PROSENJIT – AN ACTOR DECONSTRUCTED
Join CalcuttaTube in an EXCLUSIVE tribute to Prosenjit, the most successful Bengali Hero from Tollywood Kolkata after Uttam Kumar. Prosenjit will be celebrating his birthday on 30th September. Check out the feature article about the extraordinary journey of Prosenjit as an actor.
by: Shoma A. Chatterji
Is there a difference between a hero and an actor? With time, the hero whose selling power depends almost solely on mass hysteria and adulation and not necessarily on his acting talent metamorphoses into an actor without detaching himself from his ‘hero’ tag. When the hero feels trapped within his own screen image, having done masala roles in masala films year after year, he wants to explore alternative avenues of self-expression. He wants to tap his potential as an actor, because he has finished exploring his market value as hero. This theory is backed by Amitabh Bachchan and Uttam Kumar’s career maps. Now, it is Prosenjit’s turn.
[ReviewAZON asin=”B000E3L782″ display=”inlinepost”]The word ‘hero’ for Prosenjit, transcends the borders of the screen, the cinema theatres and the Bengali audience to embrace everything contemporary mainstream Bengali cinema stands for – pulling in the mass audience, crossing the rural-urban divide of viewership, and fashion statements among young men who wish to emulate their icon. Prosenjit’s grip over millions who are completely enthralled is without parallel. He has been around for 27 years in more than 300 films. He has evolved into an institution. The intellectual set of Bengalis who stuck up their snooty noses at the mere mention of his name in their inner circle was forced to sit up and take notice when he stepped into off-mainstream films.
Off-mainstream filmmakers shied away from casting him. They were uncertain about his ability to pull off serious characters in intense films. Then, Rituparno Ghosh, just beginning to test the waters of cinema, picked up Prosenjit to play Aditi (Debasree Roy)’s boyfriend in Unishe April. His brief cameo as the shrewd boyfriend in Unishe April went unnoticed because the film focused totally on the mother-daughter conflict. But the role of the younger son-in-law in Ghosh’s Utsab changed everything. He portrayed a frustrated and failed artist forced to live off his wife’s earnings. This pushes the marriage almost over the edge when he becomes an alcoholic. In the end, he comes to terms with the goodness of his wife and decides to stay back in his matriarch mother-in-law’s spacious home with his wife and teach art to neighbourhood kids.. There is a sequence where completely drunk, he makes a scene in front of several members of the extended family of his wife, much to her embarrassment. Prosenjit handled it with just the right touch of emotion, not going overboard.
Chokher Bali (2003) is his first and only film based on a Tagore classic. He changed his very look and personality to slip into the role of Mahendra, the spoilt-rotten son of Rajalakshmi, the matriarch of an affluent feudal family at the turn of the 20th century. He is educated, can speak English, is well-read, but is also a moral coward. He cannot handle criticism, or take coherent decisions, and cannot do anything on his own. Mahendra, arrogant, hedonistic, manipulative, offers a poetic counterpoint to Behari who is idealistic, with Utopian dreams about Nature and about the country’s struggle for freedom. When Prosenjit went to Cannes, he remembers how “people who knew me came up to me and asked me how I managed to produce that precise look of a feudal, aristocratic man of a historical period just through costume, make-up and hairstyle. It was flattering.” The character was multi-layered, dotted with acidic sarcasm, lust for a beautiful widow he had earlier spurned in marriage, tolerant of his teenaged, illiterate wife, well-groomed and slick. Prosenjit became Tagore’s and Rituparno Ghosh’s Mahendra.
[ReviewAZON asin=”B001V7F9CK” display=”inlinepost”]Rituparno Ghosh says, “He is that rare combination where he plays Prosenjit within the fixed formula of mainstream cinema, and deconstructs himself completely when he is performing in a non-mainstream cinema. I have seen this constant struggle in him, the resolute determination to strip himself of his mainstream mannerisms for an off-mainstream film. He does this simultaneously. When he was shooting for Utsab, he was also shooting for Sasurbari Zindabad. But he fluidly switched over from the delicacy of the former film to the loudness of the latter one. He does this consciously. He has demolished the snobbish myth that only intellectually and academically educated actors can function well within off-mainstream cinema.”
