Interview Bengali Hindi

Acting is more or less a hobby for me, not related to publicity or glamour: Arpita Pal Chatterjee

Actress Arpita Pal, wife of Prosenjit Chatterjee, speaks about her return to Bengali cinema with a spate of interesting projects, though she insists this is not a 'comeback'.

Shoma A Chatterji

Actress Arpita Chatterjee has made a sparkling comeback to Bengali cinema after six long years in Delhi, with several back-to-back releases in the last month of 2019 and the first month of 2020.

A wonderful performer, Chatterjee, who has been vacillating between cinema and other things, has, perhaps, finally found her roots in Bengali cinema.

But the actress herself does not agree with the term 'comeback'. Arpita Chatterjee opened out in an interview in her warmly decorated living room in Kolkata. Excerpts:

Why do you feel this is not a comeback?

My career as an actress, at least since my marriage [Arpita is married to one-time Bengali superstar Prosenjit Chatterjee], has always been this way. I have not been quite rooted because marriage and motherhood have taken my attention away from films.

But [director] Onir called me to act in his Hindi production Shab (2017) and I almost jumped at it, and I must say it was a wonderful experience. Then I was pulled back by Saibal Mitra to act in his very off-beat film Chitrokar (2017) in Bengali, which was a celluloid tribute to the late blind sculptor Binod Bihari Mukherjee.

My earlier 'return', if you want to call it that, was with cinematographer Abhik Mukherjee’s directorial debut Ekti Tarar Khonje (2010).

But this time around, you have been flooded with some very significant films.

It has truly been very good. People knew I was in circulation and ready for assignments, but I was not in Kolkata at the time, so I had to come down, which Saibal almost forced me into [doing]. But it offered me a wonderful scope in a very off-beat character in Chitrokar. Pitted opposite an actor like Dhritiman Chatterjee, it was a wonderful learning experience. I play the role of a young, frustrated painter sent off to this great man to persuade him to work on a mural for purely commercial reasons. The unsual look I had in the film was worked on jointly by Saibal-da and myself.

Are things different in the world of films now than they were when you were much younger?

Yes, from one point of view, and no, from another. Much of the film industry’s sustenance and promotion is today shaped in a major way by the media, marketing machinery and public relations. The media did not play such a definitive role then. Filmmakers did not depend on media and publicity, so people working in the industry worked in an ambience where the stress was not as much as it is today.

But change is a fact of life. Right now, it is more or less a hobby for me. Acting for me is not related necessarily to publicity and glamour. It is more like my desire to get creative satisfaction. Material gain has little to do with this.

What criteria do you apply while accepting an assignment?

The four things I look for in any role are: (a) a powerful story, (b) a simple script, (c) the character I have been asked to portray, and (d) my understanding with the director. Whether the director is new or old does not matter to me. What matters is that I should be able to do justice to the character.

Tell us a little about Arjunn Dutta’s debut film Abyakto (2020).

I enjoyed it thoroughly and have won a lot of praise for it. I play the mother Saathi in this mother-son conflict story in which I cover a span, ageing from a woman in her twenties to a woman in her late fifties or early sixties. It is one of the best roles I have done over my career and I owe it greatly to my director, the crew and, of course, my co-actors.

How was it working with Adil Hussain in the film?

Knowing his track record as an actor, I was a bit nervous to begin with. But it was a wonderful learning experience for me. I found he was so disciplined that when I came to the sets, he was already there in full makeup, costume, dialogues ready to shoot, though he needed to work on his Bengali diction as he is from Assam.

I have always learnt something new from every director and actor I have worked with and I guess it helps me in becoming a better actress every day.

You have also played a part in Anumita Dasgupta’s Bohomaan (2019), though it is not the lead. Why?

Anumita called me up with a reference from Sohag Sen, who runs her own theatre banner and is very famous for running and conducting workshops for different films and stars. My character was not the lead, but it was important enough in this unusual four-character story.

What pulled me to this film was the opportunity to work with Soumitra Chatterjee and Aparna Sen, which was a wonderful opportunity. Sohag-di taught me to smoke for the first time because the character, a professor at a university, is modern, globalized and with a wonderful rapport with her mother-in-law played by Aparna Sen. The film is doing commercially well, too.

And what made you accept the role in Anik Dutta’s Borunbabur Bondhu (2020), which is a multi-starrer?

Anik Dutta has been an advertising man for many years. Though it is truly a multi-starrer and most of the supporting characters are not substantial, to work in a feature film directed by an advertising man was different because I knew he would have a completely different perspective on relationships and, for some mysterious reason, I have mainly worked in social dramas focused on relationships. I am quite content with my work till now.

You lent your voice to a classical song in Aparna Sen’s Ghawre Baire Aaj (2019). How did that happen?

Rina-di [Aparna Sen] called me up one night. I was pleasantly surprised because I thought she would ask me to work in the film when she was shooting for it. But it turned out that she wanted me to lend my voice to a song alongside Ustad Rashid Khan! I cannot tell you, it made me speechless with wonder! I was to lend my voice along with Ustad Rashid Khan! But it turned out fine as I have been getting calls about my song. But in Abyakto, the song I lent my lips to was belted out by Jayati Chakraborty.

A few years back, I recall you had won the Best Actress award for your role in the film Bodhon (2015). But we have not seen it. Why?

It was the Best Actress award at the North Carolina Global Film Festival for Bodhon, that was also part of the Indian Panorama at the IFFI [International Film Festival of India] in Goa. I was dumbstruck, really! When the message began to sink in, I felt I had given my best to the ordinary woman whose journey Bodhon tracks. The director, Ayanangshu Banerjee, has made a very honest film with a moving story.

I loved the role. I will definitely mark this one as among my best. The producers had neither the money nor the pull to market and distribute the film and in Kolkata, it was probably pulled out after a couple of weeks or less.

What factors pulled you to Ishaani, the character you play in Bodhon?

I could identify with the character closely because I have gone through most of the phases Ishaani has — single woman, wife and mother. I had been away from the front of the camera for six years. This helped me perform and [so did] the script, the director and my co-actor Joy Sengupta, who plays my husband in the film. Bodhon is a memorable film and not only because it brought me the award.

What about Shab?

Onir had come over to discuss something with my husband Prosenjit. I happened to be around and he asked me if I would be interested in a role in his next film Shab. I was thrilled. But Onir also said that I would have to chop off my hair. It was challenging and I did it! Shab is a love story set and shot entirely in Delhi. Onir is a great director and I found many similarities between his way of direction and Ritu-da’s [the late Rituparno Ghosh's] way of direction.

You are reportedly playing a mentally deficient character opposite Saheb Chatterjee in Hritpindo. Can we have some details?

(Smiles.) It is directed by Shiladitya and he has requested us not to talk about it now.