Ranjit Mullick – Exclusive Interview:
It is not every day that one gets to converse with a celebrated popular actor of the stature of Shri Ranjit Mullick. We were fortunate enough to catch him on a couple of relaxed evenings. We approached him with some trepidation and were pleasantly surprised to find him an extremely warm, amiable and big-hearted gentleman. He spoke to us in quite some detail about his film career spanning almost four decades, Bengali films in the past and contemporary times, his experiences with some of the great names of Bengali cinema, his family and his daughter Koel, an up-coming and popular young actress (who has been previously featured in Calcutta Tube).
Calcutta Tube: Would you please tell us how and when you thought of becoming an actor?
Ranjit Mullick: It happened quite by accident. In 1970, when director Mrinal Sen was thinking of making a film based on youth problems, I contacted him mostly out of curiosity. I did not have any prior formal training in acting, but we always had a cultural environment at home where we were taught to appreciate literature, poetry, music, acting and so forth. I had to go through a preliminary audition and was selected.
Calcutta Tube: What was the reaction of your family members when you decided to take up acting as a career?
Ranjit Mullick: My family was a bit conservative and hesitant about me becoming an actor. But since the director of the film was Mrinal Sen, who had just received the National award for his previous film and had a reputation of making very unique movies, my family accepted it after a while.
Calcutta Tube: You entered the film industry in the glorious days of the mainstream Bengali cinema. Then came a period when the quality of the mainstream Bengali movies deteriorated. You have been in the industry throughout the time. Would you please tell us something about that transition?
Ranjit Mullick: There was a time when the Bengali films had better stories, presentation, and richer flavor of the Bengali culture. But then the demand for the Bengali movies changed. The educated class somehow became reluctant in going to the movie theatres and started enjoying the television. The industry faced a totally new kind of audience with different tastes. It was to meet their demands the film makers had to come up with totally different types of stories. Therefore, though we had access to better technologies with the advancement of time, the intellectual quality of the movies definitely went down.
Calcutta Tube: So it started with the audience. We often have the impression that the directors started making inferior quality films which had a repulsive effect on the audience. But is was the other way round.
Ranjit Mullick: It is not that the directors always made bad films. There are instances where good movies have not been appreciated properly. For example, Jackpot is a very intelligent movie, a few minor flaws notwithstanding. But almost every movie has a few mistakes. Jackpot (by director Kaushik Ganguly ) is still not doing good business. There are many other movies that are relatively inferior to Jackpot, but doing better business. So whether a movie will be a popular hit or not is a totally different issue and does not always depend on its inherent merit but rather on the response of the audience to the movie.
Calcutta Tube: Is there a certain ‘chemistry’ that can be followed to make a hit film?
Ranjit Mullick: When you make a film you have to keep the target audience in mind. If you want to make a film for the masses, you will have to reach a larger audience from all over – the cities, the suburbs, as well as the rural areas. The subject of the film should be chosen in such a way that a large number of people from all over can identify with the story. But if you make a film that focuses only on city life or the story has the elements of urbanization, the business of the movie will naturally be limited to the urban folks.
Calcutta Tube: Besides acting in commercial films, you have worked with directors like Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray . How different is it to work in a commercial film than in a parallel film?
Ranjit Mullick: My approaches towards parallel films and commercial films are totally different. When acting in a mainstream movie, in addition to my character, I have to keep in mind my target audience and their likings. My audience of the mainstream films often want a blend of the character in the story and the actor Ranjit Mullick. So, even if I have to overdo things or act unnaturally at a few places I knowingly do that. In contrast, when I am working in a parallel film, I try to do just what the character demands. So, in a parallel film you will find just the character I have to portray, and not the actor Ranjit Mullick.
Calcutta Tube: Is a mainstream film made with the same dedication as that of a parallel film ?
