Would’ve cast Uttam Kumar as antagonist: Srijit

Mukherji brings back matinee idol, Uttam Kumar, on big screen through AI and VFX

Would’ve cast Uttam Kumar as antagonist: Srijit

In the snow-clad Kashmir, filmmaker Srijit Mukherji is on a thrilling adventure. He is shooting his new Feluda series, ‘Bhuswargo Bhayankar,’ but his mind is also buzzing with thoughts about his latest Bengali film, ‘Oti Uttam.’ This film, a labour of love that took six years to make, is releasing this week and it's unlike anything seen before in Bengali cinema.

Uttam Kumar is more than just an actor. He is a phenomenon in Bengali cinema. His reign as the ‘Mahanayak’ remains undisputed, with no other actor coming close to earning such admiration. In the ongoing debate between fans of Soumitra Chatterjee and Uttam Kumar (like Srijit), even Chatterjee himself acknowledged the megastar's charm. He once famously said, "If Uttam Kumar had committed a crime, and flashed that smile, I am ready to believe that he is innocent.”

Now, Srijit is set to bring back Uttam Kumar's magic on the silver screen through his new film, ‘Oti Uttam.’ Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and VFX, he is giving fans a chance to experience Uttam Kumar's magic in a whole new way. It's not just about the infectious smile of Uttam Kumar for Srijit. It's about the essence of being Bengali that Uttam Kumar effortlessly embodies, which has been fascinating the director ever since he watched the Mahanayak in ‘Saptapadi’ at a tender age of six.

When questioned about the daunting task of studying 87 films of Uttam Kumar for his film, Srijit nonchalantly said, “I have never played it safe. I make films for myself. I have continuously ventured into new territories, whether in technology or thematic selections. ‘Oti Uttam’ would make those who love Bengali films and also those who think Bengali cinema is ‘ghatiya’ proud. This is for the first time that a principal character has been edited from its existing footage and used in a new film.”

The ‘Chotushkone’ director is no stranger to online trolls. He also participates in the meme-sharing culture on social media. Regarding the trailer of ‘Oti Uttam’, concerns have been raised about the quality of the VFX. However, he brushed off the criticisms with a chuckle. “This has nothing to do with the VFX but rather to the poor condition of Uttam Kumar's original films. With the exception of a few, like ‘Nayak’, none of his films have been restored. As a result, they are filled with noise. And when Rabindranath Tagore is being made into a meme, and trolled… So who am I?” he said.

For Srijit, ‘Oti Uttam’ is his toughest film yet. It took him six long years to bring it to life, with the script undergoing 54 revisions. “At one point, I thought 'Autograph' was an impossible dream. As an economist with no formal film school background, breaking into the Bengali film industry seemed like an unattainable goal. After ‘Autograph’, ‘Oti Uttam’ looked like an impossible dream,” he confessed.

In his next film ‘Padatik,’ a tribute to Mrinal Sen, he used AI to dub Satyajit Ray's voice. Similarly, in ‘Oti Uttam,’ the director utilized AI for the audio track. “For the audio track of ‘Oti Uttam’, first we recorded Surajit Banerjee’s voice. Now, some dialogues are in the voice of Uttam Kumar, but then those dialogues which are difficult to comprehend due to the poor condition of the film prints, there we have used AI to make them sound like Uttam Kumar,” explained the ‘Tekka’ maker.

If given the chance to cast Uttam Kumar in his films, Srijit instantly replied, “I would have cast him as an antagonist. I absolutely loved him playing negative roles in 'Bagh Bandi Khela' and 'Sesh Anka',” said the 'Dawshom Awbotaar' director. As for his biopic, the filmmaker said he would have used AI to bring Uttam Kumar. “I had to make ‘Oti Uttam’ because Uttam Kumar can’t be replaced,” smiled Srijit, who has some major releases in Bengali, Hindi and a couple of web series in the pipeline.

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