He’s blazed a trail in the Bangla film industry for seven years. A self-confessed, hardcore commercial actor and a very successful one to boot, Dev has around 18 films to his credit. His latest release, Chander Pahar – the most expensive Bengali film ever made (budget approx Rs 15 crore) – released recently in India and is soon to be released overseas. In conversation with Sagorika Dasgupta, the actor discusses films, box office and more
Chander Pahar released in Bengal last week. Are you happy with the outcome?
Touchwood! I am ecstatic. Thankfully, the audience and filmmakers have responded only positively. The box office is roaring with the film’s collections and I can’t be happier because it was one of the toughest films I have ever worked in. I had never imagined it would do so well. I thank God for all the good wishes coming my way and I am grateful that my hard work has paid off.
This is the most expensive Bengali film ever made. Were you apprehensive about whether it would recover all that money?
Obviously, I was nervous. In fact we all were. But we made the film entirely out of our passion for this great story. Chander Pahar was written decades ago by the great Bibhutibhushan Bandopandhyay. He wrote Pather Panchali and Aparajito, which Satyajit Ray adapted to the big screen. Chander Pahar is sacrosanct in Bengal as popular kid’s literature. So I knew comparisons would be made. We have stayed as close to the story as we could. It’s a very linear story.
But, yes, the budge was an added pressure point. Usually, Bengali films are made on a budget of Rs 5-6 crore but this film had a huge budget of Rs 15 crore due to its rich production values. We wanted to make a film that everyone would love to watch even 20 years down the line, not only for its commercial benefit. Not once did we feel that chalo iss picture se acche paise banayein. In fact, when I attended a screening at a cinema hall, I was very happy to see this kid with his father and grandparents. That’s exactly the kind of appeal which we are aiming at.
Not only is the most expensive Bengali film ever made, it also released in Bengal on the same day as Dhoom: 3. Was that a concern?
That was not a concern at all. I don’t believe that two big films releasing on the same day impact each other’s business. In the past, too, my film Paglu released along with another big film but mine was one of the biggest successes in the industry. A good film will always do well. There are so many examples in the Hindi film industry too, where two big films releasing on the same day have co-existed, business-wise.
You are a successful commercial actor. What made you choose a film that is not your ideal masala film?
Initially, I was surprised that I was approached for this role, which was based on a popular literary character, Shankar. But even as a commercial actor, I wanted to satisfy my hunger to exploit my acting skills to the fullest. A hardcore masala film might have plenty of songs, dance sequences and fights. But when you watch the film, you realise that at the core, even Chander Pahar is as commercial as it can get.
Shankar, the lead character in the book, is already a superhero in Bengal. Once I confirmed to doing the film, I used to read the reports in the newspapers almost every day to find out why I was cast. There were varied opinions and I paid no heed to the comments. I chose to be immune to them.
Will we see you doing more films that are meaningful?
These things are best unplanned. I have never planned anything in my career and I enjoy working outside my comfort zone. In fact, my next film, Buno Haansh, is with Aniruddha Roy Chaudhry, an off-beat film based on a novel by Samaresh Majumdar. I want to play new roles and the best part is, after Chander Pahar, directors are confident of my acting prowess and are considering me for such roles.
The film was majorly shot in Africa, what was the experience like?
We spent 45 days in Africa for the filming of the major scenes. It was a very difficult shoot because it was a larger-than-life role. We had to shoot with wild animals like lions, elephants and the highly poisonous black mamba snake. The worst part was that I have a vertigo problem and they made me stand atop these tall cliffs for some scenes. But I discovered hidden talents in myself.
You are known as a commercial star. Are you up to date with your films’ collections?
Yes, and that is very important. As an actor, I make sure that meri ek bhi picture flop na ho. Every actor wants that but for me, one’s film’s business is like a reference point for my next project. Why is a Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge still the number one film? Because it was such a huge hit that it broke all records. I want my films to have the same impact; they should go down in history as some of the most successful films ever made.
You made your debut at a time when there were superstars like Prosenjit who ruled the box office. How tough was it to make your mark?
It was not easy at all. At that time, it was not just Bumba da (Prosenjit Chatterjee) but also Mithun Chakraborty who was a superstar. They were the kings of the box office. There was so much competition from these senior guys and I had just arrived in Kolkata from Mumbai, and realised that to be great in this business one had to prove oneself with the collections one’s films brought it. That stuck with me and it is something I live by even today. Even if you do just one film a year, make sure it breaks records at the cinemas. My initial films were not super-successes but once Poran Jaye Jolia Re hit cinemas, it was the biggest turning point of my career. But I never want people to say, ‘Dev has already given his best and there is nothing more he can do.’ I want to keep giving the audience something new. I want to improve with every film.
Many don’t consider commercial Bengali films ‘intellectual cinema’. Have you faced such criticism?
For me, even intellectual cinema has to make money. Why is it that Chander Pahar became a hit? Because although it is a literary subject, it is akin to something like a Harry Potter, which has great visual appeal and the story was loved by kids and elders. This applies to Hollywood too. Tom Hanks is considered a great actor but he may not be as popular as Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. Despite all the great cinema he makes, Hanks is also sometimes seen in hardcore commercial films. Different actors have different priorities. For me, I love the box office.
Kamaleswar MukherjeeDirector, Chander Pahar
People were a little surprised when I decided to cast Dev in the lead role of Shankar because he had not done films in this space before. But for me he was the apt person for the part because only he could play the character with such panache. We wanted a tall, agile, Bengali boy with a good physique, because we knew we were going to make him climb trees, fight with wild animals and Dev was the best fit. He brought a lot of freshness to the film too since a lot of intellectual audience had not seen Dev’s films, as he has a separate audience in Bengal altogether.
A major part of the film was shot in Africa and it was quite a challenge. The country is going through turmoil in terms of political instability, inflation and a major part of the population is living below the poverty line. Thankfully, we had a fantastic African crew who lent adequate support to our Indian crew members and we worked in tandem. The remaining four to five days of the schedule were spent shooting in India. I was very clear that the film had to be made on this grand scale otherwise I don’t think we would have been able to do justice to this literary masterpiece. The film released last week in Bengal and yesterday all India and I am humbled by the huge response that it has garnered. All the shows have been running houseful and we are getting very positive reports, barring a few criticisms, but that is something we were prepared for right from the day we translate this revered book on screen.