May , 2017
A compulsive actor to “Tolly Lights”
14:19 pm

Kaushik Chattapadhyay

Arjun Chakraborty was born and brought up in a hamlet called Malsisar in the Jhunjunu district of Rajasthan. He grew up unlike any other city boy, playing gilli–danda, flying kites, chasing puppies and riding camels, and horses. For his higher studies, he went to Udaipur. He wanted to become a filmmaker. He went to Bombay and joined the renowned lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar as an assistant director. With him, he worked in films like Namkeen, Angur, Libaas. He was introduced to K. Balachandar by Gulzar who gave him a pivotal role in his Hindi venture (Zaraa Si Zindagi) along with Kamal Hassan and Anita Raj. He had earlier done a small role with Sanjeev Kumar in Angur. After Zaara Si Zindagi, Ankush by N.Chandra came where he was pitted against Nana Patekar. Ankush was a huge hit. He worked as an actor in Mrinal Sen’s Ek Din Achanak with Shabana Azmi. Apart from K. Balachandar, N. Chandra and Gulzar, he worked with many renowned directors like Tapan Sinha, Sandip Ray, Nabendu Chatterjee and the list goes on.

He has established himself as a singer by cutting nine albums. He has written a novel in Bengali. He has directed a film named Tolly Lights and is gearing up for his next directorial venture. Having worked in more than hundred films, he wants to pursue his passion to do something for Rajasthan. He thinks Rajasthani is his mother tongue. His Bharavi Thumri vocal performance has been widely appreciated. Kaushik Chattapadhyay caught up with him at the sidelines of his performance.

Leaving Mumbai...

To give his career in Kolkata a physical mooring, I must begin with his departure from Mumbai. After Ankush (which he feels set the trend for every ‘young rebellion’ film in India including Rang de Basanti), he was jobless for six months, which may not seem an unusual thing in itself for a young actor, but he had no one to get behind him and say, “Fight on, I’ll handle the fall.” In other words, he had no godfather, and more importantly, no camp (or association, or organisation, or group) to which he belonged.

But such considerations are secondary in the Mumbai film world, where an individual who evidently does not wish to belong to any ‘camp’ is still viewed with deep suspicion. So he made his way to Kolkata – not home then, but home-to-be.

Getting to this point…

I would turn to Tolly Lights, not merely because it was his debut feature film as director, but also because he had made a film that he was proud of, and had assumed that anyone who watched the films in which he acted would automatically want to watch a film that he has directed. He now realises that he was perhaps misguided in so thinking, and ought to have taken the conventional route – called a press conference, and done significant groundwork in explaining what his film was all about. Later, when he found reviewers criticising his film without any real logic to support their criticism, he realised that they had missed his point altogether. So here’s what he want to say to them…

The basic premise…

“In making Tolly Lights, I wanted to ensure that at no stage did it seem like a ‘staged’ film. In my opinion, a good-looking film – one that involves top-quality cinematographers, art directors, and lighting technicians – is not the same as a good film. Taking on top-of-the-line crew and coming up with a beautiful – but unrealistic – film is not the reason I am in the business, and I made sure Tolly Lights had a healthy dose of reality, of the kind that bites. Plenty of people asked me things like, “Why is your heroine so plump?” My answer was always, “Because she is Sreelekha Mitra playing a helpless housewife and a reluctant celebrity, not Aishwarya Rai.” I’ve been associated with the Bengali film industry long enough to know exactly how my co-stars look, act, and dress depending on the occasion. So when Sreelekha, lying on her hospital bed, turns away from  Barun Chanda, you know she can’t really turn away from him because she has nowhere to go. No matter how independent we think our women are, the sad truth is they still need to depend on a man in certain situations. And I was determined to show things as I saw them, rather than follow a particular ‘school’ of filmmaking. The idea was to break away from the mould because I had had enough of imitative work.”

The art lies in the details…

“In Tolly Lights, the protagonist Abhimanyu is unpolluted, and uncorrupted, just like people from the hills, where he comes from. I wanted to concentrate on realistic details like the look of Abhimanyu’s flat (bare and stark because it’s a borrowed and hence temporary dwelling and bears no imprint of Abhi’s personality), or the difference in the look of the bedroom before and after Krishnakali is forced to leave her husband and son, or the extreme oppressiveness of the hovel that Geeta Dey’s character lives in. Once the film released, I was really taken aback when not a single review mentioned these aspects, not even the flattering ones. And just by the way, if a review is flattering without giving any reason why, it is as meaningless to me as an illogically negative one.”

Praise when it matters…

“Gulzaar saab gave Tolly Lights 11.5 out of 10, which more than made up for the lack of comprehension I noticed in many people. And colleagues like Mithun Chakraborty, Swapan Saha and Sunny Deol made guest appearances free of cost. In fact, Sunny’s father Dharmendraji asked me to shoot my scene with Sunny inside his (Dharamji’s) Pajero, which nobody is supposed to have access to. Even Sunny was surprised when he learnt about it. And as Sunny and I shared a laugh over the whole thing, I kept thinking back to the time when, as a college student in Udaipur, Rajasthan, I was the only one in my class who didn’t turn up to watch Dharamji shoot at a nearby location, because I was too proud to do so. When I told Dharamji this story many years later, he laughed forever.”

The will to go on…


“Cinema is a director’s medium, and I may have taken my time to arrive as one, but now that I have, I fully intend to go on. Having said that, I have to add that I am a compulsive actor, though my aim has always been to add the X-factor to my acting, to make it look like non-acting. I’m sure there’s a technical term for it somewhere, but I don’t want to go there. And yes, the one other thing I will dedicatedly pursue is music. Right now, Swagatalakshmi (Dasgupta) is teaching me the nuances of Rabindra Sangeet, and she has been courageous enough to feature in an album with me. I also have 13 solo albums of Rabindra Sangeet out already, and music is one area of my life where I am ready to promote myself shamelessly, something that I’ve never done for my film roles. But I have to have music in my life, the more the better.”

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