Just before the release of Birsa Dasgupta’s Byomkesh O Durgo Rohoshyo, Dev opens up about the trolling he faced, the hard work he endured, and the example of unity he set in Tollywood.
Dev is all set with his Byomkesh Bakshi avatar. Birsa Dasgupta’s Byomkesh O Durgo Rohoshyo will hit the theatre in a few hours. Besides Dev as the sleuth, Rukmini Maitra will be seen as Satyabati, and Ambarish Bhattacharya, as Ajit.
Ever since Dev announced his intention to play Byomkesh earlier this year, he was trolled. Besides, a controversy brewed as Srijit Mukherji, who was initially slated to direct Durgo Rohoshyo, was replaced. From film fraternity members to the common people – a lot of conversations took place around the on-screen adaptation of Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s Durgo Rohoshyo at different quarters. Before the moment of truth, Dev opens up about the trolling he faced, the hard work he endured, and the example of unity he set in Tollywood. Read on…
How did you choose to play Byomkesh?
It wasn’t me who thought of playing Byomkesh. Sometimes directors approach me with a character. Sometimes producers approach me with a character. And sometimes I feel that some characters must be portrayed. This is my way of working. For example, Arunda (Roy) approached me with Bagha Jatin. I felt like something like Champ should happen. In this case, the producer approached me. I never thought I would play Byomkesh Bakshi. One day Shyam Sundar (Dey, the producer) came to me and asked, ‘Will you play Byomkesh?’ I was surprised because nobody has ever offered me to play Byomkesh. I was happy in my zone and the general perception initially was, Byomkesh wasn’t Dev’s cup of tea. He insisted and said that this is a different Byomkesh. I said, ‘No, thanks,’ and he left. From then, till the time I said yes, he kept on texting me, ‘Did you give it some thought?’ He again came to me with an appointment and said that this was Durgo Rohoshyo. Now, I have no idea about Durgo Rohoshyo. He explained that it is a big-scale film – almost equivalent to Chander Pahar. I was like, ‘Rubbish, how could something be like Chander Pahar?’ I did not read a single Byomkesh novel. He suggested I ask around. I asked my writers’ team members. I told Subhenduda (Dasmunshi, screenplay and dialogue writer of this film) that I got an offer from Byomkesh and he immediately asked if it was Durgo Rohoshyo. I said yes and he said, ‘Say yes to it, immediately.’ He convinced me saying Durgo Rohoshyo in Byomkesh’s most lavish story set on a big canvas. That’s why it has not been attempted by anyone because the budget that is required to mount Durgo Rohoshyo is enormous. That’s when I agreed and started my research. Once I got into it, I went all out in terms of scale and diligence. I liked the story.
The actor in me insisted to become a producer. It is because I was not getting the kind of films I wanted to do. Producers and directors did not trust me that I would be able to work on films that are character-oriented. I realised that this Byomkesh is really different and if I have to do it, I will really have to work hard. I never worked so hard in my 17 years of career. That’s how Byomkesh happened to me.
How do you portray Byomkesh differently than all the other Byomkesh films and series that we are used to watching?
I will ask the same question to you. You watched so many Byomkesh in Hindi and Bangla, on TV, OTT, and film. Aren’t you finding this Byomkesh different? More than how I feel it is different, I would want the audience to say if this is a different Byomkesh. That’s important. All the actors and directors claim that their work is different from the others.
But you were brutally trolled as soon as you announced to play Byomkesh…
I have never been trolled or questioned so much ever in my life like the way I was trolled this time. I don’t want to answer to anyone. My intention has always been to do at least one character in a year or two that people will remember. People have a weak memory. They often forget that I have given big blockbusters like Paglu and Rangbaz. They started saying Dev is only good for those characters. Then I did Chander Pahar, Amazon Obhijaan, Golondaaj and Tonic. Even after so many films, people said I was not fit for Byomkesh Bakshi.
As an actor, I have some conviction in me. I always wanted to have a varied range of characters in my body of work so that people don’t just remember me just as Paglu and Shankar in Chander Pahar. I wanted to do something that nobody has done as Byomkesh. Now after the trailer, I believe I wouldn’t have to say anything. People are getting the point that this Byomkesh is different. Dev has not done anything like this before.
What inputs did you bring into the character?
This Byomkesh doesn’t smoke since his wife Satyabati is pregnant. Holding a cigarette or playing with a matchbox is a trademark for Byomkesh. Then we thought of giving that up altogether. I have a social responsibility. People will go to the theatres not only to watch Byomkesh but also to watch Dev. That’s when we decided to forget everything that we have watched so far in terms of Byomkesh and treat it just as a novel by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay. It is because whenever we were thinking of Byomkesh, we would think of Uttam Kumar or Abir Chatterjee. Let’s think of it just as a story being adapted on the screen for the first time. Now, if there was a pregnant person in my family, I would not smoke anyway. I have some fans and they will learn the right thing. Now, the story is in the backdrop of 1943 India. That’s when Subhenduda did his research and found out that the research on the adverse effect of smoking on pregnant women started in Germany by then. Byomkesh, being an educated and informed person, knows about that research and that’s how it got logically substantiated.
Also, this Byomkesh is a family man and a dear friend. That chemistry has to be shown. My team and I took over the entire production responsibility.
Dev and Byomkesh Bakshi both are superstars for the Bengali audience. Is there a collaboration between them? Or there is competition?
