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Interview Hindi

Was refreshing to play a positive character after so many years, says Dibyendu Bhattacharya of Undekhi

Bhattacharya plays a police officer who arrives in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, from the Sunderbans, West Bengal, in search of two women in SonyLIV's original series.

Suyog Zore

Dibyendu Bhattacharya's performance in SonyLIV's original crime thriller web-series Undekhi (2020) has been widely appreciated. The actor plays superintendent of police Ghosh who arrives in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, all the way from the Sunderbans in West Bengal. It is a multi-layered character that has many hidden aspects that are revealed slowly as the series progresses.

Along with Bhattacharya, Undekhi stars newcomers like Ankur Rathee, Apeksha Porwal, Surya Sharma and Ayn Zoya.

In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com, Dibyendu Bhattacharya spoke about the web-series, his experience of working with new talent, and also his career so far. Excerpts:

Why did you choose to do Undekhi?

Obviously because of the script. It has so many layers. On the surface, it's a thriller, but if you peel the layers off you will find that it's a hard-hitting social commentary that talks about several issues that are prevalent even after thousands of years. It's based on a real incident.

Another reason I accepted this series is the people associated with this project. Siddharth Sengupta is the creator and I always wanted to work him because he is a genius creative mind! I had worked with Ashish Shukla in DevD (2009) and was looking for an opportunity to work with him again. This series gave me that chance. I was also getting a chance to work with [the production house] Applause Entertainment again after Criminal Justice (2019).

Your DCP Ghosh is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken person despite having a lot of power. Can you tell us about the character and the kind of preparation you had to undergo for this role?

He is a multi-layered character. He looks simple and soft-spoken, but he knows how to manipulate people and situations to his benefit. He has travelled from the Sunderbans to Manali in search of two women. So he is aware he is alone and won't get much help as the Atwals hold a lot of power there. So he doesn't even let his fellow policemen know what he is thinking, because he is not sure who is on his side. It is always a joy to play such characters because they are inspired by real life. You will see people like these around you.

About the preparation I had to do for the role, honestly, not much. The character was so well written that half the actor's job is already done. You just have to be faithful to what the writer has written. Also, some of the character traits he has, for example he likes to hum songs, which is something I do a lot. I love singing. So that helped.

I always like to keep in touch with the writers and talk to them about my character and ask them how they perceive it and what they had in mind while writing it. Then I add my own things to it. These are small things, but they make a large impact.

You play a parallel main lead in this show. Generally, actors like you don't get to play such lengthy roles in films. Do you think OTT platforms are a boon for actors like you who don't generally get to show the full extent of their talent in cinema?

Thankfully, OTT is a content-driven industry and has not become a market-driven industry yet, so there is no pressure to cast a saleable star who can carry a film on his popularity. So it is a boon for actors like us. And to tell you the truth I have done films where I have played the main lead, but they were never released in India. Many of my films have been to international festivals and some have even won awards, but they were never released [in India]. I had done a film called Box. It was a one-man film where I am trapped in a box. It was made way before [Vikramaditya] Motwane's Trapped (2017), but, unfortunately, that film also never got released.

You have generally played characters with negative shades in your films. After many years you are playing a positive character. How was that experience?

Yes, I have been playing only negative characters the last few years. Even in Criminal Justice, I had a negative role. So it was refreshing to play a positive character after many years. Also, I was happy that now I won't receive hate messages on social media. When Criminal Justice was released, people would send abusive messages because they hated my character from the gut. But in a way this is your award, because it proves that you succeeded in making your character believable.

Can you tell us about any particular scene that you enjoyed doing or which made you anxious before the shoot?

There is one scene where my character is trying to manipulate a situation to his benefit. He is actually trying to provoke a certain character so that he makes a mistake. It was a night shoot and we were shooting in Manali literally on the banks of the Beas river. I was literally on the edge of the bank. A small mistake and I would have fallen into the river. So it was a really frightening experience. On top of that, we were shooting at night and it was so cold that we were all shivering. I was wearing a sweater in that particular scene; despite that I was shivering.

But the funny part is, we had to shoot the remaining sequence in Mumbai's Madh Island. Now, for the sake of continuity, I had to wear the same sweater, but we were shooting in the month of May! On top of that, just a few days before shooting, I had injured my hand. So here I was wearing a plaster, my police uniform, and a sweater in the extremely hot weather of  Mumbai, so you can guess what I was going through (laughs). But jokes aside, that's part and parcel of your job and one shouldn't make much fuss about it.

Except for Harsh Chhaya, almost everyone else playing a major role in the web-series is a newcomer. How was the experience of interacting and acting with young talent?

It was an enriching experience, They bring a certain energy to the set. But when it comes to acting they were all very sincere and hardworking.  But most importantly they were all very keen to learn from senior actors like us. We all gelled with one another and had a lot of fun also. It was a fantastic team.

Despite having ample opportunity, this series doesn't take any political stand. But nowadays we see a lot of series and films with a very obvious political agenda. What do you think of this trend?

Actually nothing is apolitical. Even when you buy a toothpaste it's a political decision. So you are inevitably surrounded by politics. But party-oriented politics is a different thing. You can't mix these two. Undekhi is definitely a political series because it deals with issues like how the system is designed and works for rich and powerful people. There is also a dialogue in the series which talks about the situation of poor Adivasi people. 'Inka na koi aadhar hai na koi Aadhar card.' It is definitely a political statement.

Talking about series or films with a political agenda, that's also the personal choice of the maker. They are within their rights to propagate a particular party's agenda through their films.

You made your acting debut with Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding (2001) and later worked with Anurag Kashyap and Shimit Amin who are auteurs and have their own styles of filmmaking. How is it working with directors with very different styles?

It's an overwhelming experience! Working with Anurag was very comforting because he is a friend and he is the kind of director who gives you a basic idea about the scene and gives you complete freedom to interpret and perform it in your own style. Mira Nair has a completely different style. She is very meticulous. So is Sudhir Mishra. So I enjoyed working with all of them. You get to learn a lot working with them.

Apart from Hindi films, you have worked in a few Bengali films, so how was the experience of working in your mother tongue?

Not just Bengali, I would like to work in other regional films also. I would love to do a Malayalam or a Marathi film. But yes, since Bengali is my mother tongue the comfort level is more there. I was born and brought up in Kolkata, so shooting there brings back a lot of memories from childhood. I also get to meet my friends and relatives whenever I get to shoot in Kolkata.

Undekhi ends on a cliffhanger. How much do you know about the second season? Have you got the script yet?

No, I haven't got the script for season 2 yet. I'm also excited to see what happens next. But I'm sure the writers are working on it. Things are not moving as fast as they should have because of this [COVID-19] lockdown.

Can you tell us about your future projects?

Yes, there are a few projects like Jamtara (Season 2). There are also a few films. I'm also planning to direct a film myself. I have a big plan for my directorial debut, but nothing is set at the moment, so it's too early to talk about it.