Ranjit Mullick: Making a commercial film is not a matter of joke. It requires a lot of hard work, seriousness and perseverance to make a mainstream film because you have to reach a wider range of audience. The dedication remains the same in making a film, no matter what kind it is; it is the story that changes. The story in a mainstream film is about things that people want the way to happen. The story has to be told the way people like to hear. On the other hand, in a parallel film, the story is about what happens in real life.
Calcutta Tube: Do you still get the same level of satisfaction when you work in a movie these days that you once got when you first came to the film industry in the black and white period? Or the satisfaction level has somewhat changed?
Ranjit Mullick: The acting remains the same whether I am working in a black and white movie or in a color one. In those days, the stories the films were made upon, were more acceptable and very realistic. In that sense, I achieved a much higher level of satisfaction from working in a film in the black and white days. I do not mean to say that all color movies were low in standard. There are definitely some good movies made in color. “ShakhaProshakha ” for example is a color film. When I started my career, we had a larger number of directors who did quality work and presented us with better movies. Those days there used to be an awesome selection of stories to make a film upon.
Calcutta Tube: You started your career in Mrinal Sen’s film “Interview” and won the international award for your performance in the film. You have also worked with Satyajit Ray. Please share your experience with the legendary directors.
Ranjit Mullick: I have worked in Mrinal Sen’s “Interview” and “Pratidwandi”, both of which were more or less based on the same subject – youth problem and unemployment. I was a newcomer in the industry when I worked with Mrinal Sen and naturally he had to groom me up. But I had already been in the industry for 20 years when I worked with Satyajit Ray in “ShakhaProshakha”. I was more experienced by then and I could act what my role demanded. It was a very precious experience working with both of them. They always gave me my freedom to act as an actor, without imposing anything on me. If they ever felt that an alteration to be made, they would just mention it to me.
Calcutta Tube: You have acted in various roles. Is there any role in particular that you have enjoyed very specifically, or a role that was your dream role? Does anything such as a dream role exist at all?
Ranjit Mullick: There are a few roles that I have undoubtedly enjoyed doing more than the others, though, there can never be any absolute level of satisfaction. There are many roles I have worked in and many more remain undone. I can name a few characters that I have really enjoyed playing. I enjoyed my role in the film “SwayamSidhdha“, which was of a mentally retarded and physically handicapped person. In “Shatru” I enjoyed playing the role of an indomitable police-officer. In “Bish-Briksha“, based on the noval by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, I had a totally different kind of role that I had enjoyed thoroughly. I would also like to mention my role in the film “Robibar“.
Calcutta Tube: You have played the lead roles in innumerable films. Please tell us something about the period when you used to be the ‘hero’ in the Bengali films.
Ranjit Mullick: There was a time when the hero of a film was just a romantic character. I have also worked in various films in my early career where the hero of the film was more than just a hero. The role I played in “Protishruti” was not just a mere hero, it was also a character role. I have always enjoyed doing roles like that. Being just a romantic hero who is always singing a romantic number or dancing around the trees can get very boring after some time, and as an actor I wanted to diversify. My roles in “Protishruti” or “Prayoschitto ” were very different and I have always enjoyed doing a variety of roles.
Calcutta Tube: You have worked several heroines. Do you have a favorite heroine whom you have enjoyed working with the most?
Ranjit Mullick: It is not easy to specifically choose a favorite heroine. Everyone has an identity of her own. Suchitra Sen is a very glamorous heroine and a very powerful actress. Sabitri Chatterjee showed her expertise in comedy. Everyone has her specialty where she fits the best. I have enjoyed working with Mohua (Roy Chowdhury), Moushumi (Chatterjee), Sumitra (Mukherjee).
Calcutta Tube: Have you ever directed any movies or thought of coming into direction ?
Ranjit Mullick: Not at all. I have been offered to direct films, but I have not accepted.
Calcutta Tube: How secured is acting as a career? We often read about many actors being poverty stricken, and there have been several efforts made to help them. Is there any permanent or particular solution to this problem?
