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What you read here will be random thoughts about my life and work – particularly my work – which I need to share with you, but which you will not find in a newspaper interview. You know the ones I mean? Let’s just call them ‘eternal sunshine of the spotless mind’ with apologies to Michel Gondry. And I should warn you that there is no order to what you will read below, just the random thoughts of a mind that has been pretty much everywhere!


To give my career in Kolkata a physical mooring, I must begin with my departure from Mumbai. After Ankush (which I feel set the trend for every ‘young rebellion’ film in India, up to and including Rang de Basanti), I was jobless for six months, which may not seem an unusual thing in itself for a young actor, but I had no one to get behind me and say, ‘Fight on, I’ll handle the fall;’ in other words, no godfather, and more importantly, no camp (or association, or organisation, or group) to belong to.

Speaking of which, as a slightly anti-establishment individual, I’ve never believed in groups, because the moment you adhere to one, you must also adhere to its principles, and where does that leave your identity and sense of right and wrong?

But such considerations are secondary in the Mumbai film world, where an individual who evidently does not wish to belong to any ‘camp’ is still viewed with deep suspicion. So I made my way to Kolkata – not home then, but home-to-be.


The other day, I heard about an elderly lady who appreciated my performance as the dissolute Debendra in the serial Bisha Briksha, saying I had ‘elevated’ the character of a habitual drunkard and rake to ‘another level’, and I quote her. Without bragging, I can say that not too many actors have an audience of this sort, who will notice the nuances of a performance. But happily, and this is something I can say without exaggeration, West Bengal still has audiences of this nature, which is why I regret not having interacted with them before the release of Tolly Lights



I know I told you this would be a random discussion, but I also knew that sooner or later, I would turn to Tolly Lights, not merely because it was my debut feature film as director, but also because I had made a film that I was proud of, and had assumed that anyone who watched the films in which I acted would automatically want to watch a film that I was directing.

I now realise that I was perhaps misguided in so thinking, and ought to have taken the conventional route – called a press conference, and done significant groundwork in explaining what my film was all about. Later, when I found reviewers criticising my film without any real logic to support their criticism, I realised that they had missed my point altogether. So here’s what I want to say to them…

In making Tolly Lights, I wanted to ensure that at no stage did it seem like a ‘staged’ film. In my opinion, a good-looking film – one that involves top-quality cinematographers, art directors, and lighting technicians – is not the same as a good film. Taking on top-of-the-line crew and coming up with a beautiful – but unrealistic – film is not the reason I’m in the business, and I made sure Tolly Lights had a healthy dose of reality, of the kind that bites. Plenty of people asked me things like, “Why is your heroine so plump?” My answer was always, “Because she is Sreelekha Mitra playing a helpless housewife and a reluctant celebrity, not Aishwarya Rai.” I’ve been associated with the Bengali film industry for long enough to know exactly how my co-stars look, act, and dress depending on the occasion. So when Sreelekha, lying on her hospital bed, turns away from Barun Chanda, you know she can’t really turn away from him because she has nowhere to go. No matter how independent we think our women are, the sad truth is they still need to depend on a man in certain situations. And I was determined to show things as I saw them, rather than follow a particular ‘school’ of filmmaking. The idea was to break away from the mould because I had had enough of imitative work.


In Tolly Lights, the protagonist Abhimanyu is unpolluted, and uncorrupted, just like people from the hills, where he comes from. I wanted to concentrate on realistic details like the look of Abhimanyu’s flat (bare and stark because it’s a borrowed and hence temporary dwelling and bears no imprint of Abhi’s personality), or the difference in the look of the bedroom before and after Krishnakali is forced to leave her husband and son, or the extreme oppressiveness of the hovel that Geeta Dey’s character lives in. Once the film released, I was really taken aback when not a single review mentioned these aspects, or the fact, for instance, that when Abhi gets his first big break, he is standing next to a portrait of Andrei Tarkovsky, an obvious pointer to his creative inclinations. Not even the flattering reviews noticed this, obviously. And just by the way, if a review is flattering without giving any reason why, it is as meaningless to me as an illogically negative one.


Gulzaar saab gave Tolly Lights 11.5 out of 10, which more than made up for the lack of comprehension I noticed in many people. And colleagues like Mithun Chakraborty, Swapan Saha and Sunny Deol made guest appearances free of cost. In fact, Sunny’s father Dharmendraji asked me to shoot my scene with Sunny inside his (Dharamji’s) Pajero, which nobody is supposed to have access to. Even Sunny was surprised when he learnt about it. And as Sunny and I shared a laugh over the whole thing, I kept thinking back to the time when, as a college student in Udaipur, Rajasthan, I was the only one in my class who didn’t turn up to watch Dharamji shoot at a nearby location, because I was too proud to do so. When I told Dharamji this story many years later, he laughed forever.


Cinema is a director’s medium, and I may have taken my time to arrive as one, but now that I have, I fully intend to go on. Having said that, I have to add that I am a compulsive actor, though my aim has always been to add the X-factor to my acting, to make it look like non-acting. I’m sure there’s a technical term for it somewhere, but I don’t want to go there. And yes, the one other thing I will dedicatedly pursue is music. Right now, Swagatalakshmi (Dasgupta) is teaching me the nuances of Rabindra Sangeet, and she has been courageous enough to feature in an album with me. I also have two solo albums of Rabindra Sangeet out already, and music is one area of my life where I am ready to promote myself shamelessly, something that I’ve never done for my film roles. But I have to have music in my life, the more the better.



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