With his recent release Boss, Bengali superstar Jeet added another box-office memento to his already packed hit stack. In conversation with Sagorika Dasgupta and Soumita Sengupta, the brawny actor talks about his take on the Bengali film industry and his race to the top
Your recent Bengali film Boss is a super hit.
Yes, and I am elated. Boss was a joint venture between Reliance Entertainment and Grassroot Entertainment, which is our company. The film has done tremendous business in West Bengal and the icing on the cake is Reliance is calling it the ‘biggest hit in the history of Bengali cinema’. I started my career with a super hit film and after every single blockbuster, you keep start thinking ‘what’s next?’
So what’s next?
We are working on a couple of projects and figuring out what to do next. I have always had an inclination towards Hindi too, so I am in discussions after the success of Boss, which has created a buzz even in Mumbai.
Will we see you acting in the Hindi version too?
Like I said, talks are underway. I can’t announce anything right now.
You have also been signed by Viacom18 and Neeraj Pandey’s production house for a Bengali film.
Yes, it’s called The Royal Bengal Tiger (TRBT) and is a genre I have not done before. I like the sensibilities of Neeraj Pandey and I knew him before he made A Wednesday! When he came to me with TRBT, I was excited. Actually, he had wanted to do a Bengali film for a long time. I will be playing this kind of character for the first time. It’s also the first time I will be attempting the thriller genre.
Was it because of Neeraj that you chose this film?
Neeraj was born and raised in Bengal. He then shifted to Delhi and then to Mumbai. We always used to discuss films and film projects. Because we gelled so well, we wanted to do something unique. Then he got this script and approached me for this film. I agreed instantly. We are also planning more ventures, not just as producer-actor, as I too own a production house. We want to produce more films.
Are the kinds of films you want to produce similar to the kinds of films you feature in?
Not all of them. We are very open to launching new talents. We are also into television. One of our shows was hosted by Koel Mallick, which became a super hit. So we are pretty open to new and different content. We want to produce quality films.
Since you have done so much commercial cinema, did you deliberately choose an offbeat film like TRBT?
The time has come for me to experiment with films. I have reached a place where I can explore new genres. In the case of TRBT, I really liked the idea, the way the film was narrated to me, and it had Neeraj Pandey as producer.
Who approached whom first?
Well, we’ve known each other for a long time and were discussing projects. Then this film came along and we agreed to do it. I also trusted the director Rajesh Ganguly’s vision. It is very important to sync with your director.
Did you have any apprehensions about the script?
Not at all. I did not have to say anything about the script. I liked it; it was a very unique project. For instance, when Boss came to me, we thought we would do the film with a new director. In the original Telugu film, Boss was directed by a choreographer-turned-director Baba Yadav, who made his directorial debut with the film. And it became a super hit. When you are experimenting, you have to take a leap of faith. People are open to new things, new genres.
You mentioned that TRBT is a new genre of film for you. But when you are attached to a film, doesn’t it become a commercial film?
(Smiles) If you put it like that – and it sounds really good – then yes.
You started your career with solo producers. How have things changed since corporate houses stepped in?
I feel individual producers have done a great job but what is different is corporate studios are transparent. Production-wise or work-wise, they have a good command over the business. They also have a distribution set-up worldwide and that helps regional films get a wider release. For instance, we are now planning to release Boss in Lucknow, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and many more cities, where we have a Bengali audience. There are also talks that the producers might take the film overseas.
How is the Bangla market outside West Bengal?
A few years ago, it was very restricted but it is opening up now. Our films are reaching a larger audience with corporate houses releasing films. The industry is growing. For instance, we initially released Boss only in West Bengal but Reliance is planning to release the film with sub-titles in other cities in the first or second week of September, and like I said earlier, overseas too.
Till a few years ago, we didn’t even know we had a market in Assam. But today Rs 14-15 lakh comes in from Assam. Also, there was a time when Bengali films were made on a budget of Rs 20 lakh; today; just one circuit’s share is that much.
How has the industry changed over the years?
Every six months, something changes, and every year, production quality improves further. Earlier, a movie ticket cost just Rs 20 but a ticket for a Bengali film now costs a minimum ` 100. So change is inevitable. Earlier, a Bengali film would release in 20-25 cinemas but when my film Saathi released in 2002, it was screened in more than 32 centres. Today, that’s 200 centres.
For a very long time, Bangla films were facing a slowdown. However, after your arrival, the whole blockbuster club began. Do you think you are responsible for this change?
It sounds good, when you put it like that. But I think, for a very long time, actors like Tapas da (Paul) Prosenjit and Chiranjeet were ruling the roost in the Bangla film industry and the time came when the audience wanted to see new actors on screen. I was fortunate to fill that void. Luckily for me, the packaging, producers and content synced very well. That’s how Saathi happened and people held me responsible for this change.
You are not a Bengali and yet you are a superstar in the industry. How easy or difficult was your first film?
I was born and raised up in Bengal, which is why I have a command over the language. I would say that, even after so many years in the industry, every film is difficult. In fact, when I was making Boss, I was actually treading a fine line. I had no other projects besides TRBT, which I had just signed. It’s not that I didn’t have opportunities; I wanted to test new cinema. I had achieved success in a particular kind of genre and I wanted to see what else I could do. When Boss opened so well, there were moments when I was very happy and many moments when I became emotional. For us, every Friday is a test of our career.