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The Big Switch

As Bengali filmmaker Srijit Mukherji’s Shah Jahan Regency plays out in theatres, Titas Chowdhury speaks to its lead actor, Abir Chatterjee who broke down his role in the film which is a modern interpretation of the classic Chowringhee. Excerpts: 

Coming On Board

At the outset, I was supposed to play Shankar. I had a chat with Srijit regarding this in 2017. Bumbada (Prosenjit Chatterjee) was supposed to play Sata Bose. When I was shooting for Byomkesh Gowtro, I left for Mussoorie for a 22-day outdoor schedule. Before leaving, I had a script reading session with Srijit. At that point of time, I did not know that a casting shuffle would take place.

When I was shooting in Mussoorie, Soumya, Srijit’s assistant who is also a good friend of mine, called me to say that there were some minor changes in the plan along with some shuffling and reshuffling of the cast. It was then that Srijit told me he was confident that I could play Sata. I told him it would be an honour. I wondered if Bumbada would be okay with this. Turned out, he was because he wanted someone younger to play the character as demanded by the script.

On His Preparation

I did watch Chowringhee, the classic film. But I did not read the whole book. My wife, Nandini (Chatterjee) gifted me the newer version of the book. I only flipped through it. After I came back from Mussoorie, I watched the film again, just to get an idea. I have not imitated Uttam Kumar for it would be a very foolish thing to do. Our film is a newer version with a new interpretation.

On The Challenges

I realised the kind of pressure that would be on me because Sata Bose is an iconic character, not just in the book but also in films. He happens to be one of the top five characters played by Uttam Kumar. I was well aware of the pressure, criticism and comparisons that would follow. There was no character brief given because we all know who and how Sata Bose is. That was also the trickiest part of the character.

Book Versus Film

Sata is so well known and loved that everyone knows him through and through. Neither Srijit nor I wanted to restructure him. We have stuck to the book as much as we could. However, unlike the book, in the film, Param’s (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) reprisal of Shankar as Rudra and my character, Sam, are of the same age. We have changed the name of Sata Bose to Samiran Bose aka Sam Bose.

Sam is very experienced. He is everyone’s go-to guy. He is like a magician who knows everything. Rudra, on the other hand, is a new entrant. Sam has the responsibility to introduce him to the hotel industry. He shares his experiences with him. They become more like friends. These were the little changes. In the book, Shankar was younger than Sata and had more of a senior-junior dynamic. We have also changed the name of the film to Shah Jahan Regency as the film is based on the hotel of the same name.

On Improvising His Scenes

There was no scope to improvise because Srijit is a very good scriptwriter. He had written some amazing one-liners for Sata, who is known for his one-liners. That is also Srijit’s forte. But if I had something in mind, I discussed them with him. A day before we started the shoot, I texted him, ‘Tomorrow we are starting a new project. Hereby, I am surrendering myself as your lead actor. You do whatever you want to do.’

On The Director

Shah Jahan Regency is an emotional tale. I have always said that this is Srijit’s forte. While I was dubbing for the film, I said to Srijit and Param that this film gives us the old Srijit Mukherji vibe. Maybe that is because I am working with Srijit after a long time. After Rajkahini, this is one big role that I am doing for him. Between all this, Srijit and I had a rough patch where we were fighting and sulking which was all out in the media. We have started afresh. This is his first film as a producer also.

On The Audience Takeaway

I feel that when it comes to hotels and airports, the most interesting bit is that so many people from different walks of life and backgrounds come together. In hotels, there are so many people who come with their own back stories. They have their share of joy and they culminate into one single story, which actually depicts the story of a city. This should be people’s biggest takeaway from the film. After a long time, I got a song from Anupam (Roy), who is a very dear friend. I often complain to him to give me good songs. My films generally do not have many hummable numbers. People also complain that I do not do romantic roles. I hope they will stop complaining now!

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