Dev: "I always wanted Shankar to win, not Dev!”
ike it or not, but even the harshest critic must concede that Dev, the raging star, has filled the vacuum of the action hero in Bengali cinema.
With Chander Pahar, he opens a fresh page in the book of his stardom that is somewhat kinked from his normal oeuvre. But then let us hear it from Dev himself.
What was your first reaction when Kamaleshwar Mukherjee asked you to play Shankar in Chander Pahar?
I was scared because Shankar is deeply rooted within the mindset of the average Bengali’s mindset who have practically grown up reading Chander Pahar. Knowing Shankar through this novel filled with dangerous thrills and scary adventures was exciting as it is. The character brought along the huge responsibility on me to ‘become’ Shankar and make it convincing because readers would not tolerate any detraction from how they read him in the novel. But at the end of seven years in Bengali cinema, playing Shankar has been a wonderful learning experience.
What were the features that made it a not-to-be-missed opportunity for you?
The first is the director Kamaleshwar-da because he placed his faith in me who has been slotted constantly into masala films which have however, brought me where I am today. He chose me on the basis of what he had seen of me in these very films. The second is the physical and emotional challenges I felt doing the film entailed though I had no clue that the challenge would surpass what we had all expected. The third is adventure which pulls me tremendously. In fact, I never miss the change of going off into the seas or the hills or the wilds on short holidays. It has been my forte since I was a boy. The fourth is what every actor dreams of – reaching a wider audience by portraying different kinds of roles.
You say that the challenges went far beyond your wildest imaginations. Please explain.
I have shot abroad many times including Africa. But that was in Cape Town. This is the first time we went right across the African continent, spanning not only forests with every imaginable wild animal, birds, insects, etc but covering the Kalahari desert with huge salt pans and climbing rocky mountains. Every minute was a challenge, sometimes life-threatening. We had to trek at least three hours from the base camp every day. It was very cold in the nights. The 100 people staying in a lodge with 30 rooms together in the middle of nowhere. We had cells but no signals. We had money, but no food and sometimes, the threat of no water too. In my mainstream films, I fight with celluloid villains. Here, I had to fight with wild animals and serpents.
Your scene with the 13-feet-long python has been edited out of the film. Does that make you sad?
Yes! Very sad indeed. Those were the most frightening days of my life, having the python wrapped around my neck for three days! I find slippery animals very repugnant and here I was with a python! But Kamaleshwar-da has promised that he will show some shots in the final credit titles of the film. There were other animals like horses, elephants, rhinoceros, lions, the zebra, the Black Mamba, a serpent and though each animal had two caretakers and trainers plus their owner, it was quite frightening.
You learnt many physical feats too?
Yes. I learnt horse-riding, rock-climbing, using the bow-and-arrow, and walking miles together before a shoot even ro reach a given site. But more than the physical challenge was the emotional challenge to live through 70 days in Africa in two schedules. I think every single member of the Indian crew – 42 to be exact – will remember every single minute of the experience. In fact, one can write an entire book on just the shedules in Africa.
How did Dev become Shankar?
Kamaleshwar-da had told me that he was looking for a well-built and tall man with an innocent face and he felt I fit the description. I have a different look in the film because it related to the period between 1909 and 1910. I wear my hair oiled and combed down. I read the novel several times to internalise the character. While getting into the make-up, I got focussed and was ready to face the camera. I do not know how much of “Shankar” Dev could become but that is the greatest challenge. I am waiting eagerly and anxiously for the audience response. Initially, there would be this constant fight between Dev and Shankar and I always wanted Shankar to win, not Dev.
The next challenge after Chander Pahar?
I am dying to get back into my comfort zone of mainstream films and I have two films on hand right now. One is Aniruddha Roy Choudhury’s Buno Haansh and the other is Rajeev Biswas’s Bindaas.
Picturesby: Dipanjan Ghosh