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Prosenjit Chatterjee: It’s not that Bollywood doesn’t give us work, we are not looking for it

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Prosenjit Chatterjee has the perfect gift for his fans this Durga Puja as he revived his iconic character, Probir Roy Chowdhury in just released, Dawshom Awbotaar. The Srijit Mukherji film is the prequel to his blockbuster, Baishe Srabon and Vinci Da. Prosenjit is not the only one returning onscreen as part of the cop universe, actor Anirban Bhattacharya also appears as Inspector Bijoy Poddar. In a tell-all interview with Hindustan Times, Prosenjit shares his film’s challenges and picking up projects in the Hindi film industry.

Prosenjit Chatterjee as Probir Roy Chowdhury in Dawshom Awbotaar.
Prosenjit Chatterjee as Probir Roy Chowdhury in Dawshom Awbotaar.

Dawshom Awbotaar marks the first cinematic universe in Bengali cinema. Wasn’t that your idea that you imbibed to Srijit Mukherji?

Prosenjit Chatterjee: Not exactly my idea, but my character Probir became a hit and people wanted him back on screen. Even my admirers wanted to see Probir in Dwitiyo Purush. So, I told Srijit to create a character like Probir again. But I never told him to bring Probir back because it simply wasn’t possible. He died in Baishe Srabon.

Srijit took 11 years to bring back Probir and also, Poddar from Vinci Da. The idea of a prequel is something new in Bengali films. Probir‘s return was challenging to me because of his attitude, and mannerisms; all in all, he is a man of blood and flesh. He is larger than life but just like a real-life police officer. He is not the kind of cop with flying cars.

When we think of a cop universe, Rohit Shetty’s name pops up. His and Srijit’s worlds are different. How do you see this difference in mainstream cinema?

Prosenjit Chatterjee: Yes, it’s a different world of Rohit Shetty. Srijit has created a rooted character. If a cop is running mile after mile then he is bound to get tired. You see Probir getting tired. Our characters are like the police in our city; they live in different circles, they are very raw, might have frustrations from personal lives–dukho, kosto, raag shob hi ache (they have ups and downs) and then they have to fulfil their duty. Rohit’s world is larger than life. Srijit er cop universe e dhulo urche na, gaar urche na (you won’t see flying cars in Srijit’s world).

You look incredibly fit given this is a prequel. The physique plays a big role. How do you maintain yourself?

Prosenjit Chatterjee: Yes, someone recently on a television interview said I am looking hot. I don’t know why am I looking hot. This character needed shape and energy. With Baishe Srabon released 11 years ago, I had to go 20 years back for Dawshom. It was difficult but I always take challenges; I love it. Not only physically but also mentally it was draining. The Probir we saw in Baishe Srabon was broken. He had given up on life; he used to just drink at home and do nothing. He had acidity, he was irritated. Here in Dawshom Awbotaar, he is drinking as always but he is an active cop. He is not alone this time, he has a younger office, Poddar. I had to ensure Probir’s every other trait in the new circumstances.

I always try to create magic but I won’t spill the beans. I take 3-4 months to prepare myself. And then when I finally come on sets, people get excited (about my transformation). I know when I can make my crew people happy, I will see the same results in my audience.

It must be challenging…

Prosenjit Chatterjee: It’s a bit of a challenge because I am working with Anirban who is half of my age. I had to strike a balance between our energies, physically and mentally, on screen. It’s a task which an actor has to do it.

What about the competition of working with the younger generation? Because you have to keep up…

Prosenjit Chatterjee: The younger generation has a strong energy level; I had to get into it. We see partnerships like Probir and Poddar in many international film franchises. In Bengal, it’s unusual. I think people would love to watch Probir-Poddar again. I will not tell you, the audience will. The film has a lot of fun elements. Both of them are driven by Bengaliana. They are temperament, competitive but also humorous.