For me, it was not a competition. I treated Byomkesh like a character that I might not get again in my life. I wanted it to be a memorable character in my life. This is not just a Byomkesh. Many actors played the character – half of Tollywood played the character. So for me, it was not about how much I got out of Byomkesh. It was more about how much I could give to the character and the film. Also, I wanted to show that not just Shankar in Chader Pahar or Amal in Buno Haansh, but Dev can also be a good Byomkesh. And for that, I worked hard. Really hard. I worked on my walking style and workshops. Do you know what works in favour of me? I know my negatives. I know where I fall short and every day I work hard to upgrade myself.
Your co-workers from the industry criticised you. Were you hurt?
On the contrary, I enjoy such conversations. People who know me know that I don’t really care. If anyone I know starts to care, I counsel them. This is how the world works. I know many people who get affected by social media negativity. What I tell them is the people who are trolling you are not even one percent of the audience who buys tickets in real-time. So many films are blockbusters just on social media. My point is, if we go by social media, so many films would have ended before their beginning. Social media is just a fraction of our audience.
At the same time, you are not making a film to answer people. You are working on a film because you liked the story. If you are not convinced how will you convince your audience, especially those who claim to know everything about films without having an iota of idea about the art? You enjoy your work.
Would you work with those who questioned your ability to be able to play Byomkesh?
Srijit Mukherji is the greatest example (pause). He was supposed to direct the film (pause). I don’t have any ego or anger against anyone. I will have to stay in this industry for at least another 10 years. If I stick to my ego, I will never be able to grow. My fight is not to demean someone but to work on distinctly different projects. Those who said that Dev can’t play Byomkesh and asked me to learn Bangla first are quiet now. That’s how I want to prove myself. I want to grow by working on challenging projects. The moment I become happy with my work I will stop growing. I don’t play safe. Byomkesh is one of the toughest challenges I took. If I fail, all my success stories in the past few films will go into oblivion. People will call me arrogant. People will troll me saying, “Oh Dev started thinking of himself as Uttam Kumar.” I really wanted to dream big. When producers trust you and invest in you, you want to pay back. Shyam Sundar dey trusted me. He invested in the film. And just last night he called and said that this one is the best film in his life. He was proud that he made this film. Now I am getting used to such reactions (laughs). Atanu Raychaudhuri does the same. I feel good that the producers could bank on me. I want to break myself. I like these phone calls.
Tollywood’s unity was blissfully manifested at the trailer launch of the Byomkesh trailer. How permanent is the optics of unity in showbiz?
That’s our problem. The event is gone and we are thinking about how long it would last. If your present is not good you can't think your future will be better. I have two choices. I could have been arrogant and said, ‘Look what have I done. You trolled me and here is my answer.’ The second option is to be humble and say, ‘Let’s move on. Let my film do well and your film do well simultaneously.’ No one can grow amid negativity. Also, we all are aging. If this would have been five years ago, I would probably choose the first option. I did such things. I was young and hence, arrogant. But now I know, arrogance helps no one. That cheap ego has no value. Today, I could at least set an example. It is not about Dev and Srijit. It could be Dev and Jeet, Jeet and SVF, and so on. But this can happen. Our audience will see that despite all the differences, we can set things aside and stand united together. We can send out that message. I would like to thank Srijitda, Srikant (Mohta), Anirban (Bhattacharya), and Sohini (Sarkar) that they joined hands. It wasn’t easy for them. You worked on the same story and played the same character. And then you come and join hands. You can only do it if you have a clear heart. I reached out to them because I thought this ugly tiff, especially between our fans, should come to an end. I called them and asked them to join me and in return, I will be part of their promotional journey for the web series if they want me to be there. I will tell people to subscribe to Hoichoi and I wish this Durgo Rohoshyo breaks all the records of Hoichoi.
People close to the industry often say that Dev is the bestseller in town. How are you enjoying this? Does this success get you more friends?
People say this but they don’t see what effort I am putting into it. How much hard work goes into making a bestseller is not something they are bothered about. Also, today those who were being my friends were trolling me a few days ago. Some people said my career would be over after I joined politics. I did not want to reply then. I believed my hard work would answer them on my behalf. In my 17 years of work, be it my acting career or politics, I never answered anyone verbally. I worked and put that forward. Not that all my films were hits. I had my share of flops. The important bit is being consistent. On the other hand, I feel happy and proud when my friends’ films do well.
Another thing is, when you see success, you get the confidence to take risks. That’s why Bagha Jatin and Douradi are happening. After Projapoti, I did not stick to another Projapoti. If you repeat, you won’t be able to survive for long. Either you change and take your audience along with you or your audience changes and you perish. They have the rejection button you don't have.
On a personal note, your relationship with Rukmini Maitra seems very safe and secure. How much is it important for you to get into the institution of marriage?
She will be able to tell you when she wishes to marry. I believe in the institution called marriage. We respect our tradition and cultural heritage. Marriage is important for us but not the only important thing in our life. As long as we are comfortable we are good. The moment we will feel that we are mature enough to marry we will. Right now we are slightly caught up with our volume of work. Marriage is nothing but trust and I have that trust in Rukmini.
A lot of your colleagues are working in Mumbai. Do you feel like working on a national platform?
I am not getting any time. I am extremely bogged down with the work I am doing here. Not that I don’t want to work in Mumbai. I am also getting offers from there. But I am busy with Bangla work. And somehow I feel I am getting to do good work here. Also, I would not want to do just anything over there just for the sake of working in Hindi. We are doing good work here and competing with their films.