family goes out for theatre one night, it will probably cost 500 rupees for the tickets, transportation and food. This sum becomes unaffordable for common man. Television is more of an investment. You just pay for the electricity and get the same entertainment.

CalcuttaTube: How are emerging technologies in theatre?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: Every medium has its own language that you need to explore. No medium can survive just depending on technology. It can create some hype momentarily, but that will not help in the long run. You need to discover the power of the language. This is true for theatre and all other mediums.

Even cinema is not totally dependent on technology. For example, a Spielberg movie can be technologically very sound, but a Bergman movie helps you achieve something very different. Technology can startle you, but does not necessarily develop language of a medium.

CalcuttaTube: Is acting on stage more difficult?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: Both are difficult. If a character is very difficult, then it will deserve same dexterity to act on television. Mostly on TV we see average characters. And the medium can get mechanical at times. So most of the time people do not realize if it is difficult at all, or where the difficulty lies.

In theatre, you have to survive in front of the audience. If you are not good, they will not come back. For television, whatever is presented in front of them, most of the time they watch it.

But as far as acting is concerned in any medium, it is the same difficult.

CalcuttaTube: What is your upcoming play?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: It will be Ujjal Chatterjee’s ‘Monoshchokkhu’. Ujjal is a very young writer. We are trying to stage in a couple of months.

CalcuttaTube: You have worked with all directors of your previous generation like Arun Mukhopadhyay, Shambhu Mitra, to name a few. Please share your experience.

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: It has been a very different experience to work with each one of these theatre maestros. Like, Sambhu Mitra was very disciplined. We were all in awe of him. But he was extremely easy to work with and a lot of fun too.

Every director has his own analyses of characters. Sambhu da always had an idea about a character from the very beginning.

Soumitra Chattopadhyay is the same way. He always has a sketch of a character prior to work. And with the ease he communicates a character you will not have any problems accepting it.

For Bibhas Chakrabarty it is different. He would sketch the character on hand. As the works proceed, he would develop a character more. It is kind of instantaneous.

CalcuttaTube: What is the influence all these personalities on you?

Dwijen Bandopadhyay: I always consciously try to avoid anyone’s influence. If you follow someone’s acting, it will have an influence. But if you know the human you are trying to portray, both internally and externally, then you will not be confined within anyone’s influence.

For example, if I follow Soumitra da’s acting, then it will be another Soumitra Chattopadhyay. And it can be a disaster for me. I will have to scan a character or take breaks, and pauses in my way. I cannot copy him physically because we are very different there. What I need to do is reach his imagination; then only I can prepare the character and make it.

I will have to be inspired by others, not mere copy them; ‘anusaran, anukaran noy.’

Shrabanti Basu

1 thought on “Dwijen Bandopadhyay on Bengali theatre, his journey, inspiration, dreams and reality-Interview

  1. i am very much found of theater,Dwijen Banerjee is truly a fantastic actor no doubt about it.His mustijog,gunidhorer oshuk is the examples of great drama.from more than 20 year this actor give us some fantastic theater.
    recently i saw his amitakhar,that was fantastic….

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