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Exclusive! Parambrata Chatterjee: I resigned from the state-appointed Deocha Pachami committee for the coal project

 Before leaving for the UK, he spoke to OTTPlay exclusively about his plans for marriage, ideas to revive the Bengali film industry, and a lot more.

Exclusive! Parambrata Chatterjee: I resigned from the state-appointed Deocha Pachami committee for the coal project
Parambrata Chatterjee
  • Shamayita Chakraborty

Last Updated: 03.02 PM, Jan 07, 2023

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After engaging in the promotion of Srijato’s Manabjomin, Parambrata Chatterjee has gone back to Wales, UK, where he has been shooting a film. As he starts his new year with a lot of work commitments, he promises himself the holidays that he deserves. He also contemplates marriage and distances himself from the state-appointed Deocha Pachami committee for the coal project. Before leaving, he spoke to OTTPlay exclusively about his future plans, ideas to revive the Bengali film industry, and a lot more. Excerpts:

Of late, you have received a lot of criticism for leading the state-appointed Deocha Pachami committee for the coal project. What is happening there?

I stepped down from the committee months ago… most probably in September or October. I emailed my decision to the people concerned. I felt the job I was given was done. While I am yet to receive a reply from them, I have clearly stated my intention.

Let’s talk about the film. Are you tense before the release of Manabjomin?

A certain amount of excitement is there and it will always be there. However, one thing I realised over the years, especially after the pandemic, is that people will go and watch a film only if they relate to it. It does not depend on anything else. If the primary visuals appeal to them and if a certain section of the people find a resonance in the primary scenes – the teaser, trailer, etc, then that section will come to the theatre.

Earlier, you mentioned in an interview that after the pandemic, the types of films are clearly divided between Larger-than-life dramas for the big screen and intimate films for OTTs…

In Bengal, there is an exception. Here people go to watch family dramas in theatres. In the rest of the country, primarily family dramas are not watched on the big screen. There is a clear demand and mandate for larger-than-life films in theatres. It has more or less been observed that family dramas, chamber thrillers, or slice-of-life dramas are working more on OTTs. In Bengal this is different. Here people go to watch the family drama in theatres. It is perhaps because there is a general love for ‘tear-jerkers’ among the Bengali audience. We tend to use the word ‘tearjerkers’ in a derogatory way. But a nicely made sentimental film can be a satisfying watch. For me, Shonar Pahar is a tear-jerker.

Besides, we also lack such larger-than-life films in Bengal. And there is a very clear reason for it. No matter how tightly you make a larger-than-life film, you will need some amount of budget for that. The Bengali market doesn’t offer you a return on that amount of investment. Today, a film is considered successful when it gives you more return than the money you have invested. Now the amount invested in such films is not enough for making a credible larger-than-life film. A successful Bengali film today is earning between Rs 3-5 cr. If I compare it with any other smaller regional industry like the Marathi or Malayalam industry, the average return is much more.

Interestingly, it is not that West Bengal doesn’t have that many people or spending capacity. Films like KGF 2 and RRR proved that Rs 26/27 cr can be raised only from Bengal. This means a large number of viewers have just turned away from Bengali cinema. They would prefer blockbusters from other industries.

What are the reasons you think…

It is a big discussion. I think it somewhat goes like this. Bengal has a very distinct and profound urban-rural divide. The films that we, the city (Kolkata) people, consider being good are not really appealing to the rural people. This divide is there everywhere but I think this is far more distinct in Bengal than say, in Karnataka. And hence, in Bengal, just in the pursuit of making one kind of film, we completely overlooked and ignored the grassroots masses. When such films were being made in Bengal, they used to be very successful. Sukhen Das, Anjan Chowdhury, Swapan Saha, Haranath Chakraborty, and Sujit Guha’s films used to run for months and more. A film running for at least 25 weeks used to be considered a successful film. And it is we who opposed that genre of films and said, ‘How long should these films go on? Let’s make some sensitive and sensible films’. We started the genre of so-called urban films which eventually in 10 years completely alienated the rest of the Bengal audience. As a result, the market of mainstream films was conveniently appropriated by remake filmmakers. Now, after three-four years such remakes of South Indian films stopped working because the originals became readily available on TV. Here, we must remember that the films made by Swapan Saha, Harada (Haranath), and Anjanda were not remakes. They were original stories. NK Salil and many others before him delivered original rooted stories. You may or may not like them but they were original stories. The films like Baro Bou, Choto Bou, and others successfully capture Bengali sentimentality. If you think of it, today similar sentimentality is captured, polished, and jazzed up presented by Shibuda (Shiboprosad Mukherjee) and films like Projapati. And yet these films are not earning the amount of money that old films by a Harada or Anjanda would earn. This is because a large audience, especially the youth, has totally abandoned Bengali cinema. And this is due to the urban makeover of Bengali films.

As a senior member of the fraternity, what’s your opinion on bridging the gap?

