Of celebration, caution and Crisis
Unlike 2020, this year, Tollywood celebrities look a bit hopeful about Durga Puja and the Bengali films hitting the theatres. They are also advising to follow proper Covid-19 protocols and get vaccinated. Millennium Post gets a lowdown on all the happenings in the Bengali film industry during Durga Puja. Read on:
For Dev, the notion of Durga Puja changed after he entered the Bengali film industry. It was no longer about swivelling the 'kash phool' in the autumn breeze or new clothes. Durga Puja for him meant promoting new films, checking theatre schedules, calling up distributors and tracking box-office numbers. However, for the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has put a question mark on daily life. But this year, the actor is a bit relaxed. Two of his Bengali films — 'Golondaaj' and 'Hobu Chandra Raja Gobu Chandra Mantri' — are releasing on the big screen this Durga Puja. It was in 2019 that his last Bengali production, 'Password' was released during Puja. So, he can again feel the rush and madness of Puja releases. "It feels good to be back to the old life," smiled Dev, also TMC MP from Midnapore's Ghatal in West Bengal.
Pandemic or no pandemic, Durga Puja in West Bengal has always witnessed several Bengali films at the box office. Every year, the Bengali film industry breaks its own record. In 2020, a dozen films were vying for attention, 2019 saw four, seven in 2018, and six in 2017. In 2021, we have four confirmed releases so far with 'Golondaaj', Saswata Chatterjee's 'Hobu Chandra Raja Gobu Chandra Mantri', Jeet and Mimi Chakraborty's big commercial film 'Baazi', and Ankush's 'F.I.R.' Other films which might be released are Parambrata Chattopadhyay's 'Bony', and another Ankush and Subhashree-starrer from the house of Surinder Films.
Saswata Chatterjee, who plays King Hobu Chandra in Aniket Chattopadhyay's film based on the stories by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder, said Puja is the best occasion to enjoy this kind of content. "I haven't worked on such a huge set ever before. This film should be watched on the big screen and what better occasion than Puja. Also, some films like 'Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne' can be enjoyed both by kids and adults," said the 'Kahaani' actor. And what about his Puja plans? Well, he is in no mood to stay in Kolkata during the five festive days.
TMC Jadavpur MP and Bengali actress Mimi Chakraborty, however, cannot imagine not staying in the city during Puja. In fact, last year, she travelled to London to wrap up the shooting of 'Baazi' in October but was at home before Puja. Interestingly, 'Baazi' is hitting the theatres on October 10 this year. There's enough hype around the film as Mimi pairs alongside Jeet for the first time. Mimi's Puja will be spent promoting the film. "I wouldn't miss my apartment complex Puja for sure," said the 'Posto' actress. She treats the complex to bhog every year. "However, I will also pay a quick visit to my constituency Pujas in Jadavpur," said Mimi, who has started shooting for Mainak Bhaumik's 'Mini'.
Dev, however, is having a mixed feeling regarding the Puja releases. On one hand, he is elated on having releases after two years, on the other hand, he isn't sure if enough people will enter theatres to watch movies. However, the TMC MP said that people are much more relaxed than the 2020 Puja given that more people are vaccinated. "I know that people want to watch a good film and I want to assure the audience that both the films, 'Golondaaj' and 'Hobu Chandra', are worth watching on the big screen. It will leave them impressed and proud of Bengali films," the Ghatal TMC MP told Millennium Post. Dev also plans to re-launch his restaurant, Tolly Tales, in south Kolkata this Puja. The restaurant will have its new menu and décor.
TMC MLA from Chandipur and Bengali actor Soham Chakraborty will visit his constituency during Puja. He hasn't planned his Puja yet but said mostly his five days are spent with family and friends. "I also try to visit 3-4 Puja pandals in Kolkata," said Soham, who turned producer with Bengali film 'Kolkatar Harry'.
