‘COVID-19 may force Bengali cinema to rethink its content’


Actor-filmmaker Parambrata Chattopadhyay while discussing his latest film Tiki-Taka, airs apprehensions about the pandemic’s impact on regional cinema

The last we saw Parambrata Chattopadhyay on screen was in the Netflix film Bulbbul, a movie the Bengali filmmaker calls a “second coming” for the actor in him. Having debuted in Hindi with Vidya Balan’s Kahaani, the actor had to bide his time before being recognised for his craft in Bollywood.

“Dr Sudip (his role in Bulbbul) wasn’t the biggest role in the film but he left a tremendous impact on the audience. As a result, I find myself involved in a lot of projects in Hindi both in terms of quality and quantity, alongside Bengali films,” says Param, over phone from Kolkata, where he recently resumed filming for a Hindi web series.

The actor’s fifth directorial, Tiki-Taka is streaming on ZEE5. It follows the story of a Senegalese man, Khelechi Ajgubi (played by Emona Enabulu), who arrives in India as a drug mule.

A mix up ends up with Khelechi being mistaken for a footballer and ending up in the company of a street smart Kolkata cabbie, Raju (Parambrata) and a rookie journalist Bonnie (Ritabhari Chakraborty) whilst being hunted by a drug lord (Saswata Chatterjee).

Of juggling three roles, as actor-director-producer of Tiki-Taka, Parambrata says it is a “demanding task”, but something that has become “relatively easier” over the years.

Excerpts:

Being the actor, director and producer must not have been an easy job…

Since my second film as director in 2012, I have been juggling multiple roles. I am very hands-on as a director. You know, some filmmakers would just direct the performances and production design but would leave the choice of shots to the DOP… I am not that person.

Because I studied filmmaking, I really like choosing my shots and lenses. So, doing all that and then going and performing… especially in a role like Raju, who is far outside my comfort zone, I found it a demanding task.

Filming football sequences and adding drama to them can be a tricky prospect…

I have tried to shoot the match the way we are used to watching it on television. But this is not my first time filming football scenes for a movie. I made Lorai: Play to Live a few years ago, and it had a football match in the climax that was longer than in Tiki-Taka.

A still from ‘Tiki-Taka’

I was very anxious canning such shots but I had the fortune of working with (cinematographer) Sudeep Chatterjee in one of my earlier films. He taught me simple tricks on how to break these scenes down and how to do it simply. Unlike Hollywood, we have our limitations because ours is a regional film industry, but he taught me how to still derive the dramatic quotient.

The growth of OTT space has benefited regional cinema. Would you agree?

It is lucrative and useful for people like us. I understand Tamil and Telugu film industries are way too big and they don’t need patronisation from other parts of India. But for others like a Marathi, Punjabi or a Bengali actor, this is important.

Just as how there is easy access to non-English language international content, if Indian audiences watch a film like Kahaani, Pari or Bulbbul and wonder ‘who is this actor?’… they can search for more content of mine on the same platform and find it. Look, five years ago, if I had to watch a Fahadh Faasil film, I had to go to that one DVD shop in my locality that stocked South Indian films and buy one but now all I have to do is search for his name.

You are directing a biopic on the great Soumitra Chatterjee. What is its status and can you also tell us about your upcoming projects?

Before the lockdown, I filmed about 15 days for the Soumitra Chatterjee biopic titled Abhijan. There is still 15-20 days of shoot left on it. Currently, I’m filming the Indian adaptation of Finnish series Black Widows directed by Birsa Dasgupta. It is expected to premiere on ZEE5 later this year.

I have also signed up to act in a Hindi language web series for another digital platform. I’m starting work on it in October. Besides these, I have a few Bengali films all awaiting release including Aamchi Gamchi and the science fiction film that I directed, Bonnie.

The impact of COVID-19 on regional cinema has been telling. What does it look like for Bengali cinema?

I’m supposed to have released the science fiction film for Durga Puja but we are still waiting for a mandate on theatres. It is imperative that theatres open for Bengali cinema to survive. Maybe, Hindi films can cover costs with an OTT release, but Bengali films need to run in theatres, stream on OTT and air on satellite networks.

I also think that this situation will force us to rethink our content. We are already seeing that the line between mainstream and arthouse films have blurred, and we have also started to make quite a few family and drawing room-centric films. I’m apprehensive that this situation will force us to do more of the same and in the process dilute and restrict the scope of Bengali cinema.



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