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Interview Bengali

Vulnerable characters always appeal more to audiences, says Saswata Chatterjee

Saswata Chatterjee speaks about what attracted him to Saptaswa Basu's Network and the ease of working with Sabyasachi Chakraborty.

Roushni Sarkar

Saswata Chatterjee has not only played lead and character roles with equal adroitness in Bengali cinema, but has also gained popularity outside Bengal in Hindi cinema with his roles in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani (2012) and Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos (2017).

Chatterjee's portrayal in Kamaleswar Mukherjee’s Meghe Dhaka Tara (2013) is considered the best of his career so far. He will now be seen as a failed director who tries to make his mark one last time and gets into an unprecedented scheme of revenge, in Saptaswa Basu’s debut feature Network (2019).

The film also stars Sabyasachi Chakraborty, with whom Chatterjee began his journey on the silver screen over two decades ago.

In a group interview at the trailer launch of the film on 13 May, Chatterjee shared his reasons for choosing the film and also discussed his thoughts on playing certain characters and his experiences. Excerpts:

Why did Network appeal to you?

We love stories about revenge and love to see wrongdoers condemned. For years, people have been enjoying this kind of stories. However, the way the plot for revenge has been devised in Network is unique not only for Bengali cinema but for Indian cinema as well.

It was quite fascinating to see a young director like Saptaswa Basu have such a vision. According to me, a director should be able to see his film before making it and I could see that vision in Saptaswa. I am really blown away by the cut of the trailer. The technical team has done an incredible job in presenting the story. Now we only need to wait for the film's release.

Can you elaborate on your character?

I cannot disclose much. All I can say is that I play a director who was quite famous once upon a time but now not many people are aware of him. Guards in the studio don’t allow him to enter and producers don’t want to meet him.

In such a context, he decides to direct a television show for the last time to get back his lost fame. Unfortunately, another production house sabotages his idea and begins to run the show, making him extremely upset.

At this juncture, for some reason, he learns that he doesn’t have much time left and decides to direct a reality show to take revenge.

How does it feel to portray a failed director?

See, vulnerable characters always attract the audience more. A hero first needs to be beaten up to emerge victorious later. A hero who has not met with failure before victory is not a real hero. At the same time, a villain has to be powerful enough to increase the value of the hero. I don’t think lord Ram would have had much value without Ravan.

In the trailer, your character is being labelled a psycho....

I feel all of us are a bit of psycho. It depends on how we react to certain situations and how our emotions function. What we need to see in the film is the reason that leads my character to act in a certain way and to what extent he is manipulating his negative traits. It was challenging to play the character since it has a lot of shades that I cannot reveal.

We often hear that actors get so immersed in such characters that they start living them in reality. Has it ever happened to you?

Yes, it happens sometimes. I remember I went through quite a difficult time while working in Meghe Dhaka Tara because I played a character based on Ritwick Ghatak, who is a renowned personality. There was a lot of pressure to turn into him, which I do not face while enacting fictional characters.

I can recall that when we finished dubbing for the film, I sat in silence for half an hour in the same position with Kamaleswar-da before coming out of the studio. Also, my wife claims she used to feel scared to be near me while I was doing the film, though I did not feel anything unusual between us.

Is it difficult to dub a sequence later?

See, I have worked with sync-sound in Hindi films. I feel both sync-sound and dubbing have their advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes, dubbing gives you the opportunity to improve the emotions that encounter distractions while shooting. It becomes easier to concentrate inside the studio.

Making this film has been a long journey. How was the experience of working with a new director?

Network is Saptaswa’s first feature film, but he has directed short films before. I have been part of one of them. I could sense then that he is passionate about his work and that is what drew me to the film. Also, I am quite used to the long process of filmmaking. I shot for three and a half years for Jagga Jasoos, hence this is not a big deal for me.

How was the experience of working with Sabyasachi Chakraborty?

I have been working with Benu-da for a long time since I portrayed Topse while he played Feluda. That is how my career commenced.

We have worked in the same theatre group and, therefore, working with him is not a new experience for me. He is not Sabyasachi Chakraborty for me, he is simply Benu-da. We don’t speak all the time, but whenever we meet it feels like we have been meeting regularly.

It is always good to work with familiar artistes like him, who are solely dedicated to their work and there is no competition or attempt to overshadow him in performance.