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Coming Full Circle

Directors Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee, and superstars Prosenjit and Rituporna Sengupta, discuss with Team Box Office India their recent Bengali release Praktan, which also marks the comeback of the lead actors together after 14 years.

BOI: Let’s start with the directors… Your film is about a train journey. How did the idea of Praktanoccur to both of you?

Nandita Roy (NR): The story was conceived back in 2003. I am basically from Mumbai and have often travelled from Mumbai to Kolkata by train. Our holidays were mostly about going to Kolkata and train journeys have always fascinated me. So I always wanted to write a story based on a train journey and that’s how the idea struck me.

When I first wrote the story, I always wanted Prosenjit and Rituporna to feature in it but that was a long time ago. At that point, they had major differences between them and were not working with each other. But, in time, we finished Bela Seshe, and were thinking of starting another subject. We thought of revisiting some of our old stories. In fact, our film was initially titled ‘Journey’.

Shiboprosad Mukherjee (SM): At another point in time, we called it ‘Shohojatri’, which means ‘co-passengers’.

NR: We thought of attempting it once again and we also wanted to approach both the leading actors and hoped they would agree. And they did!

BOI: From ‘Journey’, to ‘Shohojatri’ to ‘Praktan’, which means ‘old’ or ‘something that has to do with the past’, the meaning of the title has changed quite a lot. Did the script also go through major changes?

SM: No, script-wise, we haven’t changed much. Primarily, the story tells you the journey of two women travelling together in the same compartment and it’s also about two women telling you the story of the same man. They are unfolding the layers and that’s why we initially called it ‘Shohojatri’ (co-passengers).

BOI: For both of you, as actors, was it an instant ‘yes’ once you heard the narration?

Prosenjit: Let me be very honest because you have asked the perfect question… we both were looking forward to doing a film together but we were also looking for a good subject. There were many offers from many directors but I think we both decided to finally do a film for Shiboprosad and Nandita di together. Shibo had been pursuing us with many subjects and we even locked one of them. Somehow, it didn’t work out at that time as it was a period film.

In between, he came up with other subjects but then they approached me with this one and my first question was: ‘This is a story of two women, where do I come in? I am a third party, so why should I do the film?’ I liked the idea but my part was unclear. I initially looked like a junior artiste in the film but when the final narration was given to me, it had a far meatier role for me. So the film is obviously a film about two women but it is also a Prosenjit movie. And it is very apt for Prosenjit and Rituporna, the moments are fabulous.

Rituporna Sengupta (RS): Though Shibu is my best friend, I have utmost admiration for Nandita di. She has always given me my bit in a way that I can never complain. When this story was conceptualised, we were very excited but Nandita di was apprehensive about having an interesting cast in place. As Prosenjit said, this is a story about two women; it’s about seeing the same man from their different perspectives. These two women were intertwined in a man’s world, played
by Prosenjit.

This was the basic concept and everything revolved around his character. It is an intriguing story of two women and a man. Many people will identify with this kind of relationship. Change is inevitable in human relationships, how this change happens and how the renaissance leaves behind a deep impression in people’s minds is what the film is all about.

And then there is the glorification of every character in the film, the way it is explained, the way it has been told. Those unspoken words have been said in such a way that you will instantly connect with the film as you too must have experienced such circumstances. The songs and the meaning of the lyrics instantly transports you back in time.

Nandini di’s screenplay is so beautifully written that it becomes very easy for actors to play their respective parts. Every scene is a gift to us since Prosenjit and I are coming together after a sabbatical. Therefore, it had to be spectacular. Our iconic pair has always been in the audience’s mind though we have not worked together for many years. Whether this was the right subject to choose was a loaded question. We were already offered many other subjects when we thought of working together again but it was my personal choice to work with these two directors, if had to do a film with Prosenjit. And we couldn’t have asked for anything better. 25 cities in India are showcasing the film and it is being talked about all
over the world. There is a strong buzz around Praktan.

BOI: Prosenjit, there are two parts that you play in the film – a young, egoistic man and then a changed, family man. Was there any research involved?

Prosenjit: Yes, there is a younger me and a family man in the present. I usually take notice of people around me and then sketch my character accordingly. Sure, the character has been written and shaped by the director but I discuss my inputs too.

Often, the script doesn’t include everything about my character so I try and glean more details from my directors. All these little things matter. The story is told from the perspective of two characters – no one is right and no one is wrong. It is merely the situation that isn’t working. Everyone has a past and, with age, everyone starts adjusting.

BOI: After the success of Bela Seshe, you had said that you finished the film in 20 days and it was made on a tight budget. Has the structure changed for this?

