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Are senior Bengali film actors a neglected lot?

Senior Bengali actors are complaining that not too many filmmakers write roles keeping them in mind.

regional movies Updated: Nov 11, 2016 13:33 IST
Anindita Acharya
Praran Bandopadhyay, Anamika Saha, Ardhendu Banerjee and Sohag Sen on the set on Benche Thakar Gaan.
Praran Bandopadhyay, Anamika Saha, Ardhendu Banerjee and Sohag Sen on the set on Benche Thakar Gaan.(Prateek Choudhury/HT Photo )

Senior actor Alaknanda Roy who has acted in films such as Satyajit Ray’s Kanchenjungha, Aparna Sen’s Paromitar Ekdin and Anjan Das’ Jara Brishtite Bhijechhilo, rues that substantial roles are not being written for elderly actors in the Bengali film industry. She says that the situation, however, is a tad better for the senior male actors. “The situation is grim for the elderly actresses. We are either asked to play mothers or evil mothers-in-law,” says the actor.

While on the one hand, filmmakers in Bollywood are writing scripts keeping the likes of Amitabh Bachchan in mind, on the other hand senior actors in Tollywood such as Anamika Saha, Pradip Mukherjee, Dwijen Bandopadhyay, Madhabi Mukhopadhyay, Sabitri Chatterjee and Alaknanda Roy are struggling to bag meaty roles.

In Hollywood, says Alaknanda, senior actors still get to choose potential roles. She cites the example of three-time Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep. “Hollywood still writes characters for senior actors. But in Bollywood and Tollywood it’s the same story. Senior female actors don’t get good roles,” says Alaknanda, who had a blink-and-miss role in Kaushik Ganguly’s Cinemawala.

Arunima Ghosh, Sabitri Chatterjee and Abir Chatterjee are gearing up for the release of Thammar Boyfriend. (Prateek Choudhury/HT Photo)

It doesn’t happen too often when a senior female actor gets a chance to play good role like the one in Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha’s next Benche Thakar Gaan.

Ganguly won the ICFT-Unesco Fellini Prize for Cinemawala, where senior actor Paran Bandopadhyay played the lead. Ganguly had mentioned during interviews that he had no one else but Bandopadhyay in mind to play Pranabendu Das, a single-screen owner. The film might not have fared well at the box office, but it’s being touted as Bandopadhyay’s best performance ever. “Paranda is a brilliant actor. He just needs the right character to set the screen on fire,” says Ganguly.

Like Alaknanda, Sohag Sen, a senior actor, who also does acting workshops, admits that it’s a ‘universal’ problem. Sen, who has acted in films such as Aparna Sen’s The Japanese Wife and Rituparno Ghosh’s Sab Choritro Kalponik, also believes that the Bengali audience is still not ready to accept senior actors in lead roles. “In how many films do you see Waheeda Rehman or Hema Malini? We are not writing good characters for senior actors,” says Sen.

A powerhouse of talent Paran Bandhopadhyay often plays bit roles. In Kaushik Ganguly’s Cinemawala, he showed what he is capable of. (Prateek Choudhury/HT Photo)

Director Sudeshna Roy believes that a lot depends on the storyline. She also rubbishes the fact that senior actors don’t guarantee box office success. She takes the example of Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay and Nandita Roy’s film Bela Seshe, which brought back octogenarian Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta 30 years after they acted in Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire. The film, based on silver separation, became the highest grosser in 2015. Amitabh Bachchan had praised the film on Twitter.

“We need to come up with different kinds of themes. My film revolves around an old-age home and senior actors were needed in it. If offered the right kind of characters, the elderly actors can do wonders,” says the Cross Connection director, who is planning another film with older actors.

Actor Pradip Bhattacharya too laments the situation. Bhattacharya, a well-known theatre actor, mostly ends up playing servants in Bengali films.

Director duo Shiboprasad and Nandita roped in senior actress Sabitri Chatterjee to play an important role in Praktan. (Windows Production)

Sudeshna Roy, however, also says that the situation is slowly changing. Seventy-five-year-old Lily Chakraborty of Kalankini Kankabati and Jana Aranya fame played a pivotal role in Srijit Mukherji’s Rajkahini and Kaushik Ganguly’s Khaad. Director Anindya Ghosh’s upcoming film, Thammar Boyfriend, stars septuagenarian Sabitri Chatterjee as actor Abir Chatterjee’s fiancé. The trailer and the songs of the film have been received well. If the film works at the box office, industry insiders believe it might change the scenario for the senior actors.

Veteran actor Sabitri, who romanced Uttam Kumar in several films, has acted in serials such as Jol Nupur and Chokher Tara Tui. Madhabi Mukhopadhyay, famous as Satyajit Ray’s Charulata, too is seen in serials. A senior director, who doesn’t want to be named, tells HT, “It’s sad to see such rare talents doing TV serials. I am told the senior actors don’t really enjoy working in saas-bahu dramas,” he says.

Biplab Chattopadhyay, who has worked with stalwarts like Satyajit Ray, Tapan Sinha and Mrinal Sen, grieves that he hardly gets any role today. Filmmaker Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay says that he wrote the script of Bela Seshe with Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta in mind. And he didn’t face any problem convincing them. The same holds true when he cast Sabitri Chatterjee in Praktan. “We are lucky that Soumitrababu does our films. He is the biggest star,” he says. Senior actors Soumitra and Lily Chakraborty will be playing lead roles in Shiboprosad’s new film, Posto, which is on parenting.

Soumitro Chatterjee is one of the few senior actors in Bengali cinema who still plays lead roles. In Bela Seshe, he was paired opposite Swatilekha Sengupta. (Windows Production)

Director Aniket Chattopadhyay, who has worked with Soumitra in Room No 103, says it’s easier for senior actors to work in daily soaps given most of the scenes are shot indoors. “Soumitrababu cannot shoot for more than four hours given his health condition. I don’t know if Amitabh has any such set rules. So, it’s difficult for Soumitrababu to shoot outdoors for a long time. Producers ask us to complete the shooting of a film within 16 days,” says Chattopadhyay, who had to scrap the idea of shooting a film with Soumitra as it required to be shot outdoors.

Pradip Mukherjee, who has acted in movies like Satyajit Ray’s Jana Aranya, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Dooratwa and Rituparno Ghosh’s Utsab, says, “In the film industry, every role is pre-decided. Also, not all producers and filmmakers are willing to take the risk with senior actors.”

Biplab Chattopadhyay, who had acted in films of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha, rues that he no longer gets meaty roles in Bengali cinema. (Prateek Choudhury/HT Photo)

The trend, however, doesn’t bother 76-year-old Paran Bandopadhyay, who has played strong roles in films such as Proloy, Jekhane Bhooter Bhoy, Badshahi Angti and Cinemawala. “There are directors who recognise our talent and then there are those who don’t. It doesn’t matter to me,” he says.