What’s common between films Basanta Bilap, Amanush, Aranyer Din Ratri, Bhranti Bilas, Dhanni Meye, Kalankini Kankabati and Kanchenjungha? Apart from the obvious answer that they were all hits, these are also some of the most popular multi-starrers that the Bengali film industry has ever produced. And the trend continues. The current generation of filmmakers is also banking on multi-starrers to generate hits.
If we consider the films Bengali film industry has generated this year, it’s clear that ensemble films or multi-starrers are here to stay. The first big release of the year — Kaushik Ganguly’s Bastushaap, which starred Abir Chatterjee, Parambrata Chatterjee, Churni Ganguly, Kaushik Ganguly and Raima Sen — was a multi-starrer and completed 100 days at the box office. It was followed by Subhrajit Mitra’s Chorabali, which had actors like Tonushree Chakroborty, June Malia, Shataf Figar, Barun Chanda and Locket Chatterjee.
Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay and Nandita Roy’s film, Praktan, which brought back the popular pair of Prosenjit Chatterjee and Rituparna Sengupta after 14 years, too, was a multi-starrer. The story, which revolved around the couple, also had Soumitra Chatterjee, Sabitri Chatterjee, Aparajita Auddy, singers Anindya Chattopadhyay, Anupam Roy, Upal Sengupta and Surojit Chatterjee.
In fact, one of the biggest hits of 2015, Bela Seshe, directed by Shiboprosad and Nandita, was a multi-starrer. The film saw a casting coup of sorts. From Soumitra Chatterjee to Swatilekha Sengupta, Rituparna Sengupta, Aparajita Auddy and Kharaj Mukherjee, the film had a star-studded cast.
“The casting of a film depends on the content. Many ask if it’s difficult to work with so many actors, but we are grateful that none of these actors had any ego issues and went with the flow of the story,” says Shiboprosad, who also directed Alik Sukh and Accident.
Actress Raima Sen has always maintained that she doesn’t mind being a part of ensemble films as long as she gets to play a strong character. “I loved working on Bastushaap, which had an ensemble cast. Even in Khawto, I have shared screen space with Paoli (Dam), Rahul, Bumbada (Prosenjit Chatterjee) Ushashie and others. I like getting paired opposite actors, who are competent and good at their job. If you have experienced co-stars, you are always alert and deliver better. I would prefer working with competent people than with the ones who don’t know their job,” she says.
Most of National Award winning director Srijit Mukherji’s films are multi-starrers. Take Mishawr Rawhoshyo, Chotushkone, Nirbaak, Rajkahini or the under production Zulfiqar — Srijit loves working on this format. His last Durga Puja release Rajkahini had 11 leading Tollywood actresses along with several male actors such as Jisshu, Kaushik Sen, Saswata Chatterjee, Rudranil Ghosh and Nigel Akkara.
“I love ensemble casting. But one needs to be careful and responsible while making ensemble films too... in fact a lot depends on the script and the actors, who are roped in to play the parts. If you can handle the actors well, then half the job is done,” says the Autograph filmmaker.
Actor Soham, who has acted in multi-starrer Jamai 420, believes it’s important to leave your ego behind when working in an ensemble film. “There are few films, where the character might not have much screen time, but if you are confident as an actor you can show you acting prowess within that limited time. Also, if ensemble films are working at the box office, then we should forget our ego and work together,” says the Bojhena Sey Bojhena actor, where he shared screen with Payel Sarkar, Abir Chatterjee and Mimi Chakraborty.
Last year, too, we had seen a number of multi-starrers. Bengali films such as Ravi Kinagi’s Jamai 420, Srijit’s Rajkahini, Birsa Dasgupta’s Sudhu Tomari Jonyo, Aparna Sen’s Arshinagar, Arindam Sil’s Har Har Byomkesh, Raj Chakraborty’s Katmundu, Arindam’s Ebar Shabor, Utsav Mukherjee’s Bheetu, Debesh Chattopadhyay’s Natoker Moto- A Play and Aniket Chattopadhyay’s Room No 103 followed the trend. This year, Dev’s Eid release, Kelor Kirti, also starring Jisshu Sengupta, Ankush, Nusrat Jahan, Sayantika, Koushani and Mimi Chakraborty, did the same. The fact is that the audience likes watching so many big stars in one film.
Young actor Ankush, who was also part of Jamai 420 and Kelor Kirti, doesn’t mind doing such projects. “Jamai 420 worked at the box office and I guess producers started believing that these ensemble films are working with the audience. Whenever I sign on an ensemble film, I only have one criterion. Does my character add something to the film? I don’t want to get lost in the crowd. If ensemble films fare better at the box office than solo films, then we, actors, should do them,” says the actor, who is playing a pivotal role in Srijit’s Durga Puja release Zulfiqar, which also stars Prosenjit Chatterjee, Dev, Jisshu, Parambrata Chatterjee, Kaushik Sen and others.
In the coming months, too, a number of multi-starrers like Shaheb Biwi Golaam, Chalachitra Circus, Zulfiqar, Eagoler Chokh and Dark Chocolate will hit the screens.
However, working with an ensemble cast can be daunting at times. Pratim D Gupta, who has worked with Swastika Mukherjee, Ritwick Chakraborty, Anjan Dutt, Parno Mittra in Shaheb Biwi Golaam, recalls how taxing it was to shoot a scene, which involved two stars. “There was an important scene with Anjanda and Swastika at a hotel in Kolkata. I was shooting with Swastika and Anjanda was waiting in another room and we were behind schedule for that day. By the time Anjanda’s time came, it was well past midnight and it was a little nerve wracking. Thankfully, it all went well. But I could definitely feel the heat thanks to the presence of two people who are stars in their own right,” says the filmmaker.
He also adds that ensembles are an obvious choice now because no star or actor has that magical pull at the box office. “So, if there are half a dozen known faces, the producer or director thinks the chances of them faring well is better,” says the Paanch Adhyay filmmaker.