SM: Usually, we make films based on relationships, so they are not larger-than-life films, where you have dance numbers and action sequences. If you have drama and good performers, and do your workshops, scripting, homework and pre-production well in advance, then you can always work on the budget and the schedule because with digital technology, you don’t need too many days. And when you have an actor like Prosenjit, he will arrive on the sets 15 minutes beforehand.

BOI: Is this also the first time in the Bengali industry that a film has been shot with an aerial view?

SM: Yes, ours is a story about a train journey and hence the sequences and scenes are restricted, which is why we had to have aerial shots. It was also to show the geographical journey of the train. When you travel from Mumbai to Kolkata, you cross many states in India, you see greenery, barren land, villages and also farms. No one has thus far seen an aerial view of Kolkata in the movies.

BOI: As actors, both of you have ruled the Bengali industry for decades and have done more than 40 films together. Now you are working together after 14 years. How would you describe each other and how much have you changed as actors?

RS: I think he has made major changes in terms of choosing films. He started as a matinee star and delivered huge hits. Then he evolved as an actor. Now he takes up very difficult subjects, for instance a film like Baishe Srabon shows his capability as an actor. He chooses scripts that are very different and he is constantly searching for something new to deliver.

As an actor, I believe everyone has to make different choices as he has done. Praktan too has some very interesting ingredients for an actor, and it can make him take the next leap as a performer. There was no awkwardness between us, we buried the past and started working together.

BOI: How much has she evolved as an actor?

Prosenjit: Ritu has changed a lot. She was one of those actors with whom I worked most. I remember, we were shooting for a film called Utsab, a very important film for both of us, and we were also shooting for a film called Baba Keno Chakor. So in the morning, she was shooting for Baba Keno Chakor and during the night shift, she was shooting for Utsab. No one realised we were shooting Utsab while shooting for the other film.

We have both decided that, at the end of the day, your character has to be different. If you’re a professional actor, you have to deliver in the way your director demands. So Ritu has always been a director’s actor from the very beginning. If she was coming to the Jamaibabu Zindabad sets, she would do her part exactly as it was called for by the film. Also, she does everything with passion as you can’t deliver your best if you don’t believe in what you are doing. So, as an actor, she has always believed in her directors and that’s how she has always delivered her best.

She was always good as an actor and with the passage of time, she has only gotten better. In the last seven to eight years, her work has been outstanding. She has grown tremendously as an actress with Alo, Rajkahini, Alik Sukh andMuktodhara, which were very difficult but nicely done. She plays a very mature role in this film too. There is only one thing that hasn’t changed – her lack of punctuality; otherwise she is extremely professional. This is her camp as she has worked with these directors before; I have worked with them for the first time.

BOI: Rituporna, is it easier to work with friends?

RG: Not with him (Shiboprasad). We have always fought on the sets but we brought in tremendous energy as a team. Whenever we conceive something, we are always very excited to work it out but, personally, I have better tuning with didi because she has always been caring towards me. Jokes aside, we are like a family and it has been a long journey for us. I have always believed in their work and I always feel that they have got that X factor, that magic, and that strength in their scripts.

I believe the most important thing in the industry is the belief in their scripts. Due to that, everyone, including the audience, looks forward to Shibo and Nandita’s films. They have created history of sorts and together have contributed a lot to the Bengali film industry, which was not present earlier. They made all the right noises with Icche, which was an absolutely non-star film, only featuring a mother and a son, which was quite revolutionary. They have many firsts to their name.

For instance, Nigel Akkara was a convict, he was in jail. They got him out, they groomed him, turned him into a chiseled actor and you could see him perform in Muktodhara like nobody’s business! It was like ‘Oh my God! What is this?!’ Alik Sukh was also a very bizarre and very beautiful story written by Suchitra Bhattacharya, which went to Cannes.

Then there was Ramdhanu, a revolutionary film about school kids and their education. It was a beautiful subject, which Aamir Khan did a little bit in Taare Zameen Par. There has always been a very interesting buzz about all their films. And Bela Seshe created history, with 200 days in cinemas and featuring two of the biggest stars of yesteryear, Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta, 30 years after Ghare Baire. So their films have always made a difference. I always want to be part of their films because they have reinvented cinema.

BOI: All your films have always attracted critical acclaim but it was Bela Seshe that was a turning point, and it was also a commercial success. With expectations being so high, do you feel the pressure with this movie?

NR: Yes, but I think the pressure is more from the audience as their expectations are very high. I hope we can fulfill them.

BOI: Was it also difficult to stitch together four stories simultaneously? There is one main story and three others running parallel.

