{ Page-Title / Story-Title }

Interview Bengali Hindi

Ritabhari Chakraborty: Anushka Sharma is a game changer

The Bengali actress is in awe of her Pari (2018) co-star and producer, and believes she has a lot of great work in her.

Mayur Lookhar

NH10 (2015), Phillauri (2017), and now Pari (2018). Three different stories, three different films, but what is clear from all three Clean Slate Films productions is that actress-producer Anushka Sharma likes to work with new talent, artistes she has never worked with before.

Sharma has given breaks to two new directors and helped two actresses make their debut in Hindi cinema. She introduced Mehreen Pirzada with Phillauri and young Bengali actress Ritabhari Chakraborty with Pari.

While the film has struggled at the box office, Pari has been appreciated for the fine show by the cast, led by Sharma herself. While she and well-known Bengali actor Parambrata Chatterjee lived up to their reputation, Ritabhari Chakraborty came as a breath of fresh air for Hindi film audiences.

The Kolkata woman played Piyali, fiancée of Arnab (Chatterjee) in the film. As Piyali, she looks traditional, speaks Hindi with a Bengali accent, is unafraid to talk about her past affair, and is open to premarital sex. In short, she is the embodiment of a strong, independent young woman of today.

Chakraborty made her acting debut with a Bengali television show and has since worked in a few films in the language. Her parents, Utpalendu Chakraborty and Satarupa Sanyal, are filmmakers, she topped in history and Bengali in class 10, is a popular face in the advertising circuit, and is associated with social causes too.

Speaking exclusively to Cinestaan.com, Ritabhari Chakraborty shared her Pari journey. While admitting the film is not for family audiences, she heaped praise on Anushka Sharma. She is also convinced that the rosogulla has its origin in Bengal. Excerpts:

Watching you in Pari, I'm left to exclaim, 'Oh, what a fine delivery.' Would that be right?

Oho! (Laughs.) You mean the childbirth. Well, that was my part to play a nurse, one who had a sad experience in her past, so she was too scared to do that herself. Piyali couldn’t let Rukhsana (Anushka Sharma) go through what she went through. More than the nurse, it was the woman’s instinct that took over.

Apart from this being your first Hindi film, what do you take back from Pari?

A lot. I am a Bengali, but I have grown up watching Hindi films. My father made a Hindi film called Debshishu (1985) with Smita Patil and Om Puri. So I was keen to work in Hindi films one day. I have been in the Bengali film and TV industry for the past seven years, but Pari is my big career break.

Can you tell me how your Pari journey began?

Well, I was shooting for a short film with Kalki Koechlin, Naked (2017), when I got a call from the casting team of Clean Slate Films [Anushka Sharma’s production house] which wanted to audition me for Pari. It was for some Bengali character. They were going to fly down to Kolkata for the audition.

However, after hearing the plot, I couldn’t wait and so flew down to Mumbai myself to give the audition. I saw it as a great opportunity to work with a stellar cast. There were other Bengali actresses, too, who auditioned for the role. It took about three months for them to finalize me.

I had given dates for a Bengali film, Uma, by director Srijit Mukherji. He was kind enough to let me go. They, too, understood how important Pari was for my career.

The Piyali-Arnab relationship is an intriguing one. From their first meeting to Piyali paying a surprise visit to Arnab’s place and cheekily suggesting that they share some intimate moments, it's a marked change in Indian films to see a girl discuss marriage and her past relationship so openly while the man is too shy to even utter a word. Is it a reflection of urban society?

With Parambrata Chatterjee in Pari

I cannot say about society in general, but then again Piyali is not really from Kolkata, she hails from a suburb. She has gone through her own bad experiences. She herself kisses Arnab. Piyali has a strong personality. She is not one who will pick up a battle herself, but she is a strong woman. I can’t generalize about all women in society now as they come from different sections [but] a lot of women today are independent, fearless. A prime example is Anushka Sharma who has made her mark in a male-dominated industry.

