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Interview Bengali

Feluda is the only character I solicited for in my entire career: Tota Roy Chowdhury

Roy Chowdhury finally gets his wish in a web-series directed by Srijit Mukherji, and explains why he would rather not think about Soumitra Chatterjee or Sabyasachi Chakraborty's turns as Satyajit Ray's fictional detective.

Roushni Sarkar

Actor Tota Roy Chowdhury has not only worked with the best directors in Bengali cinema, but has also won appreciation for his performances in the Hindi film industry.

Though he never appears in a huge number of films in any given year, Roy Chowdhury has made his mark in Bengali, Hindi, Kannada and Tamil with his performances.

Best known in Bengali cinema for his award-winning performance in Rituparno Ghosh’s Chokher Bali (2003), Tota Roy Chowdhury is now ready to mark a new chapter in his career.

The actor has been signed on to play the iconic detective Feluda, created by Satyajit Ray, in Feluda Pherot, an upcoming web-series by Srijit Mukherji.

Roy Chowdhury has been chosen on various parameters and is elated to land his dream role. Speaking to Cinestaan.com, he said he is least bothered that the project is a web-series and not a feature film. Indeed, he believes web-series are the future. Excerpts:

How were you chosen for the dream role?

Srijit called me up and said he had four names in mind for Feluda. Of the four, he would choose one on several parameters, one of them being an audience poll. Some of the other parameters were his perception of the character and the dates of the actors. He also mentioned that the actor chosen would need to get into an extensive workshop for a month and a half. He wanted to know my schedule; I was also supposed to go for a look test. However, two days before the audition, he dropped the idea of a look test and confirmed me for the role.

What was your reaction when he finalized you for the role?

Obviously, elation was part of it; however, I took time to digest the fact that he had cast me for Feluda but not for any other character from the series. I was very happy. I am usually a low-maintenance person and don’t look back either. But this is one character I have always aspired to play.

In my career as an actor, I have never solicited for any role, except Feluda. I even requested [filmmaker] Sandip Ray several times to cast me as Feluda. However, he had a different vision. I respect his vision because he is also one of my favourite directors, a very dear person and somebody I look up to and admire a lot.

Finally, Srijit has cast me and, honestly, today nobody is bigger than Srijit in the Bengali film industry. I feel as if god has bestowed a boon on me.

Feluda has been portrayed by legendary actors like Soumitra Chatterjee and Sabyasachi Chakraborty. There must be a lot of pressure on you. How are you approaching the project?

I am trying not to think of the pressure. I am just trying to get into the process.

For me, the anticipation of working with Srijit is very close to that of enacting Feluda. I have always watched his films but never got to work with him. I am looking forward to learning from him in the process because every time I work with a new director, I have a learning experience.

Every director places different demands on his or her actors and that’s how I evolve as an actor. Especially when a director as prolific and talented as Srijit casts an actor, if the latter follows him closely and listens to what he says, I am sure he or she is bound to improve with the entire experience.

For the first time, Feluda is going to be on a web platform. This is a different era from when the character was first written. Have both of you discussed how you are going to approach the character?

I believe he has announced that he is going to set one of the stories in the period when it was written and he would want to place the other story in a modern-day context, keeping the original flavour alive.

I believe Feluda fans are not ready to accept any changes in the character. Therefore, I think Srijit will have to play within those parameters. I am sure, being Srijit, he will do an amazing job. He has done so much justice with Kakababu that everyone looks forward to a Kakababu film every one or two years.

Despite acting in so many good films in different industries, besides Bengali cinema, we have not seen you often on screen in recent times. Are you not getting the scripts of your choice?

I am choosy to an extent. Also, when an actor gains the reputation of being picky, not many directors approach him. Public relations is a reality, but I don’t want to play the game. It is very important to be seen at the right moment with the right people and roll with the right kind of crowd to be a successful and prolific actor these days. However, I play by my own set of rules, which may not be helping me land a lot of projects.

But I am happy with the work I am doing and have given my best to all the projects that I have committed to. I believe as an artiste I don’t need to spread myself thin to be accepted by the masses. I don’t need to be seen on Page 3 every sixth day; I cannot suck up to powerful people. I can’t do that.

However, because I have always done my work with utmost sincerity, discipline and dedication, a director like Srijit has been gracious enough to call me himself and offer me a role. What more can I ask for, when he has shown me the courtesy of not going for a screen test and has directly confirmed me for the role. So whatever I am doing I am possibly doing right.

Same goes for my Hindi films. I have never stayed in Mumbai, yet directors have found me. I have never had to audition, I got direct offers.

What difference do you see in the work culture of the Bengali and Hindi film industries?

Not much. Here, in the Bengali industry, we are constrained by the budgets we have. However, the audience is not going to give us grace marks for working with limited budgets. They would want our films to look as good as Hindi films. They would not want to differentiate between the two. Hence, we have to work very hard to get the quality we cannot really achieve at this moment.

Talents are expensive and today the best talents migrate elsewhere. We have so many Bengali artistes working in the Hindi and other film industries in the South. We have a notoriously limited career span.

On the other hand, when I work in Mumbai, I feel extremely relaxed. I get the opportunity to rehearse. We get the best of all departments because the budgets are quite high there.

Here in Bengali cinema, we tend to see the same faces in almost every other film and so watching the films becomes exhausting at times. Do you think it works to your advantage, not having been seen in many films in recent times?

Maybe because I am not seen in many films throughout the year, directors want to cast me for different kinds of characters. I try my best to be myself and honestly, I believe, it is the uniqueness of my appearance that is going to sell.

As far as the first part of your question is concerned, I think this is the trend everywhere because people always chase successful people. If successful people are ready to get on board, then they are bound to get a lot of work. Also, these people are aware that their success may not last long and so want to make the most of it.

How are you preparing for Feluda? Has the process begun?

Not yet. I am supposed to sit with him [Srijit Mukherji]. I am finishing my backlog. This is the time of the year when we do multiple projects because of the weather, the festive season, and many other reasons. I have promised to clear my calendar till I am done with this project. I want to concentrate on it fully.

Soon, I will be going for sessions with him to understand his point of view, his visualization of the character and the way he wants to proceed with it. I will prepare myself accordingly.

As an artiste I don’t want to have any preconceived notion. I want to be that piece of the jigsaw puzzle which the director would want to complete his picture. I leave it all on the director.

Do you think you will be adding to the legacy of Feluda?

There is a term called paralysis through analysis. I don’t really want to analyse it. At a very basic level, I want to follow my director’s directives. Honestly, I am not equipped to even come close to what Soumitra Chatterjee or even Sabyasachi Chakraborty did. If I start thinking about them, I will be paralysed. I would only like to think that I will be playing Feluda under Srijit’s baton and enjoy the process. Hopefully, if I enjoy the process, the work will be fine.

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