A Heart to Heart With Anirban Bhattacharya

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Anirban Bhattacharya actor
Actor, director, singer and songwriter Anirban Bhattacharya.

He has recently completed 16 years of having shifted base from Medinipur to Kolkata. But it did not take Anirban Bhattacharya so many years to become a  known face to the Bengali theatre and cinema audiences. He is an actor, a singer, songwriter and a director, who also has an infectious smile. As a boy, he dreamt of becoming a footballer. Images of Beckham, Ronaldo, and other greats would fill his mind and thoughts. After watching Border, he felt life was not worth it unless one became a soldier. But 16 years down the line, he has become one of the most sought-after actors in Bengali cinema, theatre and OTT platforms. With Mandaar, (a series for an OTT platform) he has also stepped into direction. His maiden theatrical release as director, Ballabhpurer Roopkatha has taken the entire Bengali audience and  film industry by surprise. In an interview with Shoma A. Chatterji he opens up about his  journey so far.

 

Shoma: Ballabhpurer Roopkatha is one of Badal Sircar’s most popular comedies. What made you choose this  play for your film?

Anirban: Ballabhpurer Roopkatha is a horror comedy laced with elements of a rom-com. Over the course of my time in the industry, somehow, I’ve come to be known as a serious man. Which isn’t quite true! I am a man who thrives on humour. And Ballabhpurer Roopkatha is a natural expression of that. While making the film, I wanted to make everybody happy and if this film can make people laugh and encourage them to watch the film, I believe it’s worth the ride. Ripples of laughter and applause broke out whenever Ballabhpurer Roopkatha was staged in the theatre space. I got an offer to direct the film right after Mandaar,  and the ball started rolling from there.

Cast of Ballabhpurer Roopkatha.
Cast of Ballabhpurer Roopkatha.

Shoma: What attracted you to the story of Ballabhpurer Roopkatha?

Anirban: It’s a tale which has all the elements an audience appreciates. So it’s a blessing in its own way.

Shoma: How did you choose your casting as most of the faces are drawn from theatre and almost none of them are familiar in films? 

Anirban: Most of the cast are from theatre; very few have been seen in films before.

Shoma: What was the process behind choosing this cast?

Anirban: It’s always great to work with known faces and, of course, friends. I have known them all for a long time and the journey has been of collaborative art. I wanted to capture the essence of how people were at that time. I had a few names in mind, some actor references and somehow the cast did perfect justice to  their roles. 

Shoma: Where did you shoot the film and how long did it take from its conception to  its release?

Anirban: It did take a long time. Most of it was shot in Karimpur. We did extensive rehearsals before going on the floor. We shot for 17 hours a day which often extended to 22 hours. It was back-breaking but we also learnt a lot. When work turns into play where everyone takes part, it becomes fun, just like the film we were making. I had to keep motivating the team. When everyone was tired and exhausted, as director, I had to stay alert and not fall asleep! If the team sees that the director is alert, that is motivation enough. Our technicians were amazing- the way  they pulled off this huge bulk of work within such a short span of time was commendable. Our cinematographer, Soumik Halder, has done an amazing job. And if there were a hundred shots, we tried taking them from a hundred different angles.

Satyam Bhattacharya actor

Shoma: What brief did you give to the music director, Debraj?

Anirban: Debraj is not just my music director, he is a friend as well. It is a huge advantage. We have the same wavelength when it comes to work, which makes it a comfort zone for both of us.

Shoma: Which filmmakers, Indian and international, do you look up to?

Anirban: I have received a lot of affection and warmth in my journey. I learnt so many things from everyone but from 2010 on, I have been following Suman Mukhopadhyay as my artistic mentor as I felt he was supreme during my time, be it in cinema or theatre.

Shoma: How do you direct?  Is it script reading sessions, rehearsals or something else?

Anirban: I was very happy with theatre direction and never thought of directing films, but during the pandemic, things changed. Mandaar happened on Hoichoi, (a Bengali OTT platform). Then came Ballabhpurer Roopkatha.  Looking back, it gives me great pleasure to bring a film which  portrays a great sense of humour. We did multiple acting rehearsals, had auditions and screen tests. We even tried multiple shots with different angles to infuse a sense of cinematic vitality.

Surangama in Ballabhpurer Roopkatha
Surangama Bandyopadhyay in a still from the film.

Shoma: Could you give us a brief background of your career, from stage to films, and now OTT platforms?

Anirban: Sharing a personal journey is always a nostalgic exercise.  When I was a professional actor at Minerva Repertoire, I worked with three eminent productions. I started my career as a professional freelance theatre actor after resigning from Minerva and gradually opportunities came knocking.

Shoma: You are a veteran of theatre, what pushed you into films and OTT sites? 

Anirban: This happened with the advent of online content and rise of OTT platforms in regional areas. I got the golden opportunity to work with the best directors in Bengali cinema- Aparna Sen,  Srijit Mukherjee, Arindam Sil, and a whole lot of new  directors. It has been a varied and a rich learning experience for me. It has also given me a lot of confidence.

Shoma: What differences do you find between the three platforms – theatre, cinema and OTT? 

Anirban: Three of them are equally different in their own prerogative. But as an actor it’s our responsibility to seamlessly unfold the story with visual language.

Shoma: As an actor, how do you approach a role in theatre? The literary source, the director’s conception, your personal perception or a blend of these three?

Anirban: As an actor, I believe all  three aspects are very important. If there is anything lacking the whole collaborative form of performing art will feel lacking, in my  opinion. 

Shoma: How did you find a place in films? 

Anirban: Arshinagar was my first film and Aparna Sen chose me for that role based on my theatrical performances. It was one of a kind journey for me, which remains fresh even today.

Shoma: How would you define acting, per se, be it theatre, films or  OTT?

Anirban: Both are methodical in their own way and require effort in their respective grounds. OTT culture is a boon for many as it has opened new doors to newer and better stories. 

Shoma: You have been in theatre for many years. Which five plays would you choose as your best and why?

Anirban: My top five picks will be Othoi, FM Mahanagar, Adyo Shesh Rajani, Karu Basana, Titumir. The reason is not just because  I played  a part in all of these  but because it enhanced my journey and my personal growth in every aspect.

 

Images used are from the author’s collection.

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