“No, no, I don’t make films keeping only the NRIs in mind. My films are for everybody,” Anjan Dutt sounds little annoyed. He was talking about his latest film The Bong Connection. It was a cloudy afternoon in Calcutta and we were chatting over phone.
Recently, The Namesake attracted hundreds to the theatres across North America and the UK for obvious reasons. That film dealt with the lives of non-resident Indian family, precisely a Bengalee family in the US. Dutt thinks it is not a trend to specifically woo the non-resident audience. “We must also include them. They understand our language. Their roots are here. So, why as a filmmaker I will ignore them?” Dutt asks.
Dutt, who earned his Masters degree in English literature from Calcutta University, goes back to his early years. Once known as the ‘Angry young man’ of the ‘New wave’ Bengali cinema, Dutt has proved his mettle on stage, screen and with his songs. “I cannot claim to be part of a particular profession. Kolkata allowed me to work as I wished. I enjoyed my time with the theatre. The group Nandikar influenced me. Around 1979 I got involved in theatre. I was part of the group Open Theatre. It was a great experience to work with Badal Sarkar.”
Films happened suddenly. “My first film as an actor was Chalchitra, directed by Mrinal Sen. I got the ‘Best Actor Award’ for this film at the Venice Fim Festival. But sadly, the film was not commercially released.” Truly, many people are not aware of the film in which Dutt gave his “best”. Over the years he had acted in several films. Noted among them are Kharij, La Nuit Bengali, Ek Din Achanak, Antareen, Yugant along with Mr and Mrs Iyer. “I love films. For a long time I was only dedicated to films. But perhaps young people like you know me because of my music,” Dutt sounds little curious.
As we veer towards the latest Bengali cinema, he makes it clear that the commercial movies do not attract him. “I cannot act in such films. I have always looked for sensible films. If I could have compromised then I would have been part of the Tollywood,” Dutt says. “The commercial Bengali films are for limited people. The so-called art films have become boring, slow and intellectual,” he elaborates. “These parallel films have lost the energy of the ‘70s and the ‘80s. Things moved a lot in Bengali music but not so much in Bengali films,” Dutt is blunt.
Perhaps to make up for that lack of energy, Dutt decided to direct films and the list include Bada Din, Rudra Sener Diary (telefilm) and Bow Barracks Forever among others. Referring to Bow Barracks he says, “There’s lot of stereotyping about the Anglo Indian community. Through Bow Barracks I tried to break away from it and show how the community in Kolkata was holding on to their hearth – the Bow Barracks. There are plans to demolish this old housing complex. It’s a real life story,” he explains.
The Anglo Indian community contributed to the cosmopolitan nature of Kolkata and evidently Dutt is influenced by them beyond domain of films. Some of his songs have poignant references of the Anglo Indian life. “Mary Anne is one such song. It’s very sweet,” he says. Then amidst the noise of Kolkata-traffic he pauses for a while, perhaps to think about the song.
He was educated in St Pauls School in Darjeeling and it is no surprise that in many of his songs and films, Darjeeling and the locals there come back time and again. “You see, all my songs are based on experiences. I like all of them,” Dutt says. “I grew up listening to Western folk and country but never thought I would become a professional singer,” he admits. He mentions singer Kobir Suman (known earlier as Suman Chatterjee) and describes how Suman inspired Dutt to perform on stage. “But, after all these years and the popular albums I hesitate to claim myself as a singer,” Dutt admits.
The Bong Connection resurfaces and Dutt refers to the cast of the film. “There are many talented young actors in India and I would always prefer to work with them, like Konkona Sen Sharma or Parombroto Chatterjee,” he says, adding the name of Boman Irani. His preference becomes more substantiated as he rejects the idea of working with stars. “I hate stars,” Dutt is in his elements again.
We then turn our attention to the film directors. “Mira Nair is one of my favourites,” he admits. But he refuses to compare himself with other directors. Then, after some pause, he refers to Satyajit Ray and says, “Manikbabu (Ray) was great. But I am not inclined to follow the usual path. I make films for meaningful audience. Taking my films to the festivals isn’t my priority.”
As we wrap up, Dutt sounds optimistic about The Bong Connection and hopes his future project BBD would do well. And then, as if to remind of his stand, he says, “I make films for everybody, not just the NRIs”.