Hindi Filmmakers Are Yet To Notice Me

After appearing in a slew of Bengali films, actor Jisshu Sengupta is all set with his next film Byomkesh Bakshi, a sequel to Byomkesh Phire Elo. The actor, who also had a brush with Hindi films, in Barfi!, Mardaani and recently in Piku, speaks to Soumita Sengupta about his films and the Bengali film industry

It’s festival time in Kolkata, when people have a week-long holiday and it’s a week where the film fraternity does its best business. But, this year, your film Byomkesh Bakshi is clashing with five other Bengali films.

Yes, and I am very confident about our film. All the films will work if all six films have good content. One can’t stop a film if it is good, and, besides, the audience is ready to experiment with new subjects. Sure, Bengali films take a while to grow as, here, marketing is still largely word-of-mouth publicity. But no one can stop a film with good content from working. The advantage, this week, is we don’t have a big Hindi film releasing. So we have a clear slate of one week, where all the films will enjoy a decent run at the box office.

You have replaced Abir Chatterjee who featured in the previous instalment of Byomkesh Bakshi.

Yes, the rest of the cast like Saswata Chatterjee are the same. I have not replaced Abir because this one is a new story. I bring my own style to Byomkesh and Abir had his own style in the film. Also, our film has been shot in black-and-white and colour. So it’s a whole new take.

But won’t there be comparisons as the previous film did well at the box office?

As I mentioned, our film starts with a new story so it won’t make sense to compare the two movies. When Anjan da, our director, chose me for the role, I told him I would portray the sleuth in my own way and the audience would not say I was carrying on from where Abir had left. In this film, Byomkesh is witty and moody.

How would you describe Anjan’s style of working?

Anjan da doesn’t show you how to do a scene but he narrates a scene in a way that you feel you can see everything in front of your eyes. He knows his actors very well and how to draw work out of them. So he narrates a scene and then asks you to do it your way. I understand his pulse and what he wants. But what I like most about him is he allows an actor to experiment with their own style.

Were there workshops as the film is set in a different era?

No, our director doesn’t believe in workshops. He allows his actors… so, if someone is a method actor, he gives him space to do his thing. He asked me to speak quickly, which I practiced, and when we went on the floors, it was easy for me.

How has the industry grown and changed over the years?

Yes, it’s been a long journey. And to illustrate the growth in the industry… I have worked in a film made on a budget of `20 lakh and a film made on a budget of `4 crore. I believe budgets speak for the industry’s growth. The Bengali industry has grown over the years and, now, we are catering not only to the Bengali audience but to non-Bengalis too. But we will have to start releasing our films with subtitles in metro cities so that more and more people come to watch our cinema.

There was a time when only South remakes were working. Do you think that phase is over? And can we look forward to more content-rich films?

Those films were working because there was demand for them. But we have always had content-rich films in Bengali, right from the start. People say there was a dull period but I don’t agree. At that time, our industry didn’t have the money to reach out to a large audience. Bengal is rich in literature, so one doesn’t have to look outside for stories.

Your performances in Hindi films like Piku, Mardaani and Barfi! were much talked about. But the directors of all three films are Bengali. Do you think you are getting stereotyped in exclusively Bengali characters?

Totally. I do not receive offers from Bollywood. All the three directors Shoojit (Sircar), Pradeep (Sarkar) and Basu da (Anurag Basu) are aware of my Bengali films. So they offered me those roles. But I believe I can do more of what I have done so far; it’s just that Hindi filmmakers are yet to notice me.

You mentioned that as soon as the audience stops liking a certain kind of film or genre, filmmakers will stop making films like that. Today, what kind of genre appeals to the audience?

I believe we have a wider audience that likes to watch all kinds of cinema. That’s why all types of genres are being made in Bangla. Our audience is growing all the time. Also, filmmakers are beginning to experiment, which is working in our favour. For example, a film like Bhooter Bhobishyat, which did very well, was an experiment film. But what we need to focus on is the kind of audience we cater too. Byomkesh is a film which caters to all age groups but when you make a film with a bold subject, the audience changes. Today, you can’t fool the audience. They are prepared to spend `200 to watch your film but it needs to be worth it.

After Byomkesh, what’s next for you?

I am currently shooting for three films, back to back. My next is Arshinagar directed by Aparna Sen. The screenplay is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet. I am looking forward to this film as it’s a totally different take on Romeo and Juliet’s love story.

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