I always respect my younger generation especially when I work with them. I was very tensed during Jyeshthoputro. Be it Ritwick, Sudipta or Anirban, they are superb actors. I respect them. I try to learn a lot of things from them. But when I work, I also try to reinvent myself, whether I am right or wrong, I have done projects like Balmiki and Jubilee. The style and language of cinema also have changed. I come with no baggage on my sets and my director knows what they can get best from me; they are also very friendly with me. In Dawshom, we have improvised a few things. It’s all about tuning. It’s tough to work with actors who are working wonderfully. I respect and love them.

Dawshom Awbotaar is released right around Puja week. Is the Durga Puja release lucky for you?

Prosenjit Chatterjee: Yes, it’s always special.

Any annual puja ritual you have?

Prosenjit Chatterjee: Ashtami anjali (puja).I am mostly in Kolkata for my release. I have had many such years when I had to shoot during Durga Puja because of issues with my dates. But I honestly never plan to holiday somewhere else out of Kolkata. I am starting my next shoot after puja.

Coming to Bollywood, after the success of Scoop and Jubilee, how are you looking forward to picking Hindi projects now?

Prosenjit Chatterjee: It’s not about picking a Hindi project. You see, In my 40 years, I did Aandhiyan with David Dhawan, Shanghai with Dibakar (Banerjee), Jubilee with Vikramaditya (Motwane) and Scoop with Hansal (Mehta) but it’s not that I need to go there to do something. There’s a difference. People come when they think I will be fit for a role, usually when they have a different character.

Honestly speaking, this year, I have been either nominated or selected, nationally and internationally for Scoop and Jubilee. Now if I do something (in Bollywood), I will have to keep that in mind. I don’t want to just do anything that comes; it has to be a powerful character through which I can show what I have learned in the last 40 years.

Earlier this year, you said Bollywood doesn’t give a lot of work to regional actors in an interview and there was a lot of reactions to it. Do you think it has changed over the years?

Prosenjit Chatterjee: It’s not that ki aamader kaaj dey na (it’s not that Bollywood doesn’t give us work). We are also not looking for work there. I think what I said is that there was a time when I, being a Bengali actor, didn’t know what Marathi actors were doing. There must be so much of talent. Even in Punjab, Tamil or Malayalam film industries. We used to get to see more Hindi films. Now you will see a lot of writers, actors, cameramen and more are coming up, not only from Bengal but from elsewhere because of OTT. I think a very good thing has happened for the younger generation. I am saying this from the perspective of an actor, it’s a huge opportunity for exposure. The scope is much better.

See people like me, Rajinikanth, Mohanlal or Mammootty, we are not bothered if somebody is calling us or not (in Bollywood). At least I was never bothered. I respect them, and I watch their films but I never thought about giving up my Bangla cinema and going there to do something. I had left a lot of big films.

One of them being Maine Pyar Kiya…

Prosenjit Chatterjee: I am not talking about it. Maine Pyar Kiya happened and that’s how we got the biggest star of India (Salman Khan). He is a good friend of mine. It’s just that I have not pushed myself. Even when I did Aandhiya, I was doing a parallel film. One night David Ji came and said ‘I have got a script. I want Mumtaz Jii back. Will you do it?’ I said, “Sunaiye (let me hear it)”.

I was never focused on doing Hindi films. Now my challenges are not there. I just need to focus only on my acting and people see that. I don’t understand words like ‘star’. I had tried my best to go from being a star to becoming an actor. That is the respect I get from the nation. They know I am the biggest star of Bengal. I have done all commercial films but in the last ten years, they are also seeing how I am portraying my characters as an actor. There’s a respect I get after meeting Mammootty or Mohanlal Ji. They talk about my Jyeshthoputro. After watching the film, Mammootty called me. He said ‘What a character you have made’. I feel good because they are stalwarts.

What is your biggest takeaway from your career so far?

Prosenjit Chatterjee: The love from my audience. They have been with me for 40 years of my career, it’s not a joke.

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