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Byomkesh Rebooted

Abir Chaterjee is all set with his fifth Byomkesh film, Byomkesh Pawrbo.Reinventing the iconic character just that much every time, he has been successfully playing the part of the beloved sleuth in Bengali literature for six years now. The actor talks about completing a decade in the industry and being the new-age Byomkesh of Bengali cinema.

With 2016 coming to an end, you will be celebrating a decade in the industry.

Yes, it has been a good journey, from bad to good, good to bad, some hits and some flops, but the entire journey has been very fruitful and I have learnt a lot. I started with television and then moved to films, and I am blessed that the audience has accepted me with every film of mine, and every character that I have played.

 You are now the Byomkesh of Bengali cinema as you have been doing this franchise every year. With every film becoming a hit, does it put pressure on you?

Definitely. Our last film Har Har Byomkesh did very well with both the critics and the box office. It was last year’s second-highest grosser. With every successive film, the challenges are growing. I realised this when we started Byomkesh Porbo because everyone loves the film and it has raised the bar for us.This is my fifth Byomkesh film and I realise that the audience will be looking for something different, something more than the last four Byomkesh outings. So, sure, it is much more challenging this time.

Do you try to deliver something different as Byomkesh in every successive film in this franchise, in terms of characterisation?

The way Arindam Sil, my director, visualises Byomkesh is very similar to the way I want to potray or I visualise Byomkesh. To us, Byomkesh is a hero who is larger-than-life but also very rooted to his basics. While he is a hero and his sense of morality and honesty is something to look up to, he is also a human being with a soul. This is how we try to portray Byomkesh.

When I prepare for the character, I always give a hundred per cent. Since Byomkesh has given me so much, it is my responsibility to give Byomkesh something in return. I myself am a Byomkesh fan and I know just how possessive and emotional all Bengalis are about this iconic character. So the chances of committing an error should be around point-one or point-two per cent.

With every film, I try to develop a new character trait in Byomkesh so that it doesn’t get monotonous. The audience should not feel like they are watching the same character again and again. Since my director, his team and I know where we left off in the last film, we know where to pick up the thread when we start a new one.

 The character Byomkesh was popularised by Satyajit Ray in Chiriyakhana and Basu Chaterjee in the television series by the same name. But the character was not very famous in the cinema space. It was you back in 2010 who bought the character back to the big screen. How have you guys brought a fresh take to the stories?

Yes, my first Byomkesh Bakshi film, which released in 2010, was directed by Anjan Dutt. That was almost 40 years since a film on Byomkesh was made. So there was nothing to compare it to and it was a fresh take on the stories. The most challenging part was for our director Anjan Dutta, who had to do justice to the film. It was just my second film and I am glad the audience accepted me as Byomkesh. Since the audience didn’t have any fresh memories of the character, it was easy to draw them into our world.

 Your last film, Har Har Byomkesh (2015), was set in Benaras, where the city played a character in the story. Will we see the same in Byomkesh Pawrbo?

I guess credit goes to our director Arindam Sil because, regardless of the location he selects, it kind of becomes a character in the film. Benaras was chosen because of the landscape that the city has and it’s one of the oldest cities in India. The film was based in the pre-Independence era and it is one of the few cities where Hindus and Muslims coexist very peacefully, despite times of rioting and other forms of unrest. Benaras has that old charm and the Ganga. That’s why Benaras was choosen.

Byomkesh Pawrbo is based on a novel Amriter Mrityu by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay and is set in a jungle because there is a supernatural and eerie element in the novel.  The character Amrit says, ‘I have seen a langda bhoot. I have seen a ghost rider in the jungle…’ The story starts from there. Hills and jungles always give you a mysterious feel. So the jungle, the hills and the horse are characters. We shot in 31 locations in 34 days. It was choc-a-bloc.

Another interesting feature about Byomkesh Pawrbo is that he is on national duty. Thus far, he has been solving private cases. But, after World War II, the state government requests Byomkesh to look into a case. The war had ended four years ago but an illegal arms deal is being made. The seriousness of this crime is much more than ever before as he is investigating a case on a national scale. That’s how Byomkesh Pawrbo is different from the rest of the Byomkesh films we have done.

Your filmography boasts commercial films as well as author-backed films. Have you deliberately tried to create a balance between the two kinds of cinema?

Not really. I am an actor and my job is to entertain the audience, so I want to be a part of all kinds of cinema. I am an ardent Hindi film buff and I grew up on a healthy dose of ‘90s films. I feel blessed that I am offered both kinds of roles, commercial as well as author-backed roles. Today, the audience is certainly demanding more stories which make sense they want to hear good stories, watch good cinema. And I am not referring to the urban audience alone. It is also true of the rural audience. 

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