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Interview Bengali

Shantilal's quest represents the world of journalism, says director Pratim D Gupta

Shantilal O Projapoti Rohoshyo is former journalist Pratim D Gupta's and his favourite lead actor Ritwick Chakraborty's first detective caper.

Roushni Sarkar

Shantilal O Projapoti Rohoshyo, the first detective film by Pratim D Gupta, known for movies like Ahare Mon (2018), Maacher Jhol (2017), Shaheb Bibi Golam (2016) and Paanch Adhyay (2012), is out in theatres and features the critically acclaimed star Ritwick Chakraborty as a detective, also for the first time. Actress Paoli Dam plays film star-turned-politician Nandita and her mysterious lifestyle intrigues Shantilal (Chakraborty), a simple weather reporter, enough to turn him into a detective.

At the trailer launch of the film on 15 July, Gupta spoke of the reasons why Shantilal holds a special place for him. “This is producer Sanjay Agarwal’s first film," he told a group of journalists. "Yes, a new detective is being introduced in this film but not from any book but from my original concept. Also, Ritwick has to be there in my films and he is playing the reporter-turned-detective Shantilal.”

Chakraborty was previously seen in the avatars of a taxi driver, a chef and a thief in Gupta’s Shaheb Bibi Golam, Maacher Jhol and Ahare Mon, respectively. “We have such chemistry between us that first I finish writing the scripts and then I call him only to inform him the dates for the shooting," the writer-director said. "Most of the time, he doesn’t even bother to ask me about the character he is to play. I have been able to create as many varieties of characters for him as I could. Now if one day, he calls me up and asks for the character of Superman to enact, perhaps I would do that as well!”

Ritwick Chakraborty as Shantilal

Gupta added that Chakraborty might not like it if the director ever makes a film without him. "I also get upset when I see him doing marvellous work with other directors,” he admitted.

Lead actress Paoli Dam is also no stranger to Gupta’s films. She, too, has appeared in Maacher Jhol, the telefilm Mirchi Malini (2018) and Ahare Mon in pivotal roles. “I will always be grateful to Paoli for doing Maacher Jhol with me," Gupta said. "She had only four but memorable sequences in the film. It was a great honour for me that having been such an incredible actress, she agreed to appear for such a short span in the film.” The director is quite certain most other actresses of similar stature would have turned the role down.

“I always wanted to use her on a larger scale in my film," he continued. "In Shantilal O Projapoti Rohoshyo, she plays an actress. She has done a great job depicting both the private and public persona of the character.” According to Gupta, Dam’s character is the mystery of the film.

Gupta admitted that every inquisitive journalist has the potential to be a detective. A journalist himself for 15 years, the director said, “Certainly, journalism allows us to have so many kinds of experiences! I remember standing in front of the gate of a wedding venue where two big celebrities were getting hitched, you know whom I am talking about, for three days. When everything got over, they just threw packets of food for us. From 2004 to 2015, I did full-fledged journalism and was flooded with experiences. I probably have been able to incorporate very little of the extracts of all my experiences as a journalist in this film.”

Referring to the spirit of journalism, Gupta mentioned that Shantilal’s character definitely contains the passion of getting stories.

While Shantilal is the new detective in town, Bengali cinema seems to be thriving on detective and thriller films these days. Gupta said, “The Bengali audience generally prefers to have the experience of thriller stories. And if there is a touch of literature, they find it more enjoyable. It is true that detective stories have a pull in Bengal. And if people come to watch my film with that mind-set I have nothing to lose.”

The director promised that the audience will get to watch more of a journalist’s transformation into a detective but, at the same time, the spine of the film is the pain and pleasure a journalist goes through while working.

Paoli Dam as Nandita

Gupta said the story also throws light on the darker sides of the film industry but not in a generalized way, since the film specifically portrays the journey of Dam’s character Nandita. “Nandita does not really represent the entire industry. The depiction of her journey is entirely fictitious. On the other hand, Shantilal’s quest represents the world of journalism, the way stories are made, leaked from one house and almost auctioned between two houses, all have a very real depiction in the film."

From the trailer itself, it was quite obvious that Shantilal is not the stereotypical detective from the pages of literature. Gupta explained, “See, I think, from the trailer, people can easily sense that Shantilal is not the detective who solves cases sitting at home, smoking a pipe. He is a common man who has the nose for news. He knows how to derive a clue from four different stories and goes about pursuing it. Then he goes from one adventure to another, which has a detective kind of feel in it.”