Films: OTT’s newest Mr Dependable

Paramabrata Chatterjee, who completes 20 years in Bengali cinema this year, is slowly winning the hearts of the pan-Indian audience
Paramabrata says before this new wave that is today not only manifested in OTT content but also in cinema, Bollywood was mostly about potboilers (Nasir Gazi)
Paramabrata says before this new wave that is today not only manifested in OTT content but also in cinema, Bollywood was mostly about potboilers (Nasir Gazi)
Published on Jan 08, 2022 10:58 PM IST
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ByAnanya GhoshAnanya Ghosh

Parambrata Chatterjee has moved on from being ‘that cop in Kahaani’. The actor who played the perfect foil to Anushka Sharma’s deeply-disturbing Rukhsana in Pari (2018), has gone on to consistently impress the audience with his nuanced turns in Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi (2019), Bulbbul (2020) and Aranyak (2021)—his second Netflix original web series that saw Raveena Tandon’s stunning comeback on screen.

Over the years, he has not only proved himself as a superlative actor, but also managed to stand tall opposite powerhouse actors like Vidya Balan, Anushka Sharma, Konkona Sen and Raveena Tandon. He has excelled in playing Mr Dependable on screen! The steady, solid guy celebrating the spirit of women.

“I don’t wear a placard on my chest saying that I am here to support strong women! It is just a coincidence! Maybe I give out the vibe of a supportive guy,” Parambrata laughs. But the self-assured actor has no qualms being part of stories headlined by women. “Why should I? Each character I play is an independent piece; whether I am playing a helping hand to a woman or a cop, that hardly matters,” adds the criminally charming yet unassuming actor.

“I am not only getting appreciated for my Hindi work but there have been so many instances where after watching Aranyak, Bulbbul or Pari, people have discovered my Bengali works on OTTs,” says Parambrata.

In his blood

Apart from being an actor, Parambrata owns a production house and has also directed roughly 10 films. His last directorial venture, Abhijaan, the biopic of legendary actor Soumitra Chatterjee, was screened at the Indian Panorama at the 52nd International Film Festival of India.

Cinema runs in his blood. He is the grandnephew of Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak, one of the pioneers of parallel or new Indian cinema and guru to filmmakers like Mani Kaul and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, whose only brush with commercial Hindi cinema was as the writer of the Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala classic, Madhumati.

But Parambrata he is not averse to commercial Hindi cinema. “More than me not wanting to be part of Bollywood, it was Bollywood not wanting to take me in,” he says. “Before this new wave that is today not only manifested in OTT content but also in cinema, Bollywood was mostly about potboilers. Those have a certain way of working, essentially powered by the stars. While they [the producers] are respectful of actors working in regional language cinema, for big commercial movies they preferred the prevalent stars—whoever it was at that point in a pan-Indian sense.”

Parambrata Chatterjee in Aranyak (2021) and (inset) Bulbbul (2020)
Parambrata Chatterjee in Aranyak (2021) and (inset) Bulbbul (2020)

South actors have a slight advantage in foraying into Bollywood, he adds. “If I compare actors of my status in Bengali cinema to our counterparts in Tamil or Telugu cinema, there is a marked difference—apart from being good actors they also have a huge star power attached to them due to the sheer ticket size industries down South enjoy. Way more people watch Telugu or Tamil films in movie theatres than a Bengali movie. A Telugu film’s box office is almost on par with a similar Bollywood release.”

He adds: “Of course, they don’t have a national audience like the Hindi film industry does because of the language barrier. But even so, especially in the past few years, they have had more national releases. For example, Pushpa did so well and now RRR has Bollywood actors like Alia Bhatt and Ajay Devgn, ensuring a pan-India audience. So, they have a national currency. What this means is that when a South Indian star, like Dhanush or Prabhas, does a Bollywood movie, s/he can do

so in her/his own terms. Even in yesteryears, when Venkatesh or Rajinikant or Kamal Haasan did a Hindi movie, they brought with them their own fan following. But this is not the case for Bengali cinema or even Gujarati, Punjabi or Marathi cinema.”

Out with the stars

The emergence and popularity of the OTT platforms, especially during Covid, has markedly changed the game, however.

“The de facto structure of a web series is different: it goes into plots and subplots and each should be done justice to, so there is need for good actors. Instead of one pivotal character, the multiple tracks ensure equal opportunities to an ensemble cast. Often whichever character or story arc becomes more popular eventually gets more screen space in the next season. So, the focus on multiple storylines has diminished star power,” he observes.

“OTTs are changing the game for feature-length movies as well. Small budget movies are getting better viewership on OTTs. Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi had a limited release in the theatres, but did wonderfully on OTT. In the past two years, most big-budget commercial movies with A-list stars were also released on OTT. So, OTT it is also a great leveller,” he points out.

OTTs are also closing the gap between Hindi and non-Hindi content, with regional cinema getting a pan-Indian viewership. “Malayalam cinema was also a small industry like ours, but during the pandemic it became huge,” points out Parambrata. “Bengali cinema has not been able to replicate that kind of success as we have taken the urban and rural divide in Bengal a bit too seriously. Urban cinema has totally taken over and commercial cinema is almost dead. During the early 2000s, urban cinema rose as a reaction to the low-quality Bengali commercial cinema of the 1980s and ’90s. But urbanity is limited in its ticket size. Moreover, in the past two decades after filmmakers like Gautam Ghose, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh, art house cinema in Bengal has not cracked it either.”

Mind your language

Parambrata is taking up more Hindi projects. The language barrier is real, he says, so he has had to really work on his Hindi.

“Working in Hindi has a lot to do with practice. I am fluent now and have started to get the gender of things right which is the biggest challenge for us Bengalis [the Bengali language does not gender objects],” he chuckles.

From HT Brunch, January 9, 2022

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022