Nowadays, producers throw success parties within a week of their film’s release. So, think of a film running at the theatres for 25 weeks. Haranath Chakraborty, one of the most successful mainstream directors, has lost count of his films which completed more than 15 weeks at theatres. “There are too many. Saathi (2002) ran for 25 weeks. Sasurbari Zindabad (2000), Nabab (1991) and Pratibadh (2001) completed 15 weeks. During that time, there was neither strong publicity machinery nor multiplexes,” smiles the 55-year-old filmmaker.
However, Chakraborty’s contribution to the industry is more than just delivering hits. Think of some of the biggest stars in the Bengali film industry and names like Jeet, Koel Mullick, Soham and Subhashree will instantly crop up. And no one can rob Chakraborty of his credit for introducing them to Tollywood. The director, who started his career in 1983 by assisting Anjan Choudhury, one of the pillars of Bengali mainstream cinema, soon established himself as a formidable name in the industry. He, along with director Swapan Saha went on to churn one hit after the other during the 1990s and early 2000s. While young filmmakers today brand his kind of cinema as ‘trash’, Tollywood’s reining star Prosenjit Chatterjee continues to acknowledge the contribution of directors like Chakraborty, who can assure robust returns from the box office.
Chakraborty, who has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry such as Mithun Chakraborty, Prosenjit, Jeet to Jisshu Sengupta, will be making a comeback after three years with a romantic film, Amar Prem. And this time too, his film will launch three new faces. Known for churning out ‘clean family entertainers’, Chakraborty says it’s time Bengali directors’ start looking for stories, which are original and have Bangaliana. HT City chats with Chakraborty on films and more:
You have worked with the biggest stars of Bengali film industry. Why did you decide to make a film with newcomers?
(Pauses) Yes, I have worked with almost every superstar of Bengali cinema, be it Mithun Chakraborty, Ranjit Mullick, Prosenjit or Tapas Pal. Later, I worked with Jeet and Koel. I had introduced them to films. If we don’t introduce new faces, how will the industry progress? I have introduced three new faces in my next film. Even if one or two of them click, the industry will be benefitted. I have always been in favour of newcomers and I like working with them. I have always managed to extract the best out of the newcomers. Newcomers come with lots of energy and zeal to prove their talent to the world. I am also happy that the actors who I had launched (read Jeet, Sayantani Ghosh, Koel, Subhashree) are doing well today. I am sure the work of Gourab Roy Chowdhury, Megha and Antasheela (all being launched by Chakraborty in his new film Amar Prem) will be appreciated.
But you could easily have roped in established names to play the lead roles. Didn’t you approach anyone?
(Cuts in) When I decided on the subject, I knew that only newcomers would fit in the roles.
What took you three years to do another film (his last film was Amar Bodyguard in 2013)?
In 2013, I started working on a film, Dharashan, starring Rituparna Sengupta and Kanchan Mullick. But the film got stuck due to financial problems. I worked for two years on a Bengali serial. Being a creative man, I wanted to explore television. I have been directing films all my life. Today, Bengali serials are a rage and I was curious to understand the difference between cinema and television.
You have given superhits with Prosenjit Chatterjee and Jeet. Do they approach you to make films with them?
I keep meeting Bumbada (Prosenjit is fondly known by this name in the Bengali film industry). I recently directed a film, Swapno Puro, for his television venture. Other actors don’t really approach me.
Don’t you feel bad?
No, I am a teacher. I have done my duty towards my students but that doesn’t mean I want something in return. I don’t want their help. My sons are there to help me. I am not in such a bad state that I need to ask for favours from actors. I share a good relationship with every actor, but I will never go to him or her and ask for work. I hope such a time never comes to me. I would better leave the profession.
Hardcore Bengali films are not doing well at the box office.
I believe there are two reasons. The way filmmakers and producers have started churning out remakes of south Indian films has gone against the industry. I too have done remakes. Saathi was a remake of a Tamil film. But it wasn’t a blatant copy. We made a lot of changes to suit the Bengali palate. I am not against remakes since I too have remade films. Remakes and adaptations are common phenomenon in every film industry but you need to bring in Bangaliana in those stories to keep the audience engaged. Secondly, the entry of satellite television, especially in the villages, did a lot of damage to the Bengali film industry. Earlier, the only source of entertainment was films, jatra, fairs and circus. People used to travel long distances to watch a film at a theatre. Today, a film is premiered on TV within days of its release. Piracy is rampant. So, the audience too is in no mood to make that extra effort and watch a new release. The market of hardcore Bengali films has been badly hit. Single-screen theatres are closing down.
This year, there were six Bengali releases on Durga Puja. Are you in favour of this?
We are all part of a joint family. Why are we fighting it out at the theatres? Let two producers release their films during the pujas and do business. Let the others release their films on Laxmi Puja and Diwali. The Bengali film industry is like a big family... we meet each other, chat over tea, but the moment there’s a release, it’s becomes a war-like situation. This should immediately stop. During our time, we used to sit with producers and sort out the problems. Prosenjit used to do this so well. If he had four releases in a month, he used to call the producers and shift the releases, so that every film could enjoy a two-week gap.
Do you think the Bengali film industry is driven by producers today?
(Smiles) We made so many films and so many producers made money. We created so many stars. I might be blowing my own trumpet but after director Tarun Majumdar, if there’s another director who has introduced so many new faces, it’s me. I had to take the risk and trust those newcomers.
What can be done to improve the business of Bengali films?
(Pauses for a while) We should device a model through which we can bring back the audiences to the theatres. A lot of money is wasted on publicity. Earlier, our films used to run for weeks without any publicity. The problem is that the audience is hooked onto television. Content is not a problem. Gautam Ghose’s Sankhachil is a beautiful film. Look at the kind of films Kaushik Ganguly is making. He tells simple stories through great images. People in the suburbs are not going to theatres. Most people in their 50s prefer to sit at home and enjoy television. Also, the price of a ticket is too high for the common people. Let the producer decide the price of a ticket and not the multiplex authorities. Whenever I meet Bumbada, we discuss the present state of the Bengali film industry. He too is disturbed with the present system. Bumbda tells me that we need to bring back the cinema of the bygone era. We should do more literary adaptations and look for original content, which will be high on Bangaliana. Look at filmmakers like Shiboprosad (Mukhopadhyay) and Nandita (Roy), who are making neat family entertainers. They are churning out the biggest hits.
Today, even a star-studded film fails to attract audiences to the theatre. What chances do these newcomers have?
A star alone cannot run a film if the content is not good. Saathi ran for 25 weeks and Jeet was a newcomer in the film.