Celebs' Puja plans
Like every Bengali, for Tollywood celebrities too, Durga Puja is more than just an annual festival. They might have their usual fare of pandal inaugurations, film promotions and judging events, but on these four days, the actors give their diet a miss and dig into sumptuous delicacies and relish the late-night adda (friendly gatherings) sessions. Some celebrities even take off to undisclosed locations abroad. But COVID-19 has disrupted lives and changed all plans for the time being at least. With Coronavirus cases showing a steady increase in Kolkata, this Durga Puja is like nothing that we have seen in our lives. The celebrities are yet to feel the Puja vibe though they believe that the deity will usher in hope and heal the world faster. A few Tolly stars chat up with Anindita Acharya about what they will miss the most this Durga Puja and their plans during the festival. Excerpts:
We have gone through and are still going through possibly the most challenging time of our lives. The shift is happening slowly and steadily. We have seen very difficult situations due to the Coronavirus pandemic and yet there is some sort of positive energy and people are getting back to normalcy. I am an eternal optimist and wish to see the good in everything. We have a lot of new learning from the pandemic and I hope we can carry that forward with us in the festive season and further ahead. A celebration is all about spending happy times with your near and dear ones and also with society and the world at large and I wish the healing takes place faster and give all of us a reason to smile. Durga Puja is a very auspicious time and more than pandal-hopping or buying clothes, my wish is for people to be safe and in the best of their health. During Puja, people will venture out of their homes but I would urge everyone to maintain social distance as much as possible, wear masks and use hand sanitisers. We must also extend a helping hand to all those who have suffered due to the pandemic and include them in our celebrations by sharing whatever we can.
I will be travelling to London to finish the shooting of Baazi, which we had to cut short in March due to COVID-19. But I cannot think of spending my time away from home during Durga Puja and therefore, I will be back to Kolkata on October 21. I hardly shop for myself during Puja. I manage with the gifts that I receive earlier or usually have something or the other to wear. However, I buy gifts for others, especially for my pets and strays. I will send dry ration to a few NGOs. This year, I would also be donating a part of my income from the work I did amidst the pandemic. I guess Goddess Durga wants me to do that and I will also be supporting some NGOs in Jalpaiguri, my home town. And like everyone else, I will meet my friends during Puja, eat a lot and pray to Maa Durga to bless us all.
This year, the challenges have been devastating and foreseen. Dealing with uncertainty during the pandemic has left us anxious and bewildered. We cannot go back to earlier times and slowly the world is coming to terms with the virus. We are returning to normalcy and I hope this year, Goddess Durga gives us the strength to overcome these trying times. However, there is no smell of Durga Puja in the air this time. A city that gets flooded with installations hasn't looked this lacklustre ever during Puja. But can we blame anyone? For me, Durga Puja has always been about film releases. So, till the last moment, I am promoting my films, calling up distributors, checking hall schedules, timings, and tracking box office numbers. I am pumped up and tensed both as an actor and producer. However, in 2020, I have no Puja release. So, I will be a lot more relaxed. Since I cannot venture out on Puja days, I generally take rest. I generally leave for an international vacation after the film's release during Puja. But this year, those chances are dim. So, I will stay put at home. Maybe, some friends will come over.
Generally, the inaugurations and events during Durga Puja keep us busy till Shasthi. But COVID-19 has disrupted everything. My film, SOS Kolkata is releasing during Durga Puja, so that will keep me busy. Since the theatres are opening after months, I am happy that the audience will get to watch the films on the big screen again. I will keep a track of my film's business. I will also hang out with my friends at home. I like travelling, so if tourist destinations reopen, I might go for a trip. However, I won't take flights. Maybe, I will hit the road. It's been long since I have travelled.
The bamboo structures are still missing and we can hardly see the huge Durga Puja special banners this time in the city. I am not into pandal-hopping, so I will engage in an intimate adda with my friends at home. At least, this year, we will spend more time with family during Puja. Yes, I liked the concept of drive-in darshan to combat the spread of COVID-19. So, I am planning to take my son, Sohoj, in a car to catch a glimpse of Goddess Durga. This year, inauguration and judging programmes will not take place, so I shall have more time to myself. I haven't shopped for myself yet but of course, I will have to gift my family members. I am not discouraging those who want to venture out and go pandal-hopping but I would request them to remain cautious, mask up and use sanitisers. Maybe, this year we can avoid street food. It's better to return home and order food.
Be it for COVID-19, or Amphan, 2020 has been an unfortunate year. I try to erase all the negative energy that comes my way and now, this habit comes naturally to me. I will remember this year with a lot of fondness because of my son's birth and undoubtedly, it will be the best year of my life. Every second, every moment is a blessing with him around me. I will spend my Durga Puja with my family and of course, my son. This year, we have made the Mallick Bari Durga Puja a private affair and it will not be open to visitors and the media. Though it was a tough decision, it had to be taken keeping in mind the safety of all. It is a disappointing year for too many people with jobs and lives lost. But then, Goddess Durga is coming soon and all we can do is completely surrender to her and pray for everybody's good.
This time, Puja is entirely different. I am in Singapore and I would miss the festivities in Kolkata. Here, I would wear saris and feast on Bengali cuisine to get a feel of Kolkata's Durga Puja. However, the feeling can never be the same. Hope Maa Durga gives us the vaccine soon.
Generally, if I stay in Kolkata during Puja, I remain busy with my professional commitments till Shasthi. But this year, there are no such events. I will visit my grandparents' house and indulge in adda with my childhood friends in Sulekha. I will avoid the pandal-hopping or even the drive-in darshan simply because I need to follow the rules that I have set for the family. I have senior citizens at home and I'm worried about their safety, so I wouldn't do anything that would put their health at risk.
It's that time of the year but the stretch along VIP Road, one of the liveliest areas, wore almost a deserted look. And that is when you know that this year, Durga Puja is nothing as compared to all the other years. Yes, people are going to the malls but the usual Puja vibe is majorly missing. This time, it will be all about adda at home with social distancing in place.