Ray made me a loner on Seemabaddha's shooting floor: Barun Chanda
Veteran actor Barun Chanda was presumably not Satyajit Ray's first choice to play ambitious Shyamalendu Chatterjee in his 1971 Sharmila Tagore starring Bengali film Seemabaddha (titled Company Limited in English), which captures the vacuousness of an aspiring corporate executive's world. But with corporate background and Ray's direction, Chanda pulled off convincingly. Even after five decades since the film's release, Chanda cherishes the opportunity in an interaction with India Blooms correspondent Souvik Ghosh during the launch of the actor's book Satyajit Ray: The Man Who Knew Too Much at South City Starmark in Kolkata Thursday evening
How did you capture Ray in this book and what are the sides you have touched upon?
The first part of the book captures my experience as an actor working with Ray. I have sort of written it in the form of stories. The second part is an attempt to assess Mr. Ray as a filmmaker. So in that there has been an attempt to assess the man. Umm, it has been on several levels, in the sense, what was he like as a director, an actor's director, a music director, an editor, a script writer.
All these have been taken up chapterwise which I haven't found in anybody else's book. So I thought it would be my contribution. An attempt has also been made to assess how he (Ray) was like a human being. I would like to imagine that I have covered Ray from virtually all sides as a filmmaker and a human being.
How did you get to this title of the book?
It is apropos for filmmaking. When he was doing Shatranj (Shatranj Ke Khiladi), Richard Attenborough came down as an actor and the first thing he noticed was the incredible amount of difference between a western director and Ray. While acting, Attenborough, as he said, realised that Ray was not just the director but had all the basic stuff designed by him. Attenborough had said he could not think of anyone with whom he could compare Ray other than Charlie Chaplin. So in that sense, he was a man who knew too much.
(From L to R) Barun Chanda and Srijit Mukherji at the book launch
You were chosen by Ray to play a corporate employee's role in Seemabaddha. Did your corporate background help you to do justice to the character?
To an extent, yes. Certainly. But the soul of the role was left to me. The role just grew within. In real life, I was different from Shyamalendu (Chatterjee) barring the physical look-alike. Ray shaped me in his own unique way without telling me. When the shooting started, we had a whole lot of people from my agency attending the shoot. Later on, they stopped coming. I don't know if Ray had asked them not to.
Barun Chanda in Seemabaddha
My wife was coming to the shooting floor. Ray told her 'Soumitra's wife doesn't come during shooting'. So it was an indirect hint that she was not welcome to the shoot. Then my wife stopped coming. After that, I was cut off from everyone (on the shooting floor). I became a loner. All I had to do was introspect. I did not have the script because Ray was afraid I would memorise it. So I must have started growing and I became a different man.
You were disconnected from your surroundings on the shooting floor, as you said. So how tough was it to come out from the character?
Not a problem at all. I just happily went back to advertising. I got a whole lot of roles (after Seemabaddha) but none of them satisfied me. I was not interested. For the next 20 years, I didn't act.
(From L to R) Sharmila Tagore and Barun Chanda in Seemabaddha
Is it true that Ray wanted to cast Soumitra Chatterjee for Shyamalendu's character?
Ummmm not really. People were under the impression that he will take Soumitra Chatterjee. That's how I know about it. I got to know this much after the shooting. In passing, Ray's wife confided to me that all were sure that Soumitra Chatterjee was going to do the role and then one evening, he announced the name of a newcomer without any acting background. Later on, as I learnt, Ray told his wife that it was not that 'Soumitra would have done a bad job but that I actually wanted a man from the corporate background for this role'.
Are you fine with a remake of Seemabaddha, if it is done now?
I see no reason why. If one has the original, why have the carbon copies? Doesn't make sense.
Do you think Ray was ahead of his time?
Umm in many ways.
Launch of the book
Aparajito, where you are a part of in a way, has become a big hit. Do you think Ray is the biggest brand of Bengal right now?
Yes, other than Rabindranath Tagore. I think he is the next big man Bengal worships and will continue to worship for some time, to my mind.
(Images of Barun Chanda and book launch by Avishek Mitra/IBNS)