Ranjit Mullick: It is a undoubtedly a very big concern. There is no assurance if the audience is ever going to accept an actor. It is not always an actor’s fault. The acceptance of an actor totally depends on the audience. There are a few factors that work in the background though, like the selection of the character, the personality of the character. But an actor can never guarantee his acceptance by the audience. It depends from person to person, from actor to actor. No matter how well an actor performs, the acceptance of an actor still lies with the audience’s preferences. Hence, there is always a big uncertainty associated with the acting career.
Calcutta Tube: How important a role do the media play in the life of an actor?
Ranjit Mullick: According to me, media can play both positive and negative roles. Different newspapers can review the same film in different ways, which can be somewhat confusing to the public. I think it would be better if we can have the audiences to decide and criticize a film and also form their own opinion whether to accept an actor or not.
Calcutta Tube: Is there any good archive of the Bengali cinema? Or do you yourself have an archive or a collection of the films that you have worked in?
Ranjit Mullick: There are not any archives of the Bengali cinema yet that I know of, but I am not very sure. I myself do not have any archive either. I wish I did, but somehow it never happened.
Calcutta Tube: You are a legendary actor and you have also shared your screen appearance with many other legendary actors like Uttam Kumar, Soumitra Chattopadhyay. Would you please share your experience working with the other all time great actors of the Bengali cinema?
Ranjit Mullick: Uttam Kumar is still a legend to everyone. It is 28 years now that he has passed away, and yet there is an incessant quest for the great actor. Uttam Kumar was an extremely dedicated and powerful actor, and the greatest icon of glamour and style the Bengali film industry has ever known. Soumitra Chattopadhyay is one of the finest actors we ever had. He has given a vivid performance in the films like “Ontordhan“, “Aatonko“. He has shown extreme dedication and perseverance in his art. I have also worked with Rabi Ghosh, Tarun Kumar, Kali Bannerjee, and many more who all had their own unique styles and strong acting abilities. Both the brothers Uttam Kumar and Tarun Kumar were wonderful actors, though there are a few instances where I strongly believe Tarun Kumar’s dialog throwing was even better than Uttam Kumar’s. In “Neel Aakasher Niche”, Kali Bannerjee’s acting in a role of a Chinese hawker was unparalleled. If you look at every single actor’s best works, you will know that they were all highly talented actors.
Calcutta Tube: You told us that you have a creative environment at home. What are your hobbies?
Ranjit Mullick: We have a very cultural ambiance in our family. We celebrate the Durga Puja at home observing the rituals of worship, and on the Navami night we have cultural programs in which all our family members participate. We live in a joint family and we have people from every profession, except politics. We all often gather together to chat. When one has people from every profession in one’s family it is only natural that at every gathering the family members would talk about their own fields. That is what happens in our family, too. In MullickBari , we have engineers, lawyers, chartered accountant, barissters at law, a judge (my uncle was) and anything you can think of, other than politics. So in our adda (group chat), the conversation would inevitably feature specific terms from everyone’s professions. I mostly read books and magazines in my spare time and enjoy spending time with my family.
Calcutta Tube: Do you like to travel? Is there any particular place that is your favorite?
Ranjit Mullick: I love to travel. There is no such favorite spot, though. I enjoy going to a lot of places. I have also been to America and Europe, though there is a lot of difference between the two. According to me, except for a few places America looks rather the same, whereas Europe looks more diversified. I have enjoyed different places in Europe. Scotland was wonderful. I love to go to Shantiniketan beside the Khowai river. Puri is another favorite place of mine.
Calcutta Tube: You are a tremendously successful actor. Do you have any regrets irrespective of your success? Is there anything that you wanted to do but is still undone?