I was referring to the marked change in the portrayal of women in such sequences. Often, it’s the girl who is shy, barely lifts her eyes or utters a word when a guy comes to see her. Having grown used to that kind of cinema and then to see Piyali, isn’t that a marked change?

Well, I guess it’s the reality in the metros. But we still have arranged marriages. I have friends who have had arranged marriages. They meet, they like each other, and then they meet several times. It’s not the parents though, but they themselves who decide if they want to get married. Even in the film, Piyali is not forced to get married. She is the one who decides to break the marriage after learning that he has cheated her.

I saw Parambrata Chatterjee in Kahaani (2012). He was this gentle, empathetic cop. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a human being or a witch, I guess he will always be the thorough gentleman. This is your second film with him. Is he soft-spoken off camera too?

On screen he looks like this good, kind Bengali chocolate boy, but off it he is a very smart guy. He acts, directs, produces... in fact, my next film is with him. He is very empowering. Rajat [Kapoor] sir is a thorough gentleman on the floor. He remembers every single technician, is very polite, one of the nicest people I have met in the industry.

So, I guess, Mr Kapoor is nicer than Parambrata.

No, no (laughs). He is my next director. Please don’t say that. Param is extremely nice. He was the one who made me comfortable in the first few days of the shoot. I was nervous. This [Hindi cinema] was huge, a different set-up to what we have in Bengali. I shot with Anushka Sharma on the very first day. The meeting with Rukhsana (Sharma) was the first scene I shot for. It was Parambrata who made me feel most comfortable on the floor. Every time I got stuck with some idea, he made me extremely comfortable.

You don’t share too many scenes with Anushka, but what was she like to work with? Does the producer in her come on the sets too?

Anushka Sharma in Pari

She is an amazing, humble person, a thorough professional who works out her scenes well. She is very much a director’s actor. Just because she is the producer, she will not go around bossing [everyone] on the floor.

She was very helpful during the climax. I haven’t shot for an action film before. Rukhsana is to pull me by the hair. She guided me to move in a way where I would not get hurt. She was like a headmistress in a way as she kept a close eye on how I was going to look in the film, how I would be featured. She kept track till the shoot was over. She would never tell you anything upfront, but she observed everything with a hawk eye.

As a person, I really look up to her. The way she has made her mark, both as an actor and now as a producer, in a patriarchal industry, is commendable. She had no connections in the industry. Now she has got married, but I keep telling people that she will be this one game-changer woman who married at the peak of her career but will churn out great films in future.

The film has got mixed reviews, and the collections are not too great. Is it difficult to get eyeballs for horror flicks?

Given the kind of plot we had, the mixed reviews were expected. Pari is an experimental love story. Such a film hasn’t been made before [in India]. The majority family audience will not relate to it. Any adult-rated film will never be a family film.

I’m just proud to be part of this project. If tomorrow more people make films on similar lines, then Pari will be remembered. As for the box office, well, you wouldn’t expect great numbers on the Holi festival as most families are celebrating. Our total budget was Rs18 crore and we recovered half of it in the first two days.

But given the buzz around the film with its multiple teasers and trailer, perhaps the audience was expecting more?

Maybe people expected to see something they had already seen. Maybe they were expecting to see a film like Hannibal (2001), The Conjuring (2013) or a Ram Gopal Varma movie. However, when you get to see something altogether new, it will generate mixed reviews. Anurag Kashyap had to face many criticisms early in his career. So is the case for any filmmaker or production house.

Anushka Sharma made NH10 (2015), then she made Phillauri (2017). Two vastly different projects. How many heroines today would be prepared to strip off their pretty look and get down to their raw self to play such a character? First we had Alia Bhatt, and now it is Anushka Sharma. Bhatt was launched in a Karan Johar film, Sharma was launched with Shah Rukh Khan. For them to break the notion makes a lot of difference.

Your parents are filmmakers. Was it a natural choice to follow in their footsteps?

I have always been inspired by my mother. She is more of an independent filmmaker. She would never make a commercial film.