NR: It is a train journey and I couldn’t base my story on just one compartment; there are others in this coach and I had to talk about them too. I tried to knit them together in such a way that everyone was somehow connected to the others. Like the honeymoon couple, where the man had an ex in his life. Everybody has an ex. Some live with the memory, others don’t. So he touches upon a subject called Praktan. Then you see the elderly couple, who is well-adjusted. We also see a young couple struggling to adjust; and then you compare them with the couple with 40 years of marriage behind them and how well they have adjusted to each other.

Then you see a band in the film, where two members of the band are talking about the band being broken up and one of them says, ‘You were like a married couple, you argued like husband and wife.’ So it kind of links you to the rest of the story. There is a link to each story and if this link wasn’t given to the other passengers in the train, then I think it would have been dry. So we had to give it that touch.

RS: I think it is beautifully photographed and our cinematographer Gopi Bhagat has done a brilliant job. Nitish Roy has directed the train sets, which were very believable including the motion. We had a very strong technical team, which is crucial when making a film like this because everything has to be authentic and believable. As far as the train is concerned, every moment and every corridor had to be well executed. I am very happy with the detailing of the film.

Coming to the music… music has always been a big part of their films and it has always excelled. Praktan has made a real difference because Anupam Roy is at his best in the film as was a whole gang of great musicians.

Prosenjit: Both the songs are now at number one and two positions. And the Iman song… I was in Toronto and her song Tumi jake bhalobaso was very much in demand. We are very happy about this.

BOI: Each of you has a fan following. Do you have expectations from the box office about the opening of the film?

Prosenjit: For regional films, we always expect the second week to be better than the first week. When that happens, we know it is going to be a long run and will be considered good cinema. We are expecting a very good opening for Praktanas it has become the talk of the town.

BOI: Was the budget for Praktan bigger than those of your earlier films?

SM: Usually we don’t work with this kind of star cast. These are the Bengali industry’s biggest icons. Here, we have Prosenjit, Rituporna, Soumitra Chatterjee, Sabitri Chatterjee, a music director like Anupam, and a production designer like Nitish Roy. Then your whole film has been shot within a train, there’s the budget of the train. Then you have the CG budget. So the budget definitely went up but again the scale and the release is huge with this film.

We released in 45 cinemas for Bela Seshe, and now we are releasing in 90 cinemas in West Bengal, 25 major metro cities across India and nine cities in the US and Canada. Bengali cinema is truly going global, so I think our budget was absolutely fine. Maheshji (Bhatt) recently watched the film and he asked me about the budget. When I named the figure, he said, ‘Only you can do it, only regional films can deliver a film within that kind of budget.’ You won’t believe the way these two guys have supported us and we finished our shoot in 22 days. Sometimes, we would shoot from 6 am and even 3 am. Yet they were there. Sometimes, we used to shoot for 14 to 15 hours.

NR: And we finished all the heavy scenes in a single day. But I appreciate one thing, they did tremendous homework. The back office team worked relentlessly. I think they are also doing a great job on social media. So it is beautiful team work, which makes everything easier on the sets. It also makes such a big difference in controlling the number of shoot days.

SM: There are other very important elements with this film, one being the release and the other being that, after a long time, we have a commercial pairing and it is a musical film. Before this, we have never done a romantic, commercial film, where you have other issues but the primary thing is the romantic angle. This is very important from the Bengali film industry perspective. It has an India release, a global release and 17 corporate brands have tied up with
this film.

NR: I think we are changing the perspective of commercial Bengali films.

SM: I think the whole film industry is happy after a long time. Yesterday, my producers called me from Kolkata saying exhibitors are very happy because of the advance booking.

NR: Eros is distributing the film all over the world, which is big news for the Bengali film industry. This is a one-of-a-kind story for Bengali films. This kind of explosion has never happened before.

SM: I think the more regional you become, the more international
you become.

BOI: Are there any memorable scenes you would like to share?

Prosenjit: Shooting the entire train sequence was very difficult. It had the same actors and the same set-up, and one couldn’t simply go on shooting. The regional industry has limitations on the commercial aspect. So they decided to shoot in a manner which was difficult for all of us because in a train, you are sitting and you get just one wall, and they used to shoot three to four sequences together by shifting the actors around but everything was very well planned.

An actor also has to know about angles and positions. It was difficult for everybody but the alternative would have been to shoot for 100 days, which was not possible. So sometimes there were two cameras, three cameras or even one camera. I was doing maybe one scene earlier, then the seventh scene or the eleventh scene. The continuity was a very big challenge.

NR: I will let you in on a little secret… we shot for 22 days and the first cut of the film was 3 hrs, 40 minutes long. I had to ruthlessly edit it. It was like chopping an entire film!

RS: Yes, ruthless and they were all my scenes! (Laughs)

Prosenjit: So the next time we do a film, we should give them 12 days! (Laughs)

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