Dosar (2006) in Prosenjit’s opinion is the best performance of his long innings in cinema. It brought him his first Special Jury Award at the National Awards in 2007. When asked why, he says, “Imagine portraying a character introduced in the opening frames of the film as a bad man. The audience begins with the bias that this man has no character, is dishonest and deceitful. It was truly difficult. The second reason is that almost right through the film, I am lying supine in bed. I am horizontal for a major part of the footage. Then, directly after the car crash, I am swathed in bandages. I can only move my head this way and that after the facial bandages are removed, can emote only with my eyes. When I begin to walk, firstly, it is with calipers and then, I totter as I walk. My wife turns me down every time I stretch my hand to touch her. The audience remains unmoved. Is it not a challenging character? But I loved it.” Prosenjit portrays the physical and mental trauma caused by the accident with tremendous restraint and skill. Not only must be come to terms with the loss of a loved one but has to cope with the daunting task of winning back his wife’s trust.
In Khela (2008) he plays Raja Bhowmik who has a single focus in life – to direct a film on which there would be no compromise. He wants to make a period classic on Nalok from the Buddhist legend based on a literary work by Abanindranath Tagore. Raja does not care that there is nothing at home even for a simple khichudi and deem bhaja on a rainy night. He is sad about his wife Sheela packing her bags to shack with a cousin. But he does not stop her. Their problem is that she wants a baby because they have been married for six years. But Raja is not prepared for fatherhood. Ironically, he finds surrogate fatherhood thrust on him when he ‘kidnaps’ his child actor with the kid’s connivance. He copes with the child’s mood swings and naughty pranks and understands his wife’s need for a family. The central theme of Khela hidden within the narrative of the strange bonding between a fledgling new director and the kid is the duality of the world we live in – at once the ordinary and the extra-ordinary, the mundane and the adventurous. Prosenjit expresses the duality of his character – an uncompromising, but exploitative filmmaker and an irresponsible yet loving husband brilliantly, with subtle nuances touching his negotiations with the child actor.
Says Buddhadeb Dasgupta, “For Swapner Din and Ami, Yasin arr Amar Madhubala, I discovered the brilliant actor that Prosenjit is. When we went on location for Swapner Din, I got the shock of my life when I saw the amazing popularity Prosenjit enjoys in West Bengal. Shooting was held up for three days and nights because of the crowds that came from neighbouring villages just to get a glimpse of their favourite star. They were everywhere, on rooftops, across the rough roads, on top of trees, underneath trees, and neither my team nor I had ever experienced anything like this.”
Swapner Din is about three people who embark on three different journeys, chasing three different dreams. The terrible Gujarat riots of 2002 and the unrest in the northeast of India provide the backdrop. Prosenjit plays Paresh, the central character, who travels from one village to another screening film on family planning methods. He falls in love with the image of an actress he saw in one film reel and dreams of finding her one day. Prosenjit as Paresh slips under the skin of the character, shorn of make-up, wearing the same blue shirt through the film.
Paresh’s dreams are contained in that single reel of film where he found the actress crying away, five years ago. He is certain to meet her some day, somewhere. She appears sometimes, among the village audience, or, waiting at the crossroads for her car to be repaired, and finally, as he smuggles himself into Bangladesh, leaving Ameena behind. His dream girl makes him forget the tragedy of a mother running away when he was four and an uncaring father who visits him sometimes only to collect cash. His job of screening badly made films on public health and family planning in villages is his way of eking out a life devoid of love, dignity, affluence, and a one-time affair with the tabla. He has no roots, and does not care to find them. It is difficult to even visualize the same Prosenjit who pulls crowds for films like Sangharsha and Badshah, live the role of a marginal man who no one would care to take a second look at.
In Shob Charitro Kalponik, Prosenjit as Indraneel has the difficult talk of playing two roles within one. One is the Indraneel who is alive and the other is the ethereal character in white, with a halo around him, as the dead Indraneel. The Indraneel who is alive has negative shades in spite of appearing to be good-natured and understanding. In some way, he antagonizes his audience. The dead Indraneel is a larger-than-life figure, overpowering, yet in the background, giving his wife the emotional and moral support she hankered for when he was alive; an onerous task for an actor who dances and dishoom-dishooms his way about in Mama Bhagne. With films like Dosar, Chokher Bali, Swapner Din and The Voyeurs, the deconstruction process in an on-going one.