Actor Jisshu Sengupta has attempted a rather daunting task. He is playing the role of Soumitra Chatterjee in a biopic on the veteran Bengali actor. What made it an even more scary experience for Jisshu, is that the 85-year-old icon himself is part of the film. His biopic, called Abhijaan, is being directed by another popular Bengali actor, Parambrata Chatterjee.
“Playing Soumitra Chatterjee in front of him was like a suicidal attempt for me. I was having nightmares,” said Jisshu, who wrapped up shooting for the film some time ago. “We don’t have scenes together, but he is part of the film. And he will also be watching it. Surprisingly, he was the one who called me up and said that he wants me to play the part. I was shocked.”
Soumitra Chatterjee is one of the biggest stars in Bengali cinema, famous for his collaboration with Satyajit Ray in Apu Trilogy, the Feluda series and several other films. He has remained one of the busiest actors in the industry in the past 60 years, having worked in over 200 films. It is understandable why Jisshu would feel nervous trying to step into his shoes onscreen.
“I don’t know what I am doing in the film. After every shot I used to look at Parambrata for approval. ‘Is it okay? Are you sure?’ I kept asking,” he said.
Portraying a stalwart like Soumitra to onscreen is an onerous task, but Jisshu has proved his mettle more than once. After an initial success on television and setback in films, Jisshu’s association with another iconic name in Bengali cinema gave a new lease of life to his career. Working in Rituparno Ghosh’s films brought him critical success, which was followed by more work offers, not just in Bengali but in Hindi films as well.
His foray into Hindi films was also with a legendary director, Shyam Benegal, in his film Bose: The Forgotten Hero. His projects outside of Bengali film industry include a cameo appearance in Anurag Basu's directorial Barfi!, a supporting character in Rani Mukerji starrer Mardaani, Deepika Padukone’s colleague in Piku, the role of the king of Jhansi Gangadhar Rao in Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika and most recently the Shakuntala Devi biopic and Sadak 2.
“I have mostly worked with Bengali directors in Hindi films, as they are familiar with my work. My work in Manikarnika led to me landing more films in Telugu, since the director was from that industry. One of the directors of Manikarnika was Krish, he offered me an important role in the NTR biopic. That led to a couple more films in Telugu,” he said.
It was reported that he would also be starring in Thalaivi, the biopic on Jayalalithaa, but Jisshu denied being part of the cast. “I don’t know where this news came from, I never said I am a part of that film.”
Despite his increasing engagements outside of Bengal, the actor wants to keep working in his native language. “There are people in Bengal who say, ‘Oh, you won’t get Jisshu’s dates, he is not here, ab yeh Bombay ka ho gaya hai. I think they are the people who do not want to cast me. I want to tell them I am here, please approach me, if I like the script, I will surely do it. In the last couple of years I have done more work in Mumbai than in Kolkata, but I never said I will shift there and only do Hindi films,” he said.