October 9, 2010 (Calcutta Tube): Over the past few years, Prosenjit, the numero uno of Bengali cinema for more than a quarter century, is steadily and surely extending the parameters of the famous and colourful and kitsch Poshenjit image to explore alternate avenues in screen performance. He has proved that he is one of the most versatile actors in the industry with a range that has acquired maturity and mellowness over the years. For the first time in his long career Prosenjit is playing himself on screen – not as Prosenjit but as a superstar who can twist the Bengali film industry around the little finger of his left hand. The name of the film is Autograph produced by Shri Venkatesh Films in association with Cinergy Pictures and directed by ace theatre person and Ph.D. dropout Srijit Mukherjee. Prosenjit plays Arun Chatterjee, a superstar. We nailed him down for a first-person interview about his views on this strikingly unusual role in a career spanning nearly three decades.
What precisely, is your role in Autograph?
I play Arun Chatterjee, the top superstar of Bengali cinema. That is just one layer of this three-layered role. One of them is as the superstar. The second one is about a film that is being made within the film called Aajker Nayak in which Arun Chatterjee is playing the role of a superstar within the film. The third dimension of the character is the man behind the mask of the star who is often misunderstood by the negative qualities the media, his friends and peers in and out of the industry have vested him with. This man often peeps out of these two masks he wears – one as the hero of Autograph and one as the hero of Aajker Nayak being shot within the film, and is saddened for being misunderstood so.
Who is the director shooting the film-within-the-film?
The name of the character is Shubhobroto Mitra who is making his first film as a tribute to Satyajit Ray’s Uttam Kumar-starrer Nayak. Indraneel Sengupta has done this role of a director with colourful dreams and ambitions around his first film featuring a superstar about another fictitious superstar. He desperately wants his first film to click. So at some point along the way, he becomes a manipulator of relationships when his directorial role is almost over.
What made you accept this ambitious assignment to be directed by a newcomer?
Moni Shrikant and Shreekant Mohta of Shree Venkatesh had wasted seven long months going through several scripts. One of them was Srijit’s they wanted me to take a look at. I took three days to find out if the script had any flaws but dragged on to two more days. I could not find a single flaw and liked it very much. Srijit has executed the film exactly as he mapped it out in his script. He has made no compromises. He has also shot a dream scene that everyone will love. Apart from a three-day shoot in Ramoji Rao’s studio in Hyderabad where we shot some scenes inside an aircraft to simulate an international flight, the entire shooting was done in Kolkata. Interestingly, some scenes were actually shot at Uttam Mancha in the southern parts of Kolkata, a theatre named after Uttam Kumar.
Video Feature: Theatrical trailer of Shree Venkatesh Film’s forthcoming production, Autograph. Made in collaboration with Cinergy Pictures, it marks the debut of Srijit Mukherji as a writer/director and stars the reigning matinee idol of the Bengali Film Industry, Prosenjit Chatterjee, the internationally acclaimed actress Nandana Sen and the emerging new face of Bengali parallel cinema, Indraneil Sengupta.
What are the points of commonality you found between your own star image and the image you are playing in this film and the film-within-the-film?
Though the story is purely a work of fiction, as a star-actor myself, I do find many things in common the most common among them being the public image a star is vested with not of his own volition but created by the industry in which he works, the media, his friends and his colleagues over the years. This does not tally with what he is in real life. Autograph brings this out and that is where I identify with the two characters in the film. There are dialogues going about the superstar Arun Chatterjee which are precisely identical with the dialogues I have heard people use about my nature and my behaviour. I am sad to confess that many of them are negative comments such as “:Prosenjit rules the industry with an iron hand,” or, “Prosenjit monopolizes the industry and does not allow newcomers to queer his pitch” and things like this. So, the star is painted in colours that are blacker than what he might be in real life. This is what is shown in the film till Srinandita comes along and finds a different person behind the mask of the superstar.
Why do you think the film is called Autograph?
To my mind, an autograph is a moment you cherish all your life. I remember once when Sunil Gawaskar came to Kolkata, he met my father Biswajit and I was there, just a boy then, and I asked for his autograph. I still have it in my possession because it brings back to me, a lost moment in time I do not want to forget. The three main characters in this film carry such unforgettable, little moments with them to cherish and to remember for good. And these moments are what they carry with them when they go their own ways when the film ends.
Would you say that Autograph is a relationship film?
It is a very sensitive, delicately etched relationship film that uncovers positive and negative values in the two main characters, Arun Chatterjee, the superstar and Shubhobroto Mitra, the director of the film-within-the-film. The girl who unwittingly brings out these values in the two men is Srinandita Sen, an idealistic theatre actress who is in a live-in relationship with Shubhobroto. Shubhobroto persuades her to play the journalist in Aajker Nayak, the film-within-the-film. Nandana Sen has played Srinandita. Autograph charts the journey of these three lives as they bond and separate through time and space in two narratives interwoven into each other.
How much were your influenced by the way Uttam Kumar portrayed the role of Arindam Mukherjee in Satyajit Ray’s Nayak? Or have you given it your own take?
I decidedly gave the character my own take because when Uttam Kumar was superstar and when Nayak was made, the image, the behaviour and the lifestyle of the star was very different from what it is like now. The superstar around that time lived in a closed world insulated and distanced from the real world of the mainstream. That was the unwritten role in those days – to remain distanced from the media, the audience, and the fans. Nayak released in 1966 and the film depicts the star Arindam Mukherjee as a star of that time. This was 44 years ago. In the 1990s and into 2000s, the definition, the role and the world of a superstar has changed because times have changed. We, as stars, are more rooted to the earth that gave birth to us and cannot afford to keep our heads in the clouds. We must actively take part in the marketing and promotion of our films, participate in music launches and television shows to plug our new releases. This naturally brings us closer to our fans and our audience. We run our blogs, we communicate through twitter, facebook and the works so we are no longer as distanced from the mainstream as people think we are.This is the interpretation I have brought into the two roles of me as a superstar and as a star within the film.
The music is already a runaway hit. Can you explain the reason?
“Debojyoti Mishra has dipped his musical ladle deep into an enchanting kettle of melody and stirred up emotions unspoken through words.” This is what the p.r. releases say. Jokes apart, it is true that the music is already a big hit both in terms of melody and in terms of the lyrics. The hottest number is amaake amaar moto thaakte dao that literally carries the spirit of loneliness that is at the core of the superstar. Rupam Islam, who has won the National Award for Best Playback Singer, (Male), has sung beche thakkar gaan. But the listeners have loved the music without having seen the film or knowing much about it which really speaks of the pull the tracks have. Chol rastaaye is another number besides bhaag jana hai kahan in Hindi. The music tracks are mesmerizing, believe me.
So ultimately, does Arun Chatterjee come out washed in white or does he remain cloaked in black?
That would be giving the story away which I am not supposed to do. It would be unfair to the producers and the directors. Suffice to say that it is Srinandita who turns the tables on the black image the superstar is given. The film raises questions about this superimposition of negative values that are not quite true while these negative values might very well apply to another person who is not a superstar.
Shoma A. Chatterji