Mumbai, July 27 (IANS) Whether it is Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Aamir Khan, Govinda or Jaaved Jaffrey, among many actors that Hindi cinema lovers have seen, all of them have relished doing drag acts, in “Laawaris”, “Chachi 420”, “Baazi”, “Aunty No. 1”, or “Paying Guest” respectively. The actor who did it long before such an act was considered cool was Bishwajit — in the 1966 comedy, Biwi Aur Makaan. He followed it up a couple of years later in the evergreen hit song “Kajra mohabbatwala” of the 1968 film “Kismat”.
Bishwajit Chatterjee was at the peak of career success back then, churning out consecutive hits. Recalling the golden days of his life, the 83-year-old actor says, his stint in theatre gave him the confidence to experiment back then, including pulling off a drag act.
“I can say that the stage gave me the confidence to experiment. Many actors including Bachchan saab, has performed drag act later, but I was the trendsetter. Then again, I performed a character, you did not see Bishwajit there,” he told IANS here,
“I started in radio and my guru was Birendra Krishna Bhadra. He had a powerful voice, and no Bengali can imagine the ‘Mahalaya’ on radio without him. He gave me extensive voice training that helped me understand how to act out any character through voice modulation,” he recalled, adding: “The iconic actress Tripti Mitra used to be my heroine in many radio plays we performed for Akashvaani,” he said, speaking on the sideline of a recent event.
He went onto do theatre with the Kolkata-based group, Bohurupee, where he started out as a junior artiste and observed every stage of a story that transformed from text to theatre production.
“Those days of training really made me realise that an actor should be flexible and constantly push his limits to grow, and should be open to experiment. I never feared to build and break an image because I had to be like water. I had to fit into any medium and format. When you watch a film, you see the character, performed by the actor, and not in the other way,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of the launch event of the upcoming chat-show, “Living Legend With Komal Nahata”.
The transformation from a young lad of the radio station who joined theatre as a junior artiste, to a successful actor in Hindi and Bengali films was perhaps inevitable.
“I always dreamed of becoming an entertainer for the national audience and not limiting myself to regional cinema. I learnt Urdu, improved my Hindi, and learnt action. So, when I started gaining popularity in Bengal as an actor, I took the risk to relocate myself from Kolkata to Mumbai, when Hemant Kumar called me up and gave me an opportunity to star in the film ‘Bees Saal Baad’.”
So, while contemporary Bengali icons Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee were busy making a mark in Tollywood, Bishwajit had crossed over to Bollywood.
While Uttam Kumar was scoring box-office blockbuster with powerful roles in films such as “Deya Neya”, “Uttar Falguni”, “Thana Theke Aaschhi”, and “Nayak” among many other hits, Soumitra Chatterjee was balancing between the arthouse gems of Satyajit Ray and commercial hits such as “Jhinder Bandi”, “Abhijan”, “Saat Pake Bandha” and “Charulata”, among others.
Bishwajit, meanwhile, hadbecome aBollywood star, scoring with “Mere Sanam”, “Shehnai”, “Kohraa”, “April Fool”.
However, a busy schedule inMumbai meant he stopped signing Bengali films.
Asked if he has interest to work in Bengali cinema again, the veteran said: “In the commercial space they (Bengali filmmakers) are losing out on originality. They have talent but the literature is missing. Bengal is known for great stories and literature. Keeping formula in mind, they are remaking films from another region. I ask, why? In our times when Uttam da and I used to work, we did not have Manik da (Satyajit Ray) like Soumitra had. We had good storytellers who were writing and adapting good stories. Bring back literature in cinema,” shared Bishwajit, whose son Prosenjit has been a superstar of the Bengali screen since the eighties.
Does he see a glimpse of his younger self in his actor son?
“He is a very different. His approach as a performer and choice of films are different. I liked his performance in ‘Moner Manush’,” he says, referring to Goutam Ghose’s acclaimed film of 2010. “He acted really well in that film, but I don’t see the younger me in him. He is a Bengali superstar. In my young age, I pushed the boundary and became a Hindi film actor,” smiled the actor who once mesmerized the audience alongside Waheeda Rahman in the song “Bequarar karke hamen yun na jaaiye” in the 1962 hit, “Bees Saal Baad”.