We’ve hardly seen you in Bollywood? Why have you been shy of Hindi films?
It’s not that I have a reason for being shy of Bollywood. I have done a few Hindi films about 20-21 years back. Once I was even offered the lead in ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ but I couldn’t do it at the time. Following that, I have been offered many roles in Hindi films over the years. But I have never planned my Bollywood career the way I have planned my career in Bengali films for so many years. This is the reason why I still have the teenage audience hooked to my Bengali movies. But when I was offered a role in a film like ‘Shanghai’, it was not like I am doing a Hindi film, it was just that I am doing a good film. The language can be Hindi or Marathi or any language, I would love to do it. I have gone to the extent that I can extend myself as an actor now. I don’t evaluate a role based on how many scenes do I have in the film or whether I have a song or dance or not. I have crossed that stage. That was Prosenjit’s challenge to Prosenjit years ago.
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So have you picked this project since Dibakar Banerjee’s films allow an actor to break any image that he may have earned?
There is a new breed of directors in Bollywood who are trying out exciting projects. Not just Dibakar, even Ashutosh Gowarikar and many others. They have all watched my recent Bengali films and when they meet me they tell me that they’re gaga over me. They just want to sit and talk to me. They tell me that they have never heard of stars attempting the kind of films that I have and the risks that I have taken. So that way, I have no concerns against not doing Hindi films and if I get a good film where the director is looking at having an actor like me in the film, then I will think about it.
I have been working with all the new directors who have been doing a lot of different things and trying to break my image. I believe only the new directors can do it. The others have done 18-25 films each with me and it’s not very easy for them to break my image. For Dibakar, the language of his films is very different and the kind of films he does –appeals to me. I took me 2 months to accept the role and the character that I was offered. He really made me realise that he doesn’t need a star but that he needs a person with my eyes. He said that the day he thought of the character I play in the film, he could envision my face. He wanted a character to portray calmness, coolness, accompanied by maturity and an appeal that would even entice young girls. When I met Dibakar at ITC for lunch to discuss this film for the first time, I had planned to tell him that I was very grateful that he had considered me but I would like to beg out of the project. But he told me that he wanted to present me in a different way. I was told that I was not going to be presented as a star but as a surprise element. He took a lot of pain to make me accept the role. I had been chasing him to do a Bengali film for some time.
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What is the way forward for a superstar like you, having done every kind of role imaginable?
This is my last fight and after this the new generation will take it forward. For three generations, I have fought and survived. Till today, I am the superstar but at the same time, I always do something that the others will follow. As an actor, it’s most important to know where to stop or it becomes a burden. After you cross the age of 45-50, there will be a time when you cannot do the song and dance films, and then you will be finished. I want to be like Mr Bachchan, till the day I die I will be acting because I cannot do anything else. Also I want to set an example for the next generation. Otherwise you’re on a wrong path and you keep fighting with the typical route to crave stardom. It doesn’t work. You cannot change nature. It’s like when you’re 60, you cannot do the role of a character who is 35. Rajnikanth is very real even if he plays a younger character.
A very important challenge was the language. I took two months to master the language. Of course, I can speak in Hindi but I am not a regular Bombay person and secondly, I have a scene where I had a 20 minute speech which Dibakar wanted to shoot in one take and which he did in one take. So I told him I don’t want to do anything stupid and I want to work on my diction. So he postponed my shoot and gave me time to prepare.
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How did you prepare for the role and were there any learnings from this film as an actor?
My look and body language was very different. I was modeled on Shekhar Kapoor since he’s a cool and calm guy who my character could identify with. Shekhar Kapoor, a few years ago, had a very pleasing personality and you would feel nice on seeing him and I had to absorb his personality into mine for this character.
I’ve done so many things that to say that you might think that I am lying if I say that I’ve learnt something just for the sake of saying it. I did have to learn the language (Hindi) but if I have to talk about the craft, there’s very little. I did however learn a lot about body language through this accident scene I had to perform in Shanghai. It required me to portray the same scene in 11 different ways since the story is told through 11 different perspectives from 11 different witnesses who narrate my death in the film. The film revolves around my character’s death.
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Since you’ve been an icon in the Bengali film industry, do you think the industry is very different from Bollywood?
I think the Bengali film industry is very similar to the Hindi film industry now. Initially, the Bengali industry was very arty but now it’s almost the same. I think it’s a generation thing. And while people say that the present generation is not focused and everything but I am more comfortable and friendly with this generation. They are more open and friendly and very frank and they don’t have any pretentions and they are very easy to handle.
Having had an impressive filmography in Bengali, why would you suddenly consider a Hindi film?
Every actor wants to explore a larger audience. If I do one film in Bengali, let’s say, one lakh people will appreciate it but if I do a Hindi film, it reaches out to a larger audience. Everyone wants to be appreciated by a large audience and it’s the only kick that one gets.
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