Actor Dhritiman Chaterji, known to the Hindi movie-going audience for his turns in films like Pink, Kahaani, Guru and Black among others, has better claims at fame as an actor having worked with stalwarts like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen, Deepa Mehta and Jane Campion. His superlative performances in Pratidwandi, Agantuk, 36 Chowringhee Lane, Ganashatru, 15 Park Avenue, Midnight’s Children are masterclass in measured acting.
The Cinema Journal caught up with the ace actor on the sidelines of the 51st International Film Festival of India in Goa where Chaterji inaugurated the Satyajit Ray Retrospective to mark the doyen’s centenary celebrations. Excerpts:
Why is it important to have a film festival in the middle of a pandemic?
The role of a film festival has also changed over the years. It is a platform for ideas to be discussed, opinions to be exchanged and like-minded people to have conversations with, rather than just watching films. At the Ray retrospective, everyone was enthusiastic and looking forward to watch a film in the theatre. There could be various reasons for going ahead with film festivals. One, to keep the tradition going. It is a sentiment I fully understand and support. Second, innumerable livelihoods are aided by film festivals for example stall owners, decorators, pamphlet makers and the hospitality industry. Also, being able to sustain that festive air, even in a low key manner makes people happy, gives a sense of optimism, a feeling that things are going to get better. Filmmakers too look forward to their films being screened, discussed and talked about.
What kind of response did Satyajit Ray centenary celebrations see at IFFI Goa?
Five or six of Satyajit Ray’s films from different periods have been shown as a retrospective, starting with Pather Panchali. I inaugurated the Ray retrospective just before Pather Panchali was about to be screened. To my surprise, the screening was very well attended. Given all the Covid restrictions, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people coming down to watch a Ray film. However, I wouldn’t be able to tell you about the other films, since I was not present.
Is there enough awareness among Indians of Ray’s body of work, especially outside Bengal?
I don’t agree with you when you say that outside the Bengali-speaking audience there is little awareness about Ray’s work. However, I don’t know the situation about the general audience. But for film lovers and those who are interested in the history of cinema in this country, there is a great deal of interest in Ray’s cinema. Particularly now with more people having access to the internet, his work is also sought after on online platforms. In fact it is becoming even more so. I have to say that awareness about Ray is not restricted just to Kolkata alone.
Does the atmosphere of killing all political dissent, especially in creative mediums bother you?
I do agree that the environment in the country now is rather restrictive, which makes me a little uncomfortable. There is more of a feel of censorship than should be and a sort of authoritarian sentiment is in the air!
Are political narratives slowly being made to fade away from Indian films?
Political films are still being made, though my take on that is a little different. There was a time when we were much younger when cinema, apart from print, was the only popular medium to say what you wanted. So, there was political cinema in Maharashtra, Kerala and Bengal in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. But with the advent of television and internet the platforms are varied and they spread the message much faster and wider. So, the political content of that era you now see in social media, OTT platforms. There are lots of examples of non-fiction shows that are being made on social, political and environmental issues, which they might not be showing in auditoriums.
Have OTT platforms helped the cause of cinema?
One can never define what is cinema, what films are! These things keep evolving. It isn’t as if technological change has started with the internet, it has always happened over the years. One of the things OTT has done is it has made multinational and multicultural content available to all. For example I would have found it very difficult to catch hold of a film from Uzbekistan if I wanted to see one 20 years back.
One downside is that the film aesthetics are also changing… things like what is a good frame, high resolution images, etc. These days most of the viewing is meant for small screens and that changes the visual perception, whole way of creating frames and also visual aesthetics! Consciously or unconsciously, what is a good image gets redefined with OTT. You will notice that in recent films, even if they are in English they still have subtitles in English. That is because it is assumed that in the small screen the audio may not be very clear and needs to be supplemented with subtitles. Also, the subtitles will divert your attention from the images. That is also an example of how viewing patterns have changed!