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Prosenjit Chatterjee in Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

The ‘Sharp E’ (a stage-lighting technicality) was evidently keeping the floor coordinator on tenterhooks at Shaikh Rashid Auditorium in Indian High School, Dubai, last Friday afternoon. The crew was being repeatedly told to get the strobe-lighting beam right, even as the junior artists tried hard to synch their steps during rehearsal with this fit-as-a-fiddle bearded gentleman in jet-black trainers and track suits.

When Satyajit Ray came up with his epochal ‘Nayak’, it marked a watershed for an iconoclast called Uttam Kumar. That was 1966.

In 2010, when debutant director Srijit Mukherjee came up with his ‘Autograph’, apart from being a tribute to Ray’s ‘Nayak’, the film marked a reboot of sorts for another iconoclast: Prosenjit Chatterjee. As the brand ambassador for ‘Bongo Probashi Milap 2018’, an initiative by the Dubai Chapter of St Xavier’s College Calcutta Alumni Association, to celebrate the centenary of Bengali cinema, Prosenjit was in town last week. While he took a coffee break in-between rehearsing for the opening ceremony, Gulf News tabloid! caught up with him. Clutching on to the half-finished brew in that little paper cup, as ‘Bumbada’ got ready for the salvo — wearing a hint of a smile on his lips and the midday sun reflected obtusely off the rims of his RayBan Aviator — one wondered whether it’s ‘life imitates art’ or ‘art imitates life’ for this 56-year-‘old’, sorry, ‘young’ actor …

Q: Starting as a child actor in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Chhoto Jigyasa’ in 1968 and right up to this Dubai trip, it’s been a long journey. How does it feel?

A: Being the son of Biswajit Chatterjee, an acclaimed actor, my fight initially was with myself. I had to bring myself out of this ‘he-looks-like-Biswajit, he-talks-like-Biswajit, he-walks-like-Biswajit’ chatter and build an identity of my own in the industry. Today, people talk about the ‘Prosenjit-kind-of-walk’, the ‘Prosenjit-kind-of-talk’ ... I had to create that brand.

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Prosenjit Chatterjee and Rituparna Sengupta Image Credit: IANS

Q: From being an ice-candy hero to playing his age, Prosenjit Chatterjee has metamorphosed. How did this happen?

A: I had to cut the whistles and claps — that typified my roles in the early part of my career — out and give myself a makeover. And it was Ritu (director Rituparno Ghosh) who made that possible. Ritu lit that fire inside me. He gave ‘birth’ to a new Prosenjit.

When I did Shoshurbari Zindabad (2002), Bengali cinema hadn’t seen that kind of a mass-response in decades. But in the last 10-15 years, audience profile has changed, tastes have changed — all over the world. And I am happy to stay in-tune with the trends. I have never challenged time. I can never think about doing another Amar Sangi (1986) today because I’m not getting any younger. Rather, we tried something different with Autograph and it worked. Thereafter, with ‘Moner Manush’ (2010), ‘Baishey Srabon’ (2011), ‘Jatishwar’ (2014) [and] ‘Praktan’ (2016)… I kept on experimenting.

Q: You and Rituparna Sengupta make a formidable on-screen pair, but you parted ways for a while…

A: Along with Uttam-Suchitra [Sen], Biswajit-Madhabi [Mukherjee], Soumitra [Chatterjee]-Aparna Sen, even after another 100 years when people talk about on-screen pairs in Bengali cinema, Prosenjit-Rituparna will be talked about in the same breath. Yes, we had parted ways… it can happen. But just consider how eagerly anticipated was the release of ‘Praktan’, where we made a comeback. Even after seeing us together for 14 years, people wanted us back.

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Chatterjee in ‘Autograph’ (2010). Image Credit: Supplied

Q: Your forays into Bollywood were a bit of a non-starter…

A: That’s because I never focused on Bombay [Mumbai]. At the peak of my career, had I shifted base, it would have been a gross injustice to all those producers and directors in Bengal who had invested in me and given me so much success. Moreover, once in Bombay, unless you can become a Shah Rukh Khan, there’s no point. I certainly didn’t want to be a B-Grade hero there.

Q: So far as overseas marketing is concerned, Bengali cinema never seemed to have got its act together…

A: As a representative of the industry, that’s the reason why I am in Dubai today: To help Bengali cinema grab more eyeballs. Also, I think the reach of our films would have increased manifold had Kolkata and Bangladesh been able to produce and market films together.

Q: When shall we see you as a director?

A: I have been constantly deferring this venture because I am fully occupied until 2020. But this idea has been tugging at me for some time.

Q: What is that one thing that keeps Prosenjit Chatterjee going?

A: Every morning, when I wake up, I tell myself that I should be able to add at least one new audience to my list of fans today. That’s the challenge. And I keep telling my directors: Don’t bring me an easy script.