If I had a magic solution I would have made such a film and my film would have been successful. We are all thinking, contemplating, and trying to assess reality. Somewhere we agree with the assessment and somewhere we differ. I feel we have to go beyond telling urbane stories but with proper finesse. And we will have to tell original stories. Also, finesse is important and any ordinary viewer is used to well-made content because of the widespread of OTT platforms.

Also, we will have to give the audience the feeling that we can make larger-than-life films. A film can be rooted in our soil and can be portrayed on a large scale. And for this, we need money. In the Bengali film industry, that’s why we need angel investors, who will not expect a huge return in the first couple of films. We will have to be consistent for a while before we reach a break-even point. There cannot be an immediate return in the journey of the revival of Bengali cinema. This revival process will take 10 years at least to get back on track. Perhaps an investor has to go on speeding Rs 25 cr before the thing of making money out of the films.

You have been working extensively on national projects. What can the Bengali industry learn from there?

Nationally, there are things that they lack and we have in the Bengali industry. Similarly, there are things that we lack and they have. In our case, we can capture fine nuances of human emotions and relationships in the simplest of our films. There, things are on broader strokes. What they have is this enormous zeal to constantly tell new stories, add that cinematic grandeur, and an effort of reaching out to newer audiences. They are not snooty like us. We have a cultural snootiness.

Tell us about your character in Manabjomin.

My character in Manabjomin is not very different from the person I am. I think Srijato thought about taking me in his film because he knows I am very similar to Sanket. He banked on the little bit of education and intelligence I have and the way he saw me. The way Sanket behaves and the steps that he takes in his life is something Srijatoda thought I could relate to. It is not something off the box for me. On the other hand, my character in Pavan Wadyar’s Notary is very different from the person I am. He is a hardcore North Indian middle-class lawyer who goes to court on his scooter every day. Sanket is an urban middle-class man who has certain aspirations. He shared his dreams with his girlfriend Kuhu. His dreams and reality collide somewhere as the film progresses. The film emphasises that whatever good you want to do, you can do it in your lifetime.

Parambrata and Priyanka
Parambrata and Priyanka

A friend, co-actor, and now a director – which Srijato is more impressive for you?

I still love my friend Srijato. Also, while we are friends, we are not those people who would talk every day. We could, however, connect very easily. This film, meanwhile, brought us closer. We know each other better.

And now you will be there in his next film too…

I had no idea. During the promotion of this film, I went to Ranada (Sarkar Producer’s office) and he suddenly demanded my dates. I was surprised. Then Srijato told me the story in two lines. He was under the impression that I would not get time. But I liked the gist. I realised that in Chol Rastay Shaji Tramline My character is not at all like me. An actor always looks up to such an opportunity. There are so many personalities we want to portray. I am fortunate that I get to work on so many different characters in different languages. Many actors don’t get that opportunity. They play a character and get struck with similar roles. I also had that phase. But then I also got characters like Abhijit Pakrashi (Baishey Shrabon), Angad Malik (Aranyak), and many others. In Jehanabad, I play a Bihari rebel. I will certainly give some credit to myself that people trusted me with such a variety of characters. Srijatoda’s new film offers me such a character. He politely asked if the character would suit me and I gave him multiple examples. I am rather keen on doing this. Manabjamin has its simplicity and the next film offers me a challenge with the character. After acting for 20 years, if you get a challenging character you feel enthused.

You have been labeled as a typical Bengali middle-class intellectual individual. How did you break the mold and opened up to all the national projects? You often play characters from North India, and Madhya Pradesh effortlessly. Tell us about your journey…

I speak the best Hindi among all my other Bengali counterparts who are working in Hindi films. I am the most cosmopolitan of them all. Also, I always believed that being very Bengali means you are the most cosmopolitan individual. Of late, the word Bengaliness is often associated with weak, unsmart, losers, and romanticism those attributes. For me, Bengalis are the most feisty, cosmopolitan, intellectually exposed people in history. Now the definition of Bangaliana became very insular. That’s very unfortunate and we are constantly feeding that idea.

From Jehanabad to Notary and from Manabjamin to upcoming Feluda — Don’t you think you are a workaholic? When will you settle down? And is there any possibility of marriage?

I am very settled and have a very settled family life – contrary to popular perception. Now, if I really want to marry and settle down I will have to do it in the next could of years. Everyone cannot be like Salman Khan, right? I am 41 now. It is already very late. If I can manage in a couple of years, great. Alternatively, I will remain a bachelor (laughs).

And the workload?

One of my 2023 resolutions is within the next two years, I will seriously address my workaholism. See usually workaholism comes from zeal to sublimate from something else. I lost my parents very young. Not having a family or a wife has also encouraged me to turn into a workaholic person. I tried to compensate for the lack of my other life with more work. This has been great. The amount of work I did, experience, and expertise I gathered are enormous. I worked like crazy and nothing teaches you more than your work. But now is the time when I put the brake on it a little bit and tell myself that I also need holidays and select the stories I want to tell.

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