#KLF19: An Exclusive Interview with Barun Chanda

Barun Chanda at Kolkata Literature Festival


Q: Sir, talking about your field of expertise that is advertising, and your experience through the years of Seemabadhha till the date, how has Indian Cinema and Bengali Cinema evolved through advertisement? Was advertisement as important as today?
Chanda: The need for advertisement was always there. But the quality and nature of advertising now is quite different, than what it used to be.

Q: Therefore, do you like what is going on in the advertisement sector then?

Chanda: Earlier on I think that we gave a great deal of importance to creativity. But these days creativity is reduced to celebrities in advertising. When you don’t have any hook to hang your product, you call Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan or some “Khan”. To my mind that is not high creativity. Celebrity advertising is part of advertising, certainly, but if it does not fill up the main blank, I think it’s not having the main plan of symphony to hold your product. Amitabh Bachchan advertises for hair oils and he does not have hair himself, wears a wig; maybe oils his wig. I’m being nasty I know , but I don’t have hair either ; I’m bald all over, have patch wig and don’t pull it hard otherwise it might come out. Otherwise how can you advertise for hair oils? I mean next thing he’s going to advertise for tampons which he does not use. But some stretch of imagination, the person must be relevant to the product. Amitabh Bachchan does not have chocolates, but he happily advertises for them; at least did for two three years non-stop. But luckily he has got a great Tele- Frame, so people watch him. So it has good viewership; you can say that. But product relevance to the person? Hardly any. That way I think that creativity is making through a narrow funnel. But around some time after, the same chocolate company used to make these lovely commercials, showcasing these innocent and sensuous love- stories, then there were these father situations; that keenness, the innocence the loveliness was there. So, you watch it with interest and it was to the point that the target audience were the youngsters, who go for chocolates. Supposing I was younger and I was courting you, the first thing I would do is gift you something and would bring out a Cadbury, C’mon have a bite and then pass the bar so that I could have a bite too. We would have broken the ice and would have continued. So, that is a real life situation. Amitabh Bachchan does not have chocolates! He has curd, everybody knows that.

Q: However this is also true that these simply commercialised advertisements are also made with a lot at stake and there’s definitely an audience for this too for the matter. What would you say to that?

Chanda: Is money being properly utilised? I’m not very sure. But earlier, you know the target-audience focused advertising was better than having Amitabh Bachchan advertising. It’s like you know, “Kuchh nahi hai, unko bula letey hai! Kitna lengey? Do crore? Teen crore? Paanch crore? Thik hai, we have a big budget yaar”. We’ll run it for one year, two years. So this is the reality. I don’t think it is quite acceptable. I mean if you were to ask me, as somebody who has been to advertising, I would say that that is very low quality of advertising. For that we don’t need to have brains. You just need to have a phone, some good contacts and “bulao unko aur ek kahani bana do!”

Q: Sir, coming to your acting career, since you have worked in Seemabadhha, which showed the different ties of bonds in the professional and emotional spheres, how has this same scenario evolved and how does that story stand true today itself?

Chanda: Look, Ray’s films had a message. It’s not an overt message, I mean “dawai dene ke liye nahi!”; if you see the message, it’s fine. Seemabadhha was a corporate story, etc. etc., but there is a question of morality, of ethics; about how can you bend rules, can you bend ethical morals? You may not get caught, but is that okay? So those questions, I’ll tell you is the kind of reality there is all around you, nobody bats an eye around. “Oh it’s nothing, let’s cook up something, and close down temporarily!” “We’ll get back!” “Don’t cry like a nanny or a sissy!” “Was just saying; whats wrong with you?” I mean that moral question, hardly exists today! It’s everyday a reality. If you’re talking about filmmakers, there are good filmmakers who are nice story-tellers. But again if you had Tapan Sinha or Mrinal da or Manik da, or Ritwik Ghatak, their films were not just films. They put a point across. A point for your mind to think about. The stories that are selected or you see around, do they have that kind of content? Take Ek Je Chilo Raja; it’s been reasonably successful, but at least give it some sort of relevance today! I mean, well-acted, well photographed, well edited, blah blah blah! So, it’s pleasant watching, but do they have cerebral matter? No, that is a crude question! I mean, I would say perhaps Kaushik Ganguly has something. But again, it is not like the earlier stalwarts.

Q: Sir, since our session about Gupi Gyne Bagha Byne, if given a chance, which character from the film would you like to play?
Chanda: I think that if you are sensible and smart, you would say I’ll decline; they’re too good for me. It would be stupid to try and do that role. I’ll tell you. It’s like if you listen to music, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan- “Kya karu sajani”, aaj subha subha suna. Then I heard Ajay Chakraborty and Rashid Khan’s version of the same. And then all of us came to a simple conclusion-“agar iota of dimaag haikoshish mat kiya karo, buddhu banoge!” That is what we think of; what these two people have done, it’s too big to say that I would like to do something like this! Rabi Ghosh is definitely out of the way and talking about Tapen Chatterjee, he had this childlike innocence! I mean why? Why would someone gather up all their gut to even try this! Again, each and everyone is so appropriate because the casting was perfect. I have my ego but I also have a little bit of grey matter left even now. And I would decline. If someone says that we’re remaking the movie, then one will have to see, how far out it is. Maybe we will do some kind of poems which is far out then I might think of it. But, as it is, Gupi Gyne Bagha Byne with Manik da’s kind of script, you want to do a remake, please go ahead with somebody else.

Q: If Satyajit Ray was granting three wishes to you, what would you ask for?

Chanda: (sighs) First I would have probably wanted to have acted in another film; not too many, one more perhaps would have brought me great joy because working with him is a very happy period. He treated me with great affection, I almost became part of the family, Sandip (Ray) used to treat me as an elder brother and I used to dine with them and I guess this is why I was stupid enough to not have preserved his writings. He wrote letters to me and I never bothered to preserve them, if you’re living beside the Ganga, why would you store the holy water?

Q: Sir, you have mentioned in an interview of yours that Mr. Ray was a fun loving person even though he had an air of solemnity around him. What was the experience like?

Chanda: What I found out was that, by and large, he was a loner. Most intellectual people are loners. In western countries they have other established writers, but from the field they find a friend somewhere so they make good friends. Here, Ray was virtually alone. There was Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, they were all very good. But they had their own territories and bases and they were glad with each other. I’m sure if Ray met Tapan Sinha, he would have shared his thoughts with him. But beyond that, sharing the experiences or problems was unlikely an event. He didn’t have anyone. Having said that, if you were intelligent enough, he would open up to you. And I know, and I’m proud to say that I had access to him. Have spent more time with him, I’m spending more time with his son. I should have realised it then that, “Man, you are with this man! Use that time, ask him questions. Ask him about his relationship with other famous directors like Kurosawa (Akira Kurosawa), then the French directors. Even during the making of Seemabadhha, we had discussed set plans. I do not think that any of Ray’s actor has discussed story lights with him. And that was the time you realised that he’s got something. And then I asked him a whole lot of questions in the first interview which is why he had asked me one day, “What do you do on Sundays? Why don’t you drop in once in a while?” The interview opened doors for me after a few questions which had surprised him. I sort of feel very sorry that I hadn’t spent enough time with him so that I could have found out more about him. But there were areas where you did not ask him questions from his own films because he was not distant enough from his own films.


Interviewed by Astha Pramanik


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