Sujan Mukhopadhyay: Like an Uttam Kumar fan, I had taken ‘part’ in a FB contest and got the role

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Kolkata: In this exclusive interview, popular actor Sujan Mukhopadhyay (Neel) who has traversed the world of theatre, serial and cinema talks about his experiences of playing the titular role in the forthcoming docu-feature – Jete Nahi Dibo – a tribute to ‘Mahanayak’ Uttam Kumar. He also shares why November 22 will be a special day for him.

eNewsroom: Let’s start with November 22, 2019. It is going to be a special day for you…

Sujan: (Smiles) Oh! Absolutely. I am avidly waiting for November 22. It is indeed going to be a very special day for two reasons. Reason one: Jete Nahi Dibo a docu-feature, based on the life of our beloved ‘Mahanayak’ Uttam Kumar will be releasing on that day. It is directed by Prabir Roy and I have had the good fortune of playing ‘Uttam Kumar’ on screen for the first time. Reason two: Our theatre group Chetana will be celebrating its 47th birthday on that very day. To mark this occasion, we will be putting up a special show of our new play Rani Creusa, written by Bratya Basu and directed by me. I would also like to share some wonderful news with regards to Rani Creusa, but will inform the readers about it during the course of this interview.

eNewsroom: Well, before we talk in detail about the docu-feature and Rani Creusa, allow us to congratulate you for winning this year’s Ramaprasad Banik Memorial Award at the recently concluded Purba Paschim Theatre Festival.

Sujan: Thank you so much. It was definitely an emotional moment for me. Although, I did not get the honour to share the stage with Ramada, but it was an enriching experience to attend the voice modulation workshops that he conducted for our theatre group – Chetana, founded by my father Arun Mukhopadhyay. Interestingly, I got the opportunity to work with him in the immensely popular megaserial – Janmabhumi. Ramada had also directed the television adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s short story, Goyenda and he had asked me to join this venture. I was in awe. We had a wonderful time during its making.

During the filming I learnt that Uttambabu was not allowed to smoke during the later years of his life. Cigarette was a big ‘NO’ for him, so, instead of lighting one, he would simply smell it. He used to play the harmonium and also sing a particular Rabindrasangeet whenever he was sad. As his friend and confidant, Prabirda has been a treasure trove of information. For example, he informed us how Uttambabu had the habit of changing punjabi (kurta) several times during the course of an evening since he disliked sporting sweat-stained punjabis. The audience will have to watch the docu-feature to learn more.

eNewsroom: Tell our readers about Jete Nahi Dibo.

Sujan: The director of this docu-feature, Prabir Roy was very close to Uttam Kumar during the last ten years of his life. Prabirda was with him till his death. This venture is his tribute to Uttam Kumar. It is not a biopic and this docu-feature which has been in the making for two years now has been made on a very limited budget, but Prabirda has incorporated many unknown information and myriad facets of the Mahanayak as much as one can in this format. During his lifetime, Uttam Kumar enjoyed a larger-than-life stature. He still does. To the world, he was an iconic actor, but he was a real person whose life was laced with happiness, sadness, success and downfalls. This docu-feature will enable fans of the Mahanayak to see the the human and humane side of both the man and the actor.

eNewsroom: Share with our readers a few information about Uttam Kumar that you learnt during the making of the docu-feature.

Sujan: Let’s see. There are so many… Okay, during the filming I learnt that Uttambabu was not allowed to smoke during the later years of his life. Cigarette was a big ‘NO’ for him, so, instead of lighting one, he would simply smell it. He used to play the harmonium and also sing a particular Rabindrasangeet whenever he was sad. As his friend and confidant, Prabirda has been a treasure trove of information. For example, he informed us how Uttambabu had the habit of changing punjabi (kurta) several times during the course of an evening since he disliked sporting sweat-stained punjabis. The audience will have to watch the docu-feature to learn more.

Bengali Cinema Sujan Mukhopadhyay Jete Nahi Dibo Uttam Kumar
Sujan Mukhopadhyay in a scene of Jete Nahi Dibo

eNewsroom: Will one get to see you right from the very beginning of the docu-feature?

Sujan: No. I play the mature Uttam Kumar. My role starts from the day when he arrived at Surpriya Devi’s house in his trademark punjabi and pyjama. Except for the clothes on his back, he had left everything else behind.

eNewsroom: Have you ever met Uttam Kumar in real life?

Sujan: There is a photograph of me with him. I was very young then. Uttambabu had come to see a play of our group -Chetana – but I do not remember much about that meeting.

eNewsroom: Were you surprised when you were asked to play Uttam Kumar?