Crowded box office
Exhibitor-distributor Satadeep Saha believes that this year looks far better for Tollywood than 2020. Last year, Tollywood had a dozen releases on Puja, which left the box office crowded and in a mess. "I am not in favour of too many releases. If there are 3-4 releases and a couple of big-budget films, then there are higher chances of the films doing well. This will also boost the confidence of other producers who will take the risk and release their films in the next slot," said the CEO of SSR Cinemas.
Saha, who released Akshay Kumar's 'Bellbottom' in 130 theatres in Bengal, also said that Bengali films can expect good business this time as the vaccination process is going on smoothly and more people are getting vaccinated. "Last year, we didn't have any idea about vaccination. But this year, we are aware of the protocols and the vaccination. Also, this year, the Bengali film industry has better products for the audiences," he said.
Dev, who is the producer of 'Hobu Chandra Raja Gobu Chandra Mantri', also echoed similar sentiments. "Last year we didn't know where we were heading. This year, the vaccination is in place. Also, people are making plans for Puja, which wasn't the case in 2020. Moreover, cinema halls are safer than restaurants. This time, we have some good Bengali films releasing on Puja and would want the audience to enter the halls," he said.
Jeet vs Dev
It was in 2010 that Jeet and Dev appeared together for the first time in Raj Chakraborty's 'Dui Prithibi'. The film was a major hit and the songs continue to rule the charts. But then, often their films have clashed at the box office. While it has been fodder for the gossip columns, the trade analysts keep a keen eye on who has the last laugh at the box-office. This Puja has been made interesting with Jeet's 'Baazi' clashing at the box office with Dev's 'Golondaaj'. While 'Baazi' is a full-on potboiler, 'Golondaaj' is a period drama based on the life of Nagendra Prasad Sarbadhikari, the father of Indian football, and will invoke a deep spirit of nationalism. Back in 2011, Dev's 'Paglu' was released simultaneously with Jeet's 'Shotru'. Then, in 2016, Dev-starrer 'Zulfiqar' was released during Puja and so was Jeet's 'Abhimaan'. Let's see in 2021, who gets to win the crowd?
The Pujo songs aptly capture the Puja feels and spirit of the festivity. However, post the Covid-19 pandemic, organisers have mostly tapped technology to celebrate Durga Puja and so, from aarti to concerts, everything has gone digital. But then, listening to 'Bondhu Tomay' by Chandrabindoo or 'Ekhon Onek Raat' by Anupam Roy in a packed audience is a different feeling. So, when Anjan Dutt or Anindya Chattopadhyay of Chandrabindoo will sing from a studio on Saptami and you will plug your headphones, will you get the true Puja feels? Well, we will certainly not. Even the musicians are missing the golden interaction moments with the "live" audience. Anindya told Millennium Post that for the past two years Chandrabindoo has been doing virtual concerts on Puja. In 2021, they will stream live from a studio in Kolkata. However, he confessed, the band is dying to go back to the stage. "We are missing anything and everything about the live concerts," he said.
Anupam Roy has composed 'Mriganavi', a college love song for Puja 2021. "For the past two years, people have been suffering. From films to music, everything has come to a standstill. After every Covid-19 wave, we hope this will be the last. With this hope, I have composed a song too. Especially since Puja is approaching," said Roy, one of the most popular singer-songwriters of Bengal.
Music director Jeet Gannguli, who had composed the theme song of Suruchi Sangha, doesn't like virtual concerts. "I can't react when the audience is not there, therefore, I avoid digital concerts," he said. He is in talks with some Puja committees for theme songs this year, too.
The hitmaker of the Bengali music industry, whose song 'Dhaker Taale Komor Dole' still plays at major Puja pandals, informed that Puja songs have undergone a huge transformation. "Today, every day we have so many new songs releasing on YouTube. The youngsters are utilizing the digital platform to showcase their talent but yes, there will always be a question mark on the quality," he said.
Gannguli is more concerned about the organisers and those associated with macha shows. "From announcers to musicians, a huge number of people in macha shows have been affected by Covid-19," he said. In fact, Prosenjit Chatterjee is reportedly helping the macha show organisers, who have gone out of work due to the pandemic.
Views expressed are personal