As for me, I have followed all kinds of cinema and been open to taking up any good role. My mother never pressed me to act. My sister is a very pretty girl. She always wanted to be an actor. I went to pick her up from an audition. I was 15 while my sister was 18. The people there thought I had come for an audition. They asked me to do a couple of things. I didn’t realize it was an audition. I couldn’t take the Bengali TV show for I couldn’t miss my studies. However, three year later, I picked up their show Ogo Bodhu Sundari (2009-2010).

You started with the TV show Ogo Bodhu Sundari. That was remade in Hindi as Sasural Genda Phool. Did the Hindi version do justice to the original?

Ogu Bodhu Sundari

Yes, Ragini Khanna did a good job playing Suhana, my Hindi counterpart. It had the same director [Rakesh Kumar]. I was very glad that Sasural Genda Phool was an adaptation of our show. Often it’s the other way round. That was my only TV show. Then I had to bid goodbye to television. 

Talk of Bengali literature or cinema and Rabindranath Tagore’s Charulata is an iconic character. You got your chance to play her in a cine play. How was that experience?

That was amazing, obviously, because it is a renowned story. However, the proud moment for me was that Satyajit Ray had adapted Tagore’s story into a film. It had Soumitra Chatterjee as the main lead. And Chatterjee was the narrator in our project. So, for me, that was the biggest achievement, to work with him. I couldn’t let go of my studies and so I chose not to take up any films or TV shows, but I didn’t want to lose out on theatre too.

You topped in history in school and later you graduated in the subject. So I guess you are qualified to comment on history. Given that history can be subjective, is a filmmaker always treading a tricky path when s/he decides to make a film on history?

People should take everything with a pinch of salt. We have history and then there is fiction. There is a lot about history that we don’t know. I don’t want to get into a controversy, but the truth is that reports on Mahabharat and Ramayan are also not authentic. It’s mostly folklore. Ramayan and Mahabharat have different versions too in the country. Sri Lanka has a version of their own. 

It is understandable for a layman, who has only read basic history in school, to not accept a different view. In India, people tend to take things straight to their hearts. When you see a work of art, creation, you should give the director/writer the liberty to explore their creative imagination. As long as it doesn’t hurt any sentiments, I think it is fine to tell a story the way a person wants it to be told.

A few years before he died, Rabindranath Tagore said that creation on screen or cinema should not be limited to the story. It can have its own way of presenting it. The visual and the text experience cannot be the same.

But what happens when a fictional character like Padmavati becomes a deity for her followers? In India, you can’t make films on deities easily. 

People have their own limitations in looking at any deity/person. The idea of devotion is complicated. I don’t want to get into this discussion for it might hurt sentiments. I am nobody to question people’s beliefs.

You and your family are associated with social causes. You were the ambassador of a dog-owners and lovers' association. It must have been disturbing for you to see Pari suck the life out of a poor stray. Did you ask the director if there really was a need for such a scene?

Thankfully, I didn’t have to eat a dog. Anushka herself is an ambassador of animal welfare organizations. She has a dog herself. The idea is disturbing, but then again it doesn’t really bother me because we all know that we were just playing our parts.

When not facing the camera, how do you unwind?

Of late, I have just been flying back and forth. It’s been insane for a while. Usually, when I take a break, I travel a lot. I travel with family or friends. We have relatives all over the world. Sometimes, I travel solo too. I am not really a weekend unwinding person. I even work on weekends. My mother and I run an NGO, a production house, so that keeps us busy. But I enjoy what I do. 

What’s next for you? 

I will start shooting for the Parambrata Chatterjee film. He is directing as well as acting in it. It’s quite a fun film. I am superstitious when it comes to talking about any project unless I have signed and sealed it.

Finally, as a scholar of history and Bengali, can you tell us who really made the rosogulla first — Bengalis or Oriyas?

(Laughs.) Of course the Bengalis. There is the family in Bengal which has been making it for generations — Nabin Chandra Das, he is the man behind the sweet.