Interview Bengali

Soumitra Chatterjee found long-sought creative satisfaction in Borunbabur Bondhu

Soumitra Chatterjee says the conflicts and contrasting elements in the film's lead character, which he plays, appealed to the actor in him, as actors always love to depict eccentricity.

Roushni Sarkar

Screen legend Soumitra Chatterjee will be seen playing the protagonist in Anik Dutta’s upcoming film Borunbabur Bondhu (2020). The film with an ensemble cast is based on Ramapada Choudhury’s story Chhad and revolves around the eldest member of a joint family, who is idealistic and quite stubborn.

Borunbabu is not quite revered by the other family members for his astuteness; however, when they learn that an influential friend of his will be visiting him, their treatment of Borunbabu changes suddenly and dramatically. He becomes important for them, and all begin scheming for certain favours from him.

In a group interview with journalists at the film's trailer launch late last year, Soumitra Chatterjee spoke at length about his character and explained why the script appealed to him. Excerpts:

How was your experience working in the film?

Long back, a short film on the story by Ramapada Choudhury was made. Now, for the feature film, only the narrative of a friend visiting Borunbabu has been taken from the story; the rest has been developed with a modern context.

When Anik first read the script out to me, I found it fascinating. The film has a family-oriented story, much like the ones made in the 1960s and 1970s. However, I noticed while reading the script and shooting for the film that it doesn’t follow the outdated trend of a family drama; rather, it has an extremely modern approach.

Though I am working till date, sometimes I am plunged into deep despair thinking about the quality of my work. I have always had this scepticism. When I worked with Satyajit Ray, Tapan Sinha and Mrinal Sen, and many directors after them, I could be part of films of my preference and ideology. I have been looking for such films recently; otherwise it would not make sense for me to work for so long.

I was quite satisfied after doing Atanu Ghosh’s Mayurakshi (2017). After that, Borunbabur Bondhu has given me satisfaction, not only while shooting for the film but also when watching the outcome in post-production.

What feature of your character appealed to you the most?

I loved the honesty of the character. He is quite stubborn about his ideals and quite unable to adapt to changing times. He doesn’t even maintain a cell phone and, naturally, his children get annoyed. The conflicts and contrasting elements in the character appealed to the actor in me. Actors love to depict eccentricity on screen.

Borun gets annoyed with the growing opportunistic tendency in his relatives as they anticipate his influential friend visiting him. His emotion changes from neutral reactions to getting irritated with knowing the intentions of all his relatives. Any actor would love these changes.

Also, he has a past of standing for the right cause. When he recites a poem supporting a student movement, the moment gets a universal approach. We often see that people do not take a stand until they are affected by certain incidents or [they do not] stand  for others, and later, when they get affected, they find nobody beside them. These circumstances, which continue to get repeated in history, are also depicted through my character, which makes it quite relevant.

You have been paired with Madhabi Mukherjee after a long time. How does it feel to revisit the scenario as one of the most popular pairs in the Bengali film industry?

We are popular or special for you. For us, we feel much more comfortable as old colleagues, that’s all. We can recall old memories and have chat sessions instead of merely working on the floor. We don’t carry the feeling that we used to be stars at a certain point in our careers.

I feel lucky to have been able to work for such a long period, but so many of my colleagues have already left the mortal world, which is quite sad.

In the film, our relationship carries a glimpse of the security and calmness that a long marital relationship often brings. My character is quite stubborn and hence he is cast out by almost the entire family, except his wife, who continues to support him no matter what his position is.

While shooting for the film, did you recall any friend from your younger days or from school?

I spent my school life in various locations. My father had a transferable job and hence we had to travel from one place to the other. I was always escaping school. I had many friends for sure, but they were not from schools.

How do you look at the way aged people are ignored by their children?

All I can say is that it is not a recent phenomenon. Successive generations continue to change. Viewpoints change with the emergence of different generations. After the India-China war of 1962, the collective psychology was transformed a great deal. Now, there is a huge brain drain from our country. All the skilled and meritorious students are leaving the country for lack of opportunities and going abroad for work. The other generation is getting retired, and having no one to take care of them, they end up in old-age homes. However, I always feel that there is a certain ray of optimism in every trend of change.

How do you feel as the situation gets reversed when you visit a friend these days?

I feel a distance with my friends, which is not only physical but also because of professional choices. We have different circles now and different work schedules. Even my closest friends need to enquire first whether I am available. This is not because I am a celebrity, but societal conditions are such now.