With his versatile acting and charming demeanour, Prosenjit Chatterjee has set a benchmark in the Bangla film industry. Considered to be one of the finest actors, successful in commercial as well as alternative cinema, Prosenjit remains oblivious to his stardom.
Working for more than three decades, he has not only broadened the horizon of the industry but has also given shape to the incoherent pursuits of many aspiring actors. Popularly known as Bumba da and greeted as the favourite, he has delivered more than a hundred hits in a disproportionately small period of time.
Chatterjee has carved a niche for himself with films like Chokher Bali, Dosar, Praktan, Moner Manush, Jatishwar, Khawto, Sob Choritro Kalponik, Baishe Srabon, and Utsav among several others. He has also worked with Dibakar Banerjee in Shanghai, and with Rajesh Pillai in Traffic where he shares the screen with Manoj Bajpayee, Jimmy Shergill, and Parambrata Chatterjee.
Tell us about one of your fondest childhood memories.
I vividly remember the days when my dad, Uttam jethu, Soumitra kaku, Anil kaku, Ranjit kaku, and Subhendu kaku partied together. They used to cook excellent food, spent time singing, dancing and discussing films. Those moments are very close to my heart.
How inspiring has your family been?
Besides my father, Biswajit Chatterjee, my mother has tremendously inspired me. She taught me the importance of struggle and discipline. She was my guiding star.
How early in life did you realise that acting was your true calling?
I was only four years when I did Chotto Jigyasha. It was more like a game to me as whenever I said I wanted to play shooting people started the actual shooting. I remember walking in front of Dakhineswar temple barefoot in the scorching sun for Chotto Jigyasha without even complaining.
Acting since an early age made me a dedicated actor. I believe I have it in my genes. Madhabi aunty had once told my mom that Bumba would be a big name in the upcoming days.
What is it about the city that you like the most?
Kolkata is my city. Apart from the rapid growing pollution, I love almost everything about this place. I like how people have become more enthusiastic about their work. They are culture driven, artistic, caring and most importantly lovable. The warmth that this city provides is way beyond comparison.
What is more important to you - the content of the script or the one who is directing it?
Both are crucial to me. If you lack proper content, you can't drive the audience to the theatre. Similarly, you need an excellent director to come up with substantial audience driven content. They are like two sides of the same coin.
What was it like to walk the red carpet?
I had a fantastic time walking the red carpet at Toronto Film Festival with Buddha Da for Ami Yasin Ar Amar Madhubala and at Shanghai Film Festival for Moner Manush. Such things in life never come easy. It's a great feeling altogether.
What are your deciding factors while choosing a film?
For me, the content is very crucial. But I also see how enthusiastic and passionate the director is about the movie.
How does it feel to be bestowed with the Mahanayak Samman?
I am happy with the way people have accepted me. But for me, Uttam jethu remains the one and only 'Mahanayak'.
What should be the priority of an actor: to do justice to the character or the film as a whole?
One has to be self-confident and give 200 per cent while portraying a character. If one can do that, then he/she not only does justice to the character but also to the film as a whole. An actor has to understand the thick and thin of the character. Otherwise, it is nearly impossible to match up to the given role.
You are now more into serious content based films than commercial ones. Why is it so?
I am still open to commercial films provided I get a good script.
You have been in the industry for over two and a half decades now. How according to you has the industry developed?
I have seen the industry grow. With the advent of new technologies, the way of doing things have become easier. Earlier, when we shot, we lacked something or the other when it came to material needs, but now almost everything is available at a hand's distance. I always ask producers to go for newer technologies so that our industry is at par with others. It has developed a lot over the time. However, I think Bengali film industry should focus a bit more on international marketing.
Name one movie that has been sort of life-changing for you and why?
It is tough to choose one out of more than 340 films, but Amar Sangi was a turning point in my career. Rituparno Ghosh's films have been life-changing, especially Utsav. He has cultivated me in an unconventional manner.
Films like Moner Manush and Sankhachil, which were directed by Goutam Ghose, have helped me develop as an actor in a different way. Then, movies directed by Srijit Mukherji like Autograph, Baishe Srabon and Jaatishwar had been very influencing and are very close to my heart.
Which has been your most challenging role?
It has to be Moner Manush. When Goutam da offered me the role, I asked him whether I'd be able to pull off the character exactly the way he wanted. It took me more than nine months just to build the character.
People say Sankhachil and Jatishwar are among your best of the best. How did those come about?
This is a true statement. Those two movies were challenging in their own ways, and I have worked day and night to give my best. After Ritu, I think Goutam da and Srijit bring out the best in me.
You have been very close to Rituparno Ghosh. How have you dealt with his absence?
Ritu and I shared a very special bond. He was my friend, philosopher, and guide. His absence has undoubtedly left a huge gap in my life. But whenever I need any advice, I think of how Ritu would have dealt with it and what he'd have wanted me to do. I live with those beautiful memories and the moments we spent together. People would have seen more of his fantastic movies if he didn't leave us. Our film industry lost one of its gems too soon.
You are getting into film production. Are you going to be choosy about the directors or the script?
I am an actor first. Although I love making films, I can never proclaim myself to be a producer. I am positive towards scripts with good content. It's not about being choosy, but I prefer the theme in the same way I prefer the subject for my film as an actor.
Do you have plans to shift to Mumbai? Are you looking forward to more Bollywood films now?
At this juncture, it's not possible to shift entirely to Mumbai. But, yes I am looking for some good concepts where I can fit the bill. I also have plans to direct a Hindi movie very soon.
What are your upcoming projects that we are likely to see?
I will start shooting for Srijit Mukherji's Kakababu part 2, which will be the first 3D project in Bengali film. The shooting will take place in Switzerland, and we all are excited about it.
Next, I have Srijit's Zulfiqar coming up, where I'm playing the role of Julius Caesar. It is a double adaption of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra set in the backdrop of the shipping mafia in Kolkata. Along with these, I have two more Hindi films due.
How do you perceive the future of Bangla Cinema?
The Bengali film industry is doing as good as other regional industries like the Marathi, Telugu, and Malayalam filmindustries. Nowadays, people all over the world watch Bengali movies. I have seen how people in the US go gaga over new Bengali releases. So I think, a brighter future lies ahead.
Is there a dream role that you want to play?
I look out for innovative roles. Whenever I play a character, I feel the urge to do something unusual as compared to the previous one, something that people have never seen me doing. But I wish to play the character of Chhabi Biswas in Jalsaghar or something like Godfather.