March 2, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): No one heard of Heerok Das before Egaro became popular with the football crazy audience of West Bengal. Heerok is the brilliant actor who played the famous Shibdas Bhaduri, captain of Mohan Bagan who scored one of the two goals at the historic IFA Shield Finals between Mohan Bagan and East Yorkshire Regiment on July 29 1911. He shares his experience of having worked in his first big film, Egaro.
We hear you never played football in your life before this film. Is this true?
It is very true. I studied in Calcutta Boys School and I played a lot of cricket during my school days. But football did not interest me at all. The irony is that I was offered the role of a historically famous footballer in Egaro. I told the director Arun-da on the first day that I cannot play football. I was scared. At the same time, I wanted to do it desperately. I decided to take it on as a challenge. Arun-da was all for it.
I live in Mumbai trying to make it in films. I went back after everything was finalised and practiced with the Air India team to pull myself up before going into training back to Kolkata. Air India’s is a very strong team that plays regularly in the National League. It was my own way of learning the ropes of football. It helped me a lot.
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One hears you were hurt during the training sessions in Kolkata?
Yes, I was hurt. It was a greater mental and emotional injury than a physical one. I was not sure I would recover before the shoot. During the three-month-long practice sessions under coach Manojit Das, I hurt the big toe of my right foot which got fractured badly. Fortunately, I recovered enough up to face the camera by the time the shooting began.
Tell us a bit about your career in acting.
I did a course in acting at the NIFFA run by the late actor Gnanesh Mukherjee. It is located in the southern parts of Kolkata. I then did a lot of theatre with Nandikar for three to four years. I played a small role in Samir Chanda’s Ekti Nodir Naam which however, was never released. I played a negative role of one of the rapists. Shikhar, directed by John Mathew Mathan (2009) did not do well. Jahnu Barua’s Har Pal starring Dharmendra and Preeti Zinta has been held back from release. But I am determined to strike it in Bollywood one day. I am very optimistic about the future.
What are you taking back from the film?
Oh! So many that it would be difficult to list them down. Arun-da is an incurable dreamer and he infects us with his dreams. He gave us a lot of space and freedom to give our inputs though we were new. I gave him a suggestion to be put in after I struck a small goal and though I am a completely new boy, he put it in. Our coach Manojit Das helped me grow as an actor. My interactions with senior actors like Biswajeet Chakraborty and Tamal RoyChoudhury were extremely enriching. Gautam Haldar who was my teacher at Nandikar, made my life more meaningful by being a part of the acting cast. There was the wonderful feedback I got in the form of a telephone call from the great grand-daughter of Shibdas Bhaduri himself who congratulated me for my performance as her great grand-father. The most thrilling fact is that Arun-da has roped me in for his next film where he will cast me as a Muslim character.
-Shoma A. Chatterji