Kolkata: September 30 is an auspicious day in the Bengali Film Industry. It happens to be the birthday of none other than The Wall of the film fraternity in Bengal, Prosenjit Chatterjee.
Let’s not get into the age factor because here is one actor who defies age and numbers and continues to hold the baton even after so many years. From Duti Pata to innumerable hits, the actor has traversed through the labyrinth of showbiz with utmost perfection. Now, didn’t we call him The Wall, a moniker associated with former Indian cricket captain Rahul Dravid? Well, he justifies the accolade and as we see him relentlessly promoting Bengali films on different fora, we can only revel at his perseverance. Like Dravid, Prosenjit knows how to handle critique and is the last person to give in to provocations. Recall, how Dravid stayed on in the middle avoiding loose balls to ensure his team didn’t suffer.
Now, Bumbada as he is fondly called in the film industry, has always charted his own course. Despite being a star son (his father is yesteryear superstar Biswajit Chatterjee), he has never tried to make the most of his filial linkage. On the other hand, he has faced the grind and established himself as a force to reckon with. This is one aspect to his greatness.
Talking of tenacity, Prosenjit breathes Bengali films. His life is centred around the growth of Bengali movies. There was a time in the ’90s when he was discarded by a section of the film industry which was compounded by his personal mess, yet the man never gave up. Now this happened after he attained stardom with numerous hits in the ’80s. It is also pertinent to mention here that after the sudden demise of Uttam Kumar in 1980, there was a lull in the industry and it was left to directors like Anjan Chowdhury, Sukhen Das and others to stem the rot. There were successful films during that period, but the same-old subjects tested the patience of the movie goer.
Coming back to Prosenjit, despite his close ones giving him a cold shoulder, he was in no mood to throw his hands in despair. Instead of sulking, he concentrated on the small screen and launched a Bengali entertainment channel which is one of the most popular Bengali channels at this point of time. Having seen trying times since his childhood, he knows the art of rising from the ashes and it has been his forte.
If the channel ushered in a revolution, the actor was patient enough not to do anything in a haste. He knew the insults he had to face would transform into plaudits some day and that time was nearing. There was a phase, when he found himself out of reckonings with stars like Tapas Pal, Ranjit Mullick and Chiranjit ruling the roost. However, warriors cannot be thrown into oblivion and soon after the Bengali film industry was afflicted by a crisis with the urban belt turning its back on it, Tollywood had to fall back on Prosenjit. We are talking of the mid-’90s.
And our very own Bumbada designed a strategy – films didn’t have a humongous budget and catered to the hinterland. He joined hands with directors like Swapan Saha, Haranath Chakraborty and Anoop Sengupta to churn out one hit after the other. During this period, his pairing with Rituparna Sengupta clicked big time and the two went on to give umpteen number of successful films. Prosenjit’s strategy was simple – Let’s not increase the budget of the movie and ensure it recovers its cost. This will eventually make way for a brighter picture later on. And how true he was!
From being taunted as Posenjit by the so-called English-read critics to Prosenjit who made his detractors accept him as an actor of repute, the man was the ultimate winner. Within the commercial format, one film that changed the dimension of Bengali films was Sosurbari Zindabad that featured Bumbada opposite Rituparna. The glow on screen was visible and it was one film produced by Sree Venkatesh Films that was also talked about in cities. Rewind to those days when Bengali commercial films bit the dust. From that dilapidated state, he single-handedly brought life into the industry and people rallied behind him. And when we talk of people, the list includes some who never hesitated to take jibes at him in his absence. Now, Bumbada knew everything, didn’t he? In fact several actors even blamed him for ruining his career but never has he retaliated.
Post-Sosurbari Zindabad, there was an attitudinal change in the mindset of the urban audience and that reached new heights after Saathi was released in 2002. The film that was initially offered to Prosenjit, launched a new actor in Jeet who is now a superstar in his own right. And then began another struggle for Prosenjit. “He’s finished and Jeet is here to stay,” was the common argument. Just imagine a man who refused to do Saathi since he had already done such films in the past like Jyoti and who wanted a new star on the horizon, was at the receiving end for no fault of his.
And this was not the end of it. There was a time when Mithun Chakraborty was a regular in Bengali films and with some successful films in his kitty, there was a threat to Prosenjit’s throne as some perceived. However, Prosenjit was not the one to buckle under pressure and yours truly remembers how he had categorically stated when quizzed on Mithun’s presence, “He will go back to Hindi films soon. Why does one have to write my career’s epitaph?”
Even before that, he had drawn people’s taunts but not be deterred by criticism, he kept his cool and continued to focus on his work which by that time was taking a new route with the entry of filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh who gave him Unishe April and Utsav, to mention a few. It was the ‘2000s and the actor had realised that now it was time to concentrate on meaty subjects that would be a reflection on his acting prowess – films like Chokher Bali, Moner Manush, Dosar and others that happened later made him the darling of the audiences. It was the same people who rubbished his efforts and contributions who were now dying to catch a glimpse of him.
The transformation from Posenjit to Prosenjit happened slowly and steadily and new-age directors like Srijit Mukherji (Autograph, Baishe Srabon, Jaatishwar, the Kakababu series and others), Kaushik Ganguly (Drishtikon), Shiboprosad Mukerjee-Nandita Das (Prakton) and Atanu Ghosh (Mayurakshi), used his star power as well as his ability to pull off characters with utmost perfection. Even Bollywood was keen to work with him and his portrayal of Dr Ahmadi in Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai (2012) bagged laurels.
Meanwhile, despite being dead busy with acting, he has never hesitated to produce good films launching new directors, for example Uronchondi – director Abhishek Saha and lead pair Rajnandini Paul, Amartya Ray. And one bets, he has plenty up his sleeve.
Someone, who has seen it all is never short of hunger and is bent on doing solid work and encouraging new generations to focus on quality that would earn Bengali films plaudits all over. Let’s give it to him – a man who could have tried his luck in Bollywood riding on his father’s popularity, preferred to work back home and in spite of the barrage of harsh words pelted at him, he has never got distracted from his goal which is to improve the quality of Bengali films and the results are for all to witness.
Well, there are enough reasons to call him The Wall of Tollywood and on his birthday, we can only hope that he entertains his fans with a larger volume of work that would even etch his name in the hearts of his strongest foes.
(This article was published by the author on his personal blog www.digantaguha.wordpress.com last year…produced with some minor changes as a tribute to the legendary actor)