Rituparna and Prosenjit on the sets of ‘Praktan’.
Houseful shows, overwhelming footfall at theatres and social media posts and messages had signalled the Praktan sweep at cinemas in 2016. The film (directed by Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay) saw many landmark moments, one of them being Prosenjit Chatterjee and Rituparna Sengupta coming together on screen after 15 years. “The film also opened a new chapter, in terms of box-office collections,” Prosenjit had told The Telegraph. As Praktan turned five on May 27, we went down memory lane with Shiboprosad…
How do you look back on the film after five years?
It feels like a dream. Before Praktan, we had done Bela Seshe. There was a lot of expectations from us. It was a film that was coming after Bela Seshe, and it starred Prosenjit and Rituparna. It was a challenging film as it was set inside a train. To have Nitish Roy on board as the art director was another dream come true. Thanks to him, it felt that it was a train we were travelling in.
How was it like directing Prosenjit and Rituparna after so many years? How did they interact on the sets?
For us, it was a dream come true, as we had wanted to work with them for very long. For some reason, that was not happening. We had already approached Rituparna with this subject. But the wait was very long. When they came together on the set, the years in between just vanished in seconds! It never felt that they were not working together for many years. We had got the most important pair in the film industry and the challenge was to do the best job with the casting. It was said that every time they came together, it was like magic. So, we had to recreate that magic.
Also, cinema had changed so much in the 14 years that they didn’t work together. When they decided to part ways professionally, they were the ‘jodi’ that the single-screen audience looked up to. But we had to make a film that catered to both plexes and single screens, which means we also had to bring the youth to the theatres along with the 30-plus. It was challenging for us to do all of that.
They have a fun chemistry between them. We would wait for them to arrive on the set and almost always it would be Bumbada (Prosenjit) who came first. He even said that nothing had changed with Ritu, as she kept doing what she would, 14 years back. Also, to pull her leg, Bumbada would tell us in front of Ritu: ‘Oh, the amazing close-up shots you have taken of me. Just mindblowing!’ She would immediately retort: ‘Oh, of course, why would you take mine?’ Bumbada is very particular about time. For the song, Kolkata, Kolkata, his call time was 4am. He would reach BBD Bag at 3.45am with his make-up bus. He would even iron his own T-shirts.
What were your thoughts on the looks of Prosenjit and Rituparna?
Prosenjit’s look was inspired by Ritwik Chakraborty, who worked for Calcutta Walks. The latter used to carry a sling bag. To add to that, we designed some special T-shirts for Bumbada, which were either images of Calcutta or lines from famous poems. We wanted to depict Ujaan’s (character that Prosenjit played) love for the city, as he is seen as a tour guide in the film. We also worked on two age groups that he played. While the first look was more vibrant, the second had a few streaks of grey in his hair that he would back-comb.
For Rituparna, we went by our instinct. We had given her a curly-hair look and she would often tie it up. In her later years, as depicted in the film, she is seen sporting thick glasses.
Which was the first scene that they shot for?
They first shot for a few montage scenes for the song Tumi jake bhalobasho. On the very first day, we wanted to keep it easy for the actors. They shot for scenes where they were listening to a song together, having popcorn, playing chess, Ritu feeding Bumbada a few morsels of food, Bumbada reading out lines of a poem to her. We never keep heavy scenes on the first day of the shoot and this was no different.
They came across as thorough professionals and there was a sizzling chemistry already. They had to look at each other while playing chess and their timings were so perfect. It never felt that they had not shot for many years in between.
Shiboprosad and Nandita.
What was their last scene?
We shot the climax at Shalimar station and that was also their last scene together. There were 500-600 people and we were shooting with four cameras. It was tough managing the crowd, but the master shot turned out rather nice.
How would you describe the their amazing chemistry?
Across the globe, there is a handful of romantic on-screen couples who have managed to romance the celluloid. Their real chemistry is with the big screen. I feel Bumbada and Ritu are blessed enough to fall into this category of actors. I feel the secret behind their chemistry is their trust. Trust is important in every relationship and the more you can trust your co-actor, the more sparkling is the chemistry. When a batsman hits a ball, he trusts the non-striker who has called for a run. He doesn’t look at the ball, how far it has travelled. It’s actually the same between a director and a cameraman, a scriptwriter and director, two actors. Also, they understand each other very well. They exactly know how the other would react to a line or a scene. Bumbada would sometimes tell us, ‘Keep this scene post-lunch, for I think Ritu is tired’. And Ritu would say the same thing. They are very well aware of each other’s good and bad and that makes a lot of
Share an anecdote of directing Soumitra Chatterjee in Praktan.
We were surprised to figure out that Soumitrada remembered every word of Hotath Dekha by Rabindranath Tagore. And this had nothing to do with the shoot. We had given him the book that he held in his hands, but he didn’t even look at it once.
For the antakshari scene, he had to sing Shing nei tobu naam tar singha. We thought he needed help, but no, he didn’t. He knew all the lines by heart and sang it himself. Also, we realised that he remembered a huge number of songs and it was difficult beating him in the game of antakshari.
Why did you cast Saswata Chatterjee?
We needed someone who would truly add to the surprise element. Also, the actor had to be very caring, the way he held his wife at the station, took her suitcase etc. We thought Saswata would do a great job and we were so right!
Who came up with the idea of the T-shirt of Biswanath that had ‘Kiss Me’ written on it? What was the reason behind it?
Nanditadi came up with this concept. We have a kissing scene in the film, where Manali (Manisha Dey) tells Biswanath that she also has a forehead, eyes, nose to kiss every time the latter makes a move inside the train. They play newlyweds in the film and didi thought it would be fun if he wore that kind of a T-shirt with a message that delved deeper into his headspace.