'I want to act till the day I die'
Bengali superstar Prosenjit Chatterjee tests Bollywood waters once again with Dibakar Banerjee's promising new film Shanghai. The film co-stars Emraan Hashmi, Abhay Deol and Kalki Koechlin.
Prosenjit plays a charismatic politician, who is shown to be dying at the beginning of the film. But he is still a major presence in the film, as the 11 people who have witnessed his murder have their own versions of it.
The National Award-winning actor, who wowed us with Dosar and Chokher Bali earlier, talks to Patcy N about the challenges he faced while working on this film.
Why did it take you so long to do a Hindi film?
I did a Bollywood film long back (Aandhiyaan, 1989) and was offered Maine Pyaar Kiya. My second film in Hindi (Meet Mere Maan Ka, 1991) was a fluke -- I was doing a Bengali film when (producer) Pahlaj Nihalini told me why don't I do a Hindi film. I am a very good actor so I did it.
I have not planned my Bollywood career the way I have planned my career in Bengali films. I was never serious about Bollywood films, but when I was offered a film like Shanghai, I took it because it is a good film.
Now I want to do good films -- whether in Marathi or Hindi, it does not matter. I have got to the point where I can extend myself as an actor. I am not looking at the script, how many scenes I have in this film, whether I have song and dance...
This new range of directors from Bollywood like Dibakar (Banerjee) and Ashutosh (Gowariker) have watched my recent films and are gaga about me; whenever they meet me they tell me they want to talk to me.
I am not doing this film thinking that tomorrow I will get lots of films here. But if I get a good film, and if the director is looking forward to working with an actor like me, then I will think about it.
Image: Prosenjit Chatterjee in Shanghai
'I have to set some examples for the next generation'
What excited you about Shanghai?
Number one was Dibakar. I have been working with these new directors now who are trying to do really different kind of work with me, who want to break my image, and only new directors can do that for me.
I have worked with many directors and with each I have done 18 to 20 films so it is not really easy for them to break my image. But it is easier for new directors in Bengal, who have done just one or two films with me.
Dibakar does different kinds of films; the language of the film is different. Dibakar is a director with whom every actor would love to work with.
I took two months to say yes to this film. Dibakar made me understand my role. He said he doesn't need a star, he needed my eyes. He said the day he thought of Dr Anthony's character he thought of my face.
He said he needed the eyes and the calmness, he wanted the coolness that I have. I'm not the show-off type, I come across as a mature person but I have the appeal that even young girls get attracted.
Why do you want to change your image of a superstar?
Today I am a superstar, but I want to do something that the next generation will follow. An actor's first and most important role is to know where to stop, otherwise, it becomes a burden and pain for the actor, it becomes your carriage and then where do you go from there?
So, after you reach 45-50, when you can't do song-dance, what will you do? You will be finished. I want to act till the day I die because I can't do anything else. Also, I have to set some examples for the next generation so that they think if he can do it why not me.
At 60 you can't do a role of a 35 or 40-year-old. You have to stop and change paths. Rajni sir is very rare.
How was it working with Dibakar?
Very good. He is a wonderful director, he has got magic and he is very hard working.
He has worked on the body language -- in one particular shot there are 11 body languages. There are 11 people who witness my murder and they all tell their stories, which are different, so there are 11 different stories of the way I am killed.
Image: Prosenjit Chatterjee in Shanghai
'People say this generation is not focused, but I say that is complete nonsense'
What was the most challenging thing you did in Shanghai?
When I said I will sign the film, I had one condition: I need two months to prepare because of the language. Of course I can speak Hindi, but I am not a regular Bombay person and in this film I have a scene where I have a 20-minute speech which Dibakar wanted to shoot in one take in sync sound.
So I asked for two months to practise because I did not want to do anything stupid. Dibakar gave me the two months and postponed my schedule.
Apart from this speech in Hindi were there any other preparations?
I had to do lots of preparation. I have worked on my look, my body language, and I have gained weight for this role.
We even decided who we can take as reference for this role and we thought of Shekhar Kapur. He is a very cool guy. Even when he makes a simple statement you feel good when you hear him. I am talking about Shekharji when he was a bit younger, so I cut my hair like him and kept a beard. I love to prepare for my roles.
What was your contribution to pre and post-production for this film since you take a lot of interest in your Bengali films?
I was involved in the pre-production but not post-production because I live in Kolkata. I came thrice to Mumbai for patch dubbing though the film was sync sound, but all the actors had to dub a few words and sentences.
I have seen the cuts but my involvement in this film was not that much. In my Bengali films, I am involved with all the promotional activities, release date posters etc.
How different are the two industries?
I think it they are very similar now. Bollywood used to be too starry, and now it's very arty and there is a generation change. People say this generation is not focused, but I say that is complete nonsense. I am very friendly with this generation. This generation is very friendly, open, and frank.
How do you maintain a balance between commercial and art films?
It is part of my job, I don't do art films, I do meaningful films.
Superstars of different regions are coming to Bollywood, like Mohanlal in Tezz.
I think every actor wants to explore more. I have a particular audience, but if I do one film a year, my reach will be less.
Everyone wants lots of appreciation -- that is the satisfaction we get. We don't care about money. I think that is the kick that Mohanlalji gets when he comes and does some good work here.
Image: Trailer of Shanghai