Ranjit Mullick: Well, there is one thing that I have not done yet, though I have always wanted to. I still have time. I love all the people from all over the world. But still I am more obliged to Bengal since I am from here and all my roots are somewhere very deep in here. It makes me tremendously sad and breaks my heart to see the current situation in Bengal, where there is so much animosity between one another, so much conflict between the political parties. It hurts me immensely to see West Bengal’s progress being hindered compared to the other states, in spite of the multitude of talent we have in here. I would like to come forward and try to make things better so that the common people can live a much better life. For the time being it is my first priority to create a good understanding among people. There is nothing more important to me at this very moment than seeing the smiling faces of the common people and bringing a betterment to their lives.
Calcutta Tube: Please tell us something about your wife’s role in your life and success.
Ranjit Mullick: I am very happy with my wife. She has always encouraged me in life. She is also my critic. She can criticize all my works more easily and honestly, even when others do not feel comfortable to give me their honest feedbacks. It makes me extremely happy when she rectifies my faults, not just in acting, but in anything and everything in life.
Calcutta Tube: Do you have a special memory that you always cherish?
Ranjit Mullick: The most precious moment of my life was 2nd August, 1972 when I got the best international award for my first film. I do not know of any other Indian actor who has won an international award for their first film (“Interview” by Mrinal Sen). That is a memory I will always cherish.
Calcutta Tube: Yes, I have seen the film. I was a brilliant movie and I think it is a film that anyone would enjoy.
Ranjit Mullick: The taste of audience definitely varies, but it was a film that would move any sensible educated mind.
Calcutta Tube: I cannot help regretting about the quality of films that are now made in Bengali. There was once a time when we made the best films and had the best songs. Even the quality of songs are now so poor.
Ranjit Mullick: It depends on the taste of the viewers. The preference of the audience has changed. The sensible educated middle class audience that once watched the Bengali films no longer goes the movie theatres. Somehow they got more confined in front of the television. The new class of audience whch now gives the most business to the film industry and generates the revenue is totally a different class. The new films are made according to what their demands are. Everyone has his own taste which depends on one’s level of education. The taste of an educated person is bound to vary from a person who has not been lucky enough to be gifted with proper education and intelligence. I totally sympathize with them and it is not their fault if they did not get all the opportunities that we did. Individuals’ tastes vary and whatever is disgraceful to you may perhaps not be so to another person. There is nothing wrong with diverging choices of individuals. People’s choices depend on their backgrounds and the way they have been brought up.
Calcutta Tube: How do you feel when you see Koel on the screen?
Ranjit Mullick: As a father, it makes me a bit nervous. But I am very happy that she takes interest in everything she does. She did not take acting lightly. She is serious about her acting. I am proud to see her work very sincerely. I won’t say that she is always perfect, because she is not that experienced. But I am happy to see her put all her efforts in her work.
Calcutta Tube: Please say something to your fans.
Ranjit Mullick: Lots of learned wise men have said nice things to which people have not really paid any heed. So it does not matter whatever I say. If we can, let us build a better society, and make the world a better place to live in.
Calcutta Tube: What would you say to the newcomers?
Ranjit Mullick: I think a lot of newcomers are doing an excellent job. I am impressed by their work. The time they have come to the world of cinema is more difficult than were our times. There are hundreds of television channels these days where you can see movies, TV serials, games and anything entertaining. An actor of this time has to be able to reach beyond all the entertaining shows on the television in order to bring an audience to the movie theatres.
Calcutta Tube: What film are you working in right now?
Ranjit Mullick: I do not feel very enthusiastic to work these days. In 2005, I declared that I would not be working any more. For some time I did not work in any films. Then one day, director Tarun Majumdar offered me a role in his film “Chander Bari “, based on a joint-family story. There was a character in “Chander Bari” that Tarun Majumdar requested me to do. TarunBabu is a very senior director and a very respected person, so I could not deny him. I was touched by the story because it was about a joint family and I myself come from a joint-family. So, I accepted the offer. Since then I am working in a few films. I do one or two films a year now.
Listen to the Exclusive Interview with Calcutta Tube –
Interview and write up by: Shrabanti Basu