Sujan: (Laughs) More than you can imagine! There is actually an interesting story behind this. There was a ‘fun contest’ going on Facebook where one had to recreate Uttam Kumar’s famous ‘sunglass look’ from one of his all-time greatest hits – Nayak, directed by Satyajit Ray. Out of the four photographs, one was original one, the remaining three were ‘lookalikes’ and one had to guess which one is the original photograph. Well, like a true blue Uttam Kumar fan, I had taken ‘part’ in this contest and many had pegged my picture as the original one! Prabirda had seen this photograph and decided to approach me.

eNewsroom: As an actor, this must have been an immense challenge for you. Before you Prosenjit Chatterjee had donned the mantle of ‘Uttam Kumar’ in the serial Mahanayak, directed by Birsa Dasgupta and recently Jisshu U Sengupta played him in Mahalaya, directed by Soumik Sen…

Sujan: …I think that both Bumbada (Prosenjit Chatterjee) and Jisshu have done an amazing job.  See, every time a biopic or a docu-feature is made – be it on Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy or Rabindrabath Tagore or any other great personality, the actor portraying them has to brace himself or herself for the audience’s comparison and eventual verdict. But despite all that, it is an honour to get selected and essay the role of an icon. There is no way you can replace the original person, but you can play him or her in the best manner possible. I am not ‘the’ Uttam Kumar. I will never be, but as an actor I have tried to do justice to the role and portray certain nuances of his character and characteristics to the best of my ability. For me, it was both a challenge and a fulfilling experience.

eNewsroom: Why do you think that the serial – Mahanayak -which was based on his life did not work?

Sujan: It is difficult to state as to why certain serials work and certain don’t. It is the peoples’ decision. All the makers can do is abide by their verdict. I have not seen all the episodes, but I feel that the vision of the serial got a bit blurred. I have heard people say that the serial had too much masala and that did not go down well with the masses. There is always a tussle when one is making movies or serials or even documentaries based on the lives of the great people. For a filmmaker who wants to be true to the character and also to his or her craft, this becomes a challenge. There can be problem with too much glorification and he or she can be hauled up for showcasing the character with all his or her flaws. This is indeed a tightrope walk.

Bengali Cinema Sujan Mukhopadhyay Jete Nahi Dibo Uttam Kumar
A poster of Jete Nahi Dibo in Kolkata. Sujan/FB

eNewsroom: The TRP factor also comes in…

Sujan: Yes, it does, However, I feel that when a serial has a good storyline, fantastic cast and is trying to be different from the milieu, one should see its intrinsic value and not its TRP rating. You remember the serial – Gaaner Oparey- created by late legendary director Rituparno Ghosh. The serial was highly appreciated, it had immense value but it had a short run on television since it was not a frontrunner in the TRP race. Isn’t that unfortunate?

eNewsroom: Tell us about Rani Creusa now which has been directed by you.

Sujan: As stated earlier, Rani Creusa has been written by Bratya Basu is based on a Greek mythology, but Bratyada has added many contemporary facets. It questions the notion of democracy. It showcases its fallacy. There are shades of Karna-Kunti, there is struggle between gods and human being – power struggle for existence and it also discusses what happens in a society when religion threatens to take over when order and ideology fails. Composer Prabuddha Banerjee has done a marvellous job with the music. The entire star cast that includes Shaheb Chattopadhyay, my wife Nibedita Mukhopadhyay, Rishav Basu and other members of Chetana have given their very best and made the play a grand success.

eNewesroom: And now how about sharing that piece of ‘wonderful news’ about Rani Creusa that you promised to share with our readers?

Sujan: Ah! Yes! Rani Creusa has been selected at the 21st Bharat Rang Mahotsav, 2020, organised by National School of Drama, New Delhi. It was selected from a bouquet of 800 plays! After Don — Taake Bhalo Laage, this will be my second outing at the festival as a director. What’s more the play has also been selected for the 5th National Theatre Festival 2020, organised by Minerva Natya Sanakriti Charcha Kendra, Department of Information & Cultural Affairs, Government of West Bengal.

eNewsroom: Well, you have lots going on… So, will your fans get to see you in movies?

Sujan: Absolutely. I am part of Indraadip Dasgupta’s Agantuk starring Abir Chatterjee and Sohini Sarkar. Next there is Tonic – a social drama – helmed by debutant director Abhijit Sen. I will go back to directing a new play in May-June 2020.

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