‘I have heard that nobody else other than Dev will do well’ : Biswajit Chatterjee

Posted on: March 31, 2014

Actor Biswajit Chatterjee, the Trinamul Congress candidate for the New Delhi constituency, talks to Sonia Sarkar on fighting an electoral battle without chief minister Mamata Banerjee around, and on why his son, actor Prosenjit, should not plunge into politics

There are no retakes here — the fight is for real. Actor Biswajit Chatterjee, who is the Trinamul Congress candidate for the New Delhi constituency, knows that well. So he is getting ready to give his best shot.

“There is no time left, I have to run in my constituency to be able to meet everyone,” he says. “I will try to win,” he smiles.

It’s going to be quite a fight because his rivals are Congress leader Ajay Maken, a two-time MP from the constituency, and BJP spokesperson and lawyer Meenakshi Lekhi.

But Chatterjee, 77, insists he is not intimidated by them. “We all know that there will be just one winner but I am not afraid to fight. In cricket, too, there is just one man of the match. And I will soon learn the tricks of the trade.”

Maken and Lekhi belong to the city. The actor, on the other hand, has spent his life mostly in Mumbai and Calcutta. Wouldn’t he have had a better chance of winning if he had been fielded from Bengal? “When it comes to chances of winning, contesting from Bengal would have been a better option for me,” he admits. “But it was Didi’s decision to field me from Delhi,” he says, referring to Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee.

Actually, the buzz goes that the party leadership had earlier decided to field him from Delhi South, under the impression that the Bengali-dominated Chittaranjan Park area was a part of the constituency. Later, when the party discovered that CR Park actually came under New Delhi, he was moved. Being a Bengali, it was thought that Chatterjee would vibe well with the Bengali voters.

But he insists he’s there not just for the Bengali electorate. “People in Delhi know me,” he stresses.

The actor has a Trinamul scarf draped around his neck and sports a stone-studded badge with Didi’s photo inscribed on it. He looks like a Trinamul loyalist, but he got to know Banerjee only in 2009 when she was the Union railway minister. He wanted permission to shoot a train sequence for a documentary he had produced and directed on Subhas Bose. “Not only did she give us the permission to shoot at the Sealdah railway station, she also instructed her officials to make us comfortable,” he says.

Since then, he has been quite a loyalist. He campaigned for her party in the 2011 state Assembly elections in Bengal. “I have great admiration for her. She feels strongly for the people of Bengal and gets whatever she wants,” he says, fiddling with his packet of Classic cigarettes.

It’s a cue for him to start listing her achievements. “She revived the Technicians Studio in the Bengali film industry. She brought many artistes and technicians under medical insurance cover. Since I am from the film fraternity, I count these as her achievements,” he says.

Her critics, he says, only see her “outer” self, which appears tough. “Yes, she doesn’t spare anyone for any wrong they do. But she is also very emotional. She is like anyone’s boudi (sister-in-law) or didi (elder sister) or mashima (aunt). Her softer side is adorable,” he says. “She gets angry only when people cross their limit. If I make a mistake, I would like to be told by her so that I could rectify it.”

We move back to the election in New Delhi, where the Trinamul has hardly any presence. Chatterjee admits that he feels a bit “isolated” in this political battle when the leader is not around. “Didi has to keep coming to Delhi to boost our morale. That would help the party make its mark at the national level,” he feels.

Chatterjee is the latest in a list of stars — actors, singers, theatre people and others — who have been fielded by her in the 2014 elections. The list includes actors Dev, Sandhya Roy and Moon Moon Sen and singers Indranil Sen and Soumitro Ray — all newcomers in the electoral field.

“She must think that we have popularity, so we can fetch votes,” he says, adjusting the white baseball cap on his head. “But for that, we need her to be around.”

Biswajit’s stature — or perhaps it’s naiveté — prompts him to step into areas seasoned politicians would steer clear of. “I have heard that nobody else other than Dev will do well in this election. But my best wishes are for everyone, even for the candidate from Varanasi,” he says wryly.

Speaking of Varanasi, what does he think of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi?

“I don’t know much about him. But yes, I have heard that he has done a lot for Gujarat,” he replies.

Who, in his opinion, would make a good prime minister? “I am not a political person, how do I know?” he retorts. After being prodded a bit, he opens up. “I would have liked Sardar Patel or Subhas Chandra Bose as a prime minister. But that’s not possible. I don’t think there is anybody in today’s political world who loves the country beyond his or her party.”

But for the present, he is busy planning his campaign. The actor, who sings well, seeks to liven up his meetings with songs from the films that made him famous — including Pukarta chala hoon main and Oh, my love. He also plans to ask some of his cricketer friends — such as Salim Durrani and Kapil Dev — to campaign for him. “They are good friends,” says Chatterjee, who has organised many charity matches.

His son, Prosenjit — a superstar in Bengal — is likely to campaign for him, too. The father and son fell out more than 30 years ago when Chatterjee left his first wife and Prosenjit’s mother, Ratna, to marry Ira. He regrets the fact that he couldn’t keep his family together.

“Bumba (Prosenjit) was around 17 then. He was immature and blamed me for our failed marriage. But he gradually understood that marriages do come apart only when his two marriages failed,” he says.

Now Chatterjee often goes to Calcutta and stays with his son. Like any other father, he advises him. Recently, when there was speculation that the Trinamul Congress was likely to give Prosenjit a ticket, he urged his son not to hang up his boots this soon.

“He is doing amazingly well in cinema. I told him that he should wait for some more years before taking the plunge into politics,” says Chatterjee, who gave his son his first role in 1968 with his home production Chhotto Jigyasha. “Also, he has to be mature enough to counter the unpleasant things that come in politics,” he adds.

Chatterjee is surprisingly fit, though his face looks drawn when he takes off his dark glasses. Yoga and a restricted diet are the secrets of his health, he says. “I eat very simple food,” he says.

Simplicity is a trait that he picked up as a child. Originally from Hooghly’s Uttarpara region, he studied at the Ramkrishna Mission Vidyamandir in Belur. His father, Ranjit Kumar Chatterjee, was a doctor in the Army; so as a child he also travelled to places such as Karachi and Lahore. Later, they moved to Coochbehar where his mother, Smritimoyee, died of brain cancer when he was 13.

He started taking an interest in theatre as a young man, following in the footsteps of a maternal uncle. Soon he had been offered — and had accepted — roles in Bengali films. After his first film, Daak Harkara in 1959, he acted in many other Bengali films, including the national award winning Dada Thakur in 1962.

Bombay beckoned when Guru Dutt offered him a role in Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam. Chatterjee couldn’t take that up because it meant signing a contract for five years, for which he wasn’t ready. But right then singer Hemant Kumar offered him a role in his production, Bees Saal Baad. Then, of course, there was no looking back. He acted in a series of films including Mere Sanaam, Kohra and Kismet. His last Hindi film was Inth Ka Jawaab Pathhar, which released in 2002.

He runs two production houses now — Biswajit Creations and Prima Films. In 2012, he produced Adorini, where Prosenjit acted with his half-sister Prima. He is now going to feature in a new Bengali film, Sandhya Naamar Aage. But the shooting has been suspended till the elections.

After all, a nail-biting production is opening soon in a theatre near you.



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