Paresh Rawal’s ode to “intelligent, articulate” Bengali men will see him tackle a Satyajit Ray story for the big screen
Paresh Rawal. Pic/AFP
In his career spanning 40 years, Paresh Rawal has recruited his fine acting chops to breathe life into a variety of Gujarati characters, a job that he could pull off with flair owing to his Gujarati descent. But, the actor admits that having introduced as much variation into his portrayals as he could, he is no longer drawn to similar roles. “How many modifications can you introduce?” he questions when making a case for himself when asked what prompted his decision to play a Bengali man in Ananth Mahadevan’s The Storyteller.
“While I have done Badal Sarkar’s Bengali play, Pagla Ghoda a while ago, and have played Bengali characters, I have never done so for a movie. I have admired stalwarts of Bengali theatre, like Kumar Roy, Shambhu Mitra, Arun Mukhopadhyay, and Soumitra Chatterjee. So, when given the chance to play a Bengali character, I saw no reason to turn it down.”
Based on Satyajit Ray's short story, Golpo Bolo Tarini Khuro, the film sees Rawal’s character narrate stories to a rich Gujarati businessman. Bengali men, he says, have “intelligence in their eyes, stillness in their demeanour, and speak properly”. “I put in the work to portray that. I had to learn the language too. Bengali cinema has a particular rhythm; it is slow, digs deep into characters, and takes time to develop. I had to infuse warmth into the character, and make him relatable for viewers,” he says, lamenting the fact that Ray did not create a cinematic adaptation of the story. “I never had the opportunity to work with him, even though I was keen to. I have a special connect with Bengalis. One’s education in cinema is incomplete as a theatre artiste, if he hasn’t watched Bengali films or plays.”
Offered a glimpse of his admiration for the culture and the people, we ask him what prompted his controversial comments during a political campaign in Gujarat, last month. Rawal had inadvertently upset people following the culture while addressing the subject of illegal settlement in India. He apologised soon after, and tells us that his was a harmless “generalisation”. “It was a slip of the tongue, and what I said was misconstrued. I genuinely didn’t mean any harm to anybody. It hurts me to know that Bengali people whose art, cinema and literature I look up to, misunderstood me.”