Interview: Tollywood Bengali Director RAJ CHAKRABORTY On Secrets of Success, Proloy Asche, Shotru, Jeet, Nusrat & Bangla Films
(Updated June 16, 2011)
Hosted by Ananya Paul
Written by Madhuparna Sanyal, Ph.D.
Recording, Editing: Supratim Sanyal
Click on Play to listen to Raj Chakrabarty talk to Ananya Paul
Washington, DC, June 13, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio) Well-established and highly successful Tollywood Bengali movie director Raj Chakraborty takes time out from a busy shooting schedule to talk to Ananya Paul about his work, his career path, and his philosophies of work and life. A disarmingly candid Raj offers inspiration and insight into success and shares with us his wonderful outlook that will surely motivate all of us, irrespective of our chosen paths in life. Listening to Raj while recording this interview was a treat, and will remain a high point for us. It is with great pleasure that we share this interview with you.
Currently in its second week, Raj’s 2011 Bangla movie Shatru is a superhit, and Raj makes it clear that he had expected no less from his work. Shatru is a success, Raj confidently states, because of its excellent packaging: its well-choreographed fight sequences, good music, excellent acting, careful wardrobe, lovely photography, and all the ingredients required to produce satisfying entertainment.
Raj's first telefilm Noder Chaand was aired in 1996 on Tara TV. Since then, he has directed 18 more telefilms and multiple other projects for the small screen, including the superhit reality show Dance Bangla Dance, successful comedies like Mirakkel and I Laugh You, and hit television talk shows. His debut feature film Chirodini Tumi Je Amar (buy Bengali Movie DVD in USA) was released in 2008. In 2009, he released Challenge (world-wide DVD release) and Prem Amar (order DVD). 2010 saw Le Chakka (DVD Sale), and Dui Prithibi (DVD deal). In 2011, he has so far given us the very successful Shatru.
Asked about his take on his path to success, which is perceived to have been impressively fast, Raj points out that people focus on the time after one has become successful, but that there is always a story of a much longer struggle that had come before. Raj has been trying to break into the industry since 1992. His first assistant directorship was in 2001; Shatru was released 10 years later. So, in reality, a twenty-year-long journey has led to the success that he seems to have so easily acquired.
While a successful director today, Raj had not started out with this career goal. Raj does not have any institutional training in film-making. His initial training was in theater acting, and he had come to the Bangla movie industry in the early 1990s with ambitions of being an actor. But time went on, pressures to establish a career grew, and resources and opportunities continued to be challenges. Deciding to make use of available opportunities and make an alternative career, Raj changed his focus to the technical aspects of movie making and began to train as a technician under Arindam Dey. He learned the tools of the trade hands-on in the field, and once he was ready to be an independent professional, Arindam Dey himself encouraged Raj to start work on his own.
Raj has a clear take on the question of institutional training/learning vs. inner talent, and on whether creativity and proper guidance is enough to help a newcomer make it. His parents had taught him that the path to success is through setting one's eyes on a goal and working toward it despite challenges; if one sticks to the goal, one day or another, success would come. Raj's own approach is "if someone else can make it, why can't I ?" During his training in theater acting, his teacher taught him the three “Ds” vital to success: dedication, discipline, and determination. Raj believes in all these life lessons and holds that if one is determined to do something, then s/he will get it done. Success can be achieved through institutional learning as well as through field training, but he strongly believes in the value of practical, hands-on training with those established in the profession.
In Raj’s eyes, success is about grit, determination, and making choices. In Chirodini Tumi Je Amar, Raj had launched Rahul & Priyakna, who are today a very successful actor-duo. Now, in Shotru, he has launched Nusrat Jahan (WBRi Interview) and believes that she will be as, if not more successful than other current actors because she has potential, drive, discipline, and passion. Raj believes that opportunity has to be used. While in working with a newcomer more seasoned professionals can tell how much potential s/he has, no one can predict how well the person will avail her/himself of it. Raj points out that Nusrat alone can decide what career trajectory she wants to pursue, but if she can sustain her passion, she has a very bright career in front of her.
