Pradeep Chakrabarti on journey as actor, director, Bengali theatre, TV soaps and films

Bengali Actor Pradeep ChakrabartiBluefield Jan 31, 2011 (CalcuttaTube): Pradeep Chakrabarti is a common face in Bengali theatre and telesoaps. The actor has worked in many interesting TV shows like ‘Arogya Niketan’, ‘Jol Pore Pata Nore’, ‘Hansuli Banker Upokotha’, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s feature film ‘Janala’, telefilms like ‘Bondho Dorjar Samne’, ‘Murgi’,’Wrong Number’– to name a few.

In a friendly discussion with Shrabanti Basu from CalcuttaTube, the actor reveals his journey from Jamshedpur to Kolkata, his thoughts as an actor-director, recent works in Anjan Dutta’s filmByomkesh Bakshi’, Bengali plays ‘Chirokumar Sabha’, ‘Putul Nacher Itikatha’ (Director: Arun Mukhopadhyay), his upcoming projects and more. Read the exclusive interview at CalcuttaTube.

CalcuttaTube: Please share the beginning of your journey.

Pradeep Chakrabarti: My family is from Bangladesh erstwhile East Pakistan, though I do not have any memories there. My father had a transferable job and as a kid I lived in different places in West Bengal. When I was just 17 years old, I went to Jamshedpur and started working as an apprentice for one of the Tata group of industries. That was when I first took theatre seriously. In Jamshedpur, I spent a very important time of my life. There were many Bengalis there who used to patronize cultural activities. I think this was true for many places outside West Bengal that had Bengali population.

I was impressed by the works of a couple of theatre groups and thought of joining them. This was the start and with time I wanted to get deeper into theatre. Doing only a couple of shows per year was not enough for me anymore. Around 1966-67, I founded the theatre groupBortik’ where I was actor turned director. However, others too intermittently directed. Mostly we did Mohit Chattopadhyay’s plays; about three plays were by Bijon Bhattacharya.

My group performed couple of times in Kolkata and I thus got to know eminent theatre personalities. It is always a dream for asuburban groups to perform in Kolkata and be appreciated here in the cultural capital. We were no exception.

Renown drama critic Dharani Ghosh of the Statesman in his review of our production ‘Nishad’ (Mohit Chattopadhyay)in Kolkata   wrote, “Bortik of Jamshedpur can compete with the best of the Calcutta stage today.“ I directed the play and acted in the lead role.

Then we staged some more Mohit Chattopadhyay plays ‘Will Shakespeare’ and ‘Bagbandi’. These two were staged in Kolkata besides many other places.

CalcuttaTube: Why Mohit Chattopadhyay?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: I was very much attracted towards lyrical things at that time. After Rabindranath Tagore, it is probably Mohit Chattopadhyay, who is greatly lyrical in his plays. His ‘Dweeper Raja’, ‘Chandraloke Agnikando’ and other contemporary plays attracted me. ‘MrityuSanbad’, ‘Captain Hurrah, ‘Rajrakta’ etc plays look at life in a way that not  many had done before.

CalcuttaTube: So how did you become an actor by profession?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: In 2002 when I quit my job and came to Kolkata it was destined for me to join theatre. My friends and I knew that it was something very natural.

I met Arun Mukhopadhyay who lives in my neighbourhood and I joined ‘Chetana’.

CalcuttaTube: Please tell us something about your works in television.

Pradeep Chakrabarti: I am associated with television since 70s, when Bibhash Chakrabarty was a producer. I took a few tests and got into the actors’ panel in TV. I was living in Jamshedpur but distance never deterred my relation with Kolkata. To see a good production or to act in television play or serial I frequently came to Kolkata and thus all my leave would be exhausted.

In Bibhash Chakrabary’s ‘ Shesher Ratri’, a play on the Doordarshan, I was cast in stellar role opposite to Tripti Mitra. It was in the late 70s.

I got in touch with Bijon Bhattacharjee during this period as ‘Bortik’ was preparing to produce ‘Jabanbandi’. Later we produced Bijon-babu’s ‘Laash Ghuirya Zaak’. I was lucky to have his luck and affection. Raja Sen, a good friend was instrumental in giving me opportunities to act in serials and films. Later, as I shifted my base to Kolkata I worked for many other directors.

CalcuttaTube: How different theatre is in the suburbs? Were there any obstacles when you were practicing theatre in Jamshedpur?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: There is definitely a difference. Infrastructure is an important factor in theatre. The suburbs do not have those facilities that a metro has. In terms of talent too Kolkata has a bigger base because it has been a city traditionally inclined to dramatics and folk theatre.

CalcuttaTube: So when a play is staged in the suburbs, did you get enough potential viewers?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: There were potential viewers in Jamshedpur, the time I am talking of. The town had a lot of talented people. There was an educated, cultured Bengali population migrated from Kolkata. They appreciated good films and theatre, music, dance and other forms of performing arts.

However, with time the habit of patronizing such activities went down. TV, as in other countries has given us a lot and robbed us of many good things. However, to hold TV responsible for the same would be a mistake. Socio-political scenario also had much to contribute in the erosion of interests in good old form of entertainments.

CalcuttaTube: With all those many TV channels what obstacles do you all face these days when doing theatre in Kolkata now?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: I think youngsters these days have a tendency to use theatre as a stepping stone. I would not say that it is bad. They cannot stay in theatre because it does not provide them with better livelihood. But at least people are still coming in. There are so many TV channels where they have a huge demand for actors and the remunerations are also good. This is an obstacle for theatre.

I do not think that theatre can survive with people of my age. There was a time when youngsters were more interested in joining theatre.

