Television actor Abir Chatterjee is making waves with his second feature film Bomkesh Bakshi,in which he has convincingly portrayed the character of the sharp-witted,well-informed,middle-class legendary Bengali detective.
You hail from a family of actors. Was it natural for you to follow in your parents footsteps?
Not really. My father Phalguni Chatterjee and mother,Rumki Chatterjee,are both noted stage personalities who also act in television serials and films. I have been brought up in an atmosphere where rehearsals were a daily ritual at our home. But I never took these things seriously. They were just there,as natural extensions of daily living. My father has his own theatre group Lok Krishti but he did not ever pressurise me to take up acting. I was more interested in outdoor sports like football and cricket and decided to do management after my commerce degree. But then before I could realise what was happening,I found myself facing the camera for my first television serial called Laloner Durga directed by Phalguni Sanyal,my fathers friend. We did five episodes and at the end of it,I found myself enjoying the work.
Did films happen immediately?
Not really. The first television serial happened in 2002 and I continued to do television till director-duo Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha,who were already directing me in Kachher Manush,a mega- soap asked me to step into their feature film Cross Connection. It was a parallel hero role where I play a sophisticated young Bengali software engineer,Vicky,who is keen to migrate to Toronto. He flies down to Kolkata and gets hitched to a sophisticated girl who also dreams of flying away to Toronto. Vicky was an amusing character who compared the rise and fall of the waves of the sea to the rise and fall of the Sensex!
How did Bomkesh Bakshi come your way?
While we were just wrapping up Cross Connection,Anjanda gave me a call. I was thrilled as I have been an avid fan of his films for a long time. He said that he was planning to make a movie on one of the stories of Bomkeshs cases called Adim Ripu.
We met at editor Arghyakamal Mitras house and Anjanda gave me a look-test. He had a certain idea in his mind about how Bomkesh Bakshi should look and I fit the bill. He told me that it was important to have the right look so that the audience would accept me because Bomkesh is a very popular detective in Bengal.
I had finished reading every single story of Bomkesh by the time I was in Class 10. I brought them out and read them all over again and the character began to seep in. Anjanda helps his actors to internalise the character and he trusts them completely.
Did you do any homework for the role?
We did not have workshops or rehearsals as such,but Anjanda and I had many sittings. They were more of an adda (gossip sessions) where we discussed the story,the characters and their growth and zeroed in on Bomkesh. The character sort of sunk in over time and I began to understand the man behind the legendary name. He is a class apart because he is not eccentric like most literary detectives in Western literature. His arrogance is subtle. And Anjanda added a pair of black-framed spectacles that Bomkesh never wore to add to the seriousness.
The best thing is that Anjanda has fleshed out the bonding between Ajit,Bomkeshs friend,philosopher and guide ,who also writes his stories and becomes the narrator in all films,on an equal platform without the hierarchy that exists between Satyajit Rays Feluda and Topshe or between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Saswata Chatterjee has done a fantastic job though he is a much senior and more accomplished actor than I am. The character has been perceived and presented a bit differently than it appears in the original.
You are also doing the main lead in Sudeshna Roys and Abhijit Guhas Prem By Chance. What kind of character are you playing?
Prem By Chance is a no-holds-barred commercial film. The team is the same I worked with in Cross Connection so it was more like fun-cum-work than just work per se. The only thing I was a bit nervous about is that Koel Mullick was playing my romantic interest and she is right at the top while I am on the lowest rung of the ladder. But she is such a down-to-earth person that we vibed very well both on the sets and off it.
I play Raju,the stereotypical helpful guy of the neighbourhood,who bides his time by playing football with his friends and participating in the Durga Puja festivities. The story revolves around Raju and what happens when he falls in love with a girl from an affluent family.
Once television actors start doing films,they are no longer seen on the smaller screen. But thats not the case with you. You are still acting in serials.
I am only doing a mega-serial called Shomoy which is based on the Mahabharat and I play Arjuns character. I shall forever remain grateful to television for giving me the first break and then allowing me to consolidate both my experience and my position with good and significant work in noted serials. I look back fondly at Bonhi Shikha wherein I played a negative role of a mafia man named Kamaal Mullick and this character stayed with me for a long time. It was my first big break. Then I did a few tele-films that were essentially love stories. I have had the opportunity of doing some very good serials for the small screen such as Ek Akaasher Neechey,Janmabhoomi and recently,Spandan. My work helped me to grow as an actor.
Which filmmakers do you admire the most and whom would you love to work with?
Amongst the younger directors,I would love to work with Raj Chakraborty and Pradipto Bhattacharya. If given a chance in Bollywood,I would love to work with Farhan Akhtar,Nagesh Kukunoor,Imtiaz Ali,Shriram Raghavan and Anurag Kashyap.