Shatru is Raj's second movie with Jeet; in 2010, he had had Jeet and Dev act together in Dui Prithibi, which was a classic road movie and had the two Bengali superstars doing shoots out on the streets. As such, both characters had to be thought out very carefully. Jeet's character had been serious and quiet, with his charisma pulling the audience into the story. During the shooting of that movie, Raj had started drawing on Jeet's significant experience as a more senior actor. In Shatru, Jeet's role is different in terms of the narrative. When Raj started thinking about the police-oriented storyline, he focused on the fact that by his very nature a policeman like Dibakar Singha would need to have a serious personality to be someone whom people feared and respected. These are sentiments Jeet can evoke. Raj gives Jeet kudos for his work in Shatru, stating that the actor has done a fantastic job, and that his performance now marks him as even more proficient an actor than before. DEV is a powerful actor too, but in thinking about the storyline of Shatru Raj felt that Dev fits better with the image of a romantic hero, someone who is more easily loved than feared, while Jeet, with his more mature persona, feline characteristics, and sheer screen presence would be able to inhabit the character of Dibakar Singha more effectively – which he has.
Raj has directed superhit non-fiction comedy TV shows like Mirakkel and I Laugh You (watch live Indian Bengali TV Channels Online) but has not focused on an out-an-out comedy feature-film so far. Raj points out that he creates what he calls "packages" - movies that incorporate multiple angles including comedy, love and romance, conflict, drama etc. However, over time, he has learned the comedy’s USP, about the virtues of comedy in everyday lives, and the value Bangalis give to the comic in their life experiences. As a result, the comic gets a place of priority in his projects. Chirodini Tumi Je Amar has multiple comic scenes; in Shatru, the first half of the movie is comedy based; Dui Prithibi has comedy balancing various parts of the movie; and in Challenge the villain is also a comic figure.
Discussing his movie locations, Raj explains why, despite limited budgets, shooting abroad is vital in sustaining audience interest and successfully packaging a movie. Using foreign locations for sequences is vital because the industry mostly produces commercial movies that are competing with high budget Bollywood productions. Bangla movies' packaging has to be interesting, and Bangla moviemakers have to provide their audiences with clear reasons as to why the latter should spend money on their movie. Directors have to constantly think about what to present that is new and refreshing. A good song, a lovely location, a well-coordinated and original fight sequence, a relevant subject, attractive presentation, excellent artists, an interesting story: all of these go into competitive success. Raj points out that in 2008, Chirodini Tumi Je Amar was allotted about 50 theatres compared to the 200 allotted to Bollywood movies. Today, the tables have turned and Bangla movies are being allotted 200 theatres. This success has been possible only because the competition is now at more at par. The audience is used to a certain form of presentation, and moviemakers have to cater to their demands and interests since this is, before everything else, an entertainment industry.
Raj is currently working on a 30-episode television project titled Proloy Aasche, with actors like Paran Bandhopadhay, Abir Chatterjee (interview), Padmanabho Dasgupta, Tanadi, Bini, Sayani, Supriyo Dutta and others involved with it.
To Raj, work is work, and the target audience and medium of presentation is not as important as the quality of work he does. He started in the world of television before coming to the silver screen, and feels at ease directing for TV. The small screen has a significant audience to which he knows he can present various concepts and messages, and finds a different kind of professional fulfillment directing for it because the projects are often more serious.
What would Raj do professionally if he found himself not a famous director in a few years? Raj's position is that he cannot, and does not work for fame. He works to make a living, and out of love for his profession. He is well aware of his limitations as an artist, and will try to stay within the range of his expertise. How he will map and expand his career are questions to be answered by the lessons his life and work teaches him every day. Raj does not rest on his laurels, look at the past, or at what he has already achieved. He focuses on what he is going to do in the future. His philosophy is to do his best work every day, to not stress about what negative event might happen some day in the future, and to have the sheer confidence that when life challenges him, he will be capable of handling it. When the curve ball is thrown at him, Raj is prepared to forge new paths through new struggles to renewed success.
Ananya Paul is a journalist and senior producer of a major television news channel in Calcutta. Madhuparna Sanyal, Ph.D. is Assistant Director, Writing Center, & Coordinator, Summer College Program at Drew University. Supratim Sanyal is the founder, CEO and CTO of WBRi Inc., one of whose services is this online radio station and web portal.