I am lucky that I do not always have to solely depend on television for livelihood. However, I do work in TV soaps, get paid for that. I definitely love that. But I love theatre even more. The number of people who enjoy doing theatre more than television serials is decreasing.

CalcuttaTube: You do not get the same satisfaction out of theatre and TV. Would you share anything on that?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: No, I don’t get the same satisfaction. Performing in front of live audience is a thrill; acting in front of camera can hardly match. But I am also not the best person to comment. There are many more experienced people to do all this talking.

I think the relation between satellite channels, producers, writers is are different. It is almost impossible to do good works in TV soaps. Telefilms are of much better quality because they have definite scripts. In case of mega serials, even the writer does not know where and when the story would end. The story is usually written based on the inputs supplied by channel authorities who rely heavily on TRP data in shaping the story.

CalcuttaTube: What about preservation of good works?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: It is a tragedy that many of our masterpieces could not be preserved. Now that the technology is within reach the groups should be taking more interests in recording the same. It is not possible to keep them that way. Someone may have something in their personal collection, but it is not always done as a team work.

I wanted to have a copy of my work with the legendary actress Tripti Mitra. Unfortunately I never could trace that tape.

CalcuttaTube: Please say something your directorial ventures.

Pradeep Chakrabarti: When I lived in Jamshedpur, I became a director, because I was the only who had the time, did all the correspondence and was exceptionally crazy about theatre. My acting was decent too. In ‘Chetana’, I did not direct anything yet. But I am going to direct the play ‘Inspector General’ written by Gogol. We are doing the Promothonath Bishi version. He translated it in Bengali around 1945. However, I have edited it to make it more time friendly.

CalcuttaTube: Let us talk about your comedy. In ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’ when you said ‘khun’, there were so many expressions embedded in that one single word. It was simply incredible.

Pradeep Chakrabarti: It was my first day of shoot in ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’, and director Anjan Dutta told me that the word ‘khun’ sounds sweet to my ears. I had that in mind and then it just happened. When I am acting, sometimes something turns out to be just fine and sometimes not. I cannot explain them. Not all days are equal. This is true for TV serials, plays or films, though I have done very few films.

Personally I felt that the other shot I gave for ‘Byomkesh Bokshi’ was better. Anyway, this one was accepted. The character was a very interesting one. He runs a hotel, loves crime fiction, is extremely excited to meet Byomkesh Bakshi. The other aspect is that he once did ‘jatra’, though it has not been explored. He once played clarinet, which he mentions once. When I played the character I smiled a typical smile that once does in ‘jatra’; some may have noticed it, others not. It was a character with many aspects. An actor needs to explore that.

CalcuttaTube: Why haven’t we got you that much in films?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: I think I lacked proper contacts. I never got that kind of visibility I needed to do so that I would have been taken note of.

CalcuttaTube: You portray serious roles with the same dexterity as comedy roles. Any particular genre you love to do or think suits you?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: I personally like intense roles. My role in the play ‘Nirnay’ was very intense. But you do not get such intense roles all the time.

When a director puts a novel in play, edits it, there are many things about a character that gets excluded. As an actor, I am confined in a sense that I cannot enact those scenes, but I can incorporate those emotions in my characterization. When going from one scene to another, a good actor always bridges this gap, though unfortunately remains unnoticed in many cases.

In the playPutulNacher Itikatha’ a whole lot of things had to be edited. When I played Gopal’s character who had an extra marital relation with Sendidi, Arun-da (Director Arun Mukhopadhyay) never told me to hold her hands to give a clue of that, and in the script there was only one sentence about it. Gopal had so many conflicts with his children, turmoil in his domestic life, etc. The role was very challenging. In the beginning, I didn’t understand it much. At times I had even thought that it was not a major character in the play, compared to the novel one. It was my first impression. But as I proceeded with rehearsals, I realized that the character is very important – it is not present in the play with all the incidents may be, but it demands to be explored fully. This is an actor’s job.

CalcuttaTube: Please say something on ‘Roshik dada’ character in ‘Chirokumar Sabha’. It was exceptionally good and we laughed all the time. You did not do anything exaggerating, yet it was so humorous.

Pradeep Chakrabarti: I almost did not have to do anything with ‘Roshik Dada’. Arun da edited the script very well and I did it my way. I believe in natural acting.

Actors sometimes tend to emphasize in comedy, esp. where at points they know people will laugh. It is a hard task for an actor to overcome that temptation to overplay in certain scenes.

CalcuttaTube: Are you acting in the upcoming play?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: Given a choice I shall not act and direct at the same time. Till now I haven’t cast myself in any role in the play. When I am directing, I am under more stress than when I am acting. Normally, therefore, I would not like to do the both. Again having a director who will not have to act is a luxury not many groups of Kolkata can afford. So, frankly  speaking , I don’t know whether or not I shall be acting.

As an actor, I get nervous at certain plays. I feel more relaxed in ‘Chiro Kumar Sabha’ than in ‘Putul Nacher Itikatha.’

CalcuttaTube: Have you worked in any theater groups here other than Chetana’?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: Yes, I did a show or two in a play for a group. It was not very significant though.

CalcuttaTube: Any other films you are working in right now?

Pradeep Chakrabarti: I am working in Bappadityo Chattopadhyay’s Bengali film ‘Khallash’ with Bodhisotto Majumdar, Tridib Ghosh and others in the cast. The script is good, though it has been written keeping in mind the commercial market.

Video: Pradeep Chakrabarti in ‘Putul Nacher Itikatha’


-Shrabanti Basu

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