Interview: Mirzapur shines light on this actor's dark side
The veteran actor talks about how he endeavours to explore the darker side of negative characters.
Very few people may know Bollywood actor Dibyendu Bhattacharya by his name. But he has a face that’s very familiar considering he has adorned the big screen and stage for over three decades. The Kolkata-born actor has roots in the renowned Bengali theatre and moved to the big screen only after he felt the need to further explore the profession. Graduating from the National School of Drama (NSD) in 1997, he joined the National Repertoire Company as a senior actor, and made his move to the silver screen three years later, when he got a call from Mira Nair. She had seen his performance and wanted him to work in her runaway hit ‘Monsoon Wedding’.
The versatile actor, who was in Dubai earlier to shoot for the OTT series '7th Sense', told Khaleej Times that even though he has an ordinary face, he is the choice of directors to play a variety of roles.
“I have a personality that sinks easily into any character. Directors find my face a perfect fit for several characters in their stories, which is good for me as it keeps me busy with work,” said Dibyendu, who has acted in movies like Mangal Pandey, Ab Tak Chappan, Black Friday and Goal.
A much sought-after actor for television and OTT serials, his role as the criminal Layak Talukder brought him critical acclaim in the web series Criminal Justice. He won the Best Actor in a Negative Role award at Screen Awards last year for the role in the series. When asked if he’s afraid of being typecast, considering the large number of dark characters he has played on screen, Dibyendu said: “I refuse to be typecast. An actor has to be flexible. You can’t keep on portraying a good image on the screen all the time. There are flaws in every human which we, as actors, have to explore. In fact, in some movies, the villain is the most powerful character in the film. For example, in Black Friday, besides KK, who plays a cop, everyone else played a negative character and the movie went on to be a hit. I too played a negative role in the film.
“But I must tell you that whatever assignments I’ve undertaken, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working in them. Playing dark roles allowed me to experiment with different shades in those characters,” added the actor, who, for a change, played a doctor in Mirzapur 2.
“Working in Mirzapur 2 was a fabulous experience because of the stellar cast. I’ve known Gurmeet Singh (Mirzapur director) for years and we’re good friends. I had broken my hand and was reluctant to work in the series, but on Gurmeet’s insistence, I took up the offer. In Mirzapur 2, I played a doctor, which was not the usual type of roles that I do, but people appreciated my part in the series,” said Dibyendu.
For many, one of the factors that made Mirzapur a success is that it is steeped in gore and violence, but Dibyendu begs to differ. “No, there are so many other elements in the series. Violence is a common thing these days and you see it happening all around you, albeit in different forms. Even getting angry at your kids and hitting them is a form of violence, isn’t it? Or for that matter, having a heated argument on the street with a stranger. So, we’re used to seeing violence in our daily lives. However, coming back to Mirzapur, I feel, it’s the intricacies in the plot more than the violence that’s is responsible for the success of the series.”
Dibyendu can take the most insignificant role and turn it into something noteworthy. That’s because he believes that every character, be it the smallest, deserves to be explored. “And once you do that, you add depth to it and make it stand out in any scene. As an actor, I cannot be judgemental. I have to do justice to every role, even if it’s an insignificant one.”
The actor has had a long journey in the profession and doesn’t get rattled easily by the ups and downs of showbiz. According to him, it’s the Kolkata theatre scene and the experience of working with the National Repertoire Company that turned him into a solid actor.
“I started my career on the Kolkata stage in the late 80s, when the theatre scene was fizzling out in the city. But theatre was a passion, so I was thoroughly involved in it, even though its popularity was waning. Back then, we had little money so we had to do everything ourselves. I used to do scriptwriting, acting, singing, doing the props etc. I hardly attended lectures at college as I was spending my time chasing theatre. My professors had given up on me, but my parents never got to know about it as I used to live with my grandparents and was pampered. We used to finance our stage productions and do everything ourselves, including printing bills for the show and going door to door to sell tickets. Later, in 1993, I won the IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) best actor award. That, and some other things, motivated me to think seriously about the profession. That’s when I decided to make my move to the National School of Drama in Delhi,” said the actor.
But getting admission in the NSD was not as simple as Dibyendu thought it would be. It was a post-graduate course, so, he had to go back to studies and complete his graduation before thinking of joining the famed theatre school. Explaining his move to Delhi, the actor said: “I was once watching a play by Habib (legendary Urdu playwright and director Habib Tanvir), it changed my perspective about acting totally. I no longer wanted to do just Bengali theatre, I wanted to be part of the larger acting world. That’s when I decided to join the NSD. I learnt a lot of things there. It was not only acting, we had to do literature, psychology and other subjects that focus on turning you into a complete actor. Studying there opened my mind to several aspects of the profession.
“Nawazuddin Siddiqui was my senior in the NSD, so were Atul and Geetanjali Kulkarni. We were studying under luminaries like Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapoor and other legendary teachers. However, the NSD was not my goal, it was just my educational path. I wanted to study more about the craft to be able to flourish,” he explained.
It’s common for actors graduating from the NSD to move to Mumbai to seek opportunities in Bollywood. But Dibyendu stayed back and joined the Repertoire Company. “It’s a famous theatre company where you are paid a regular salary for doing theatre every day. I did that for six years, and the experience stood me in good stead when I joined Bollywood. Vijay Raaz, Mukesh Tiwari and many other famous Bollywood actors are products of Repertoire Company,” he added.
The distinction between art and commercial cinema is often a hot topic of debate and discussion. According to Dibyendu, while commercial movies are box-office hits, art or parallel cinema has a demand that transcends time. “I agree commercial cinema is making money, but so are movies by directors like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and others. Call it art, alternative or parallel, the fact is these movies are still being screened around the world and earning royalty. However, with OTT making a huge impact with its strong content, the line between art and commercial is blurred. OTT has that value. The content is powerful and there’s no censorship, which is a good thing because you can’t censor art. You can specify the age group your content is addressing, but you can’t gag freedom of speech,” he pointed out.
However, theatre being his first love, the actor is not fully sold out on the virtual world. “How can you do theatre virtually, it’s a live art format — you can’t recreate the finer details from a live performance digitally. Cinema can be archived, theatre can’t, it has to be live.”
Dibyendu belongs to a category of artists who strongly believe in realistic cinema, and he feels that it’s time filmmakers do away with the outrageous portrayal of life. “I hope realism comes to the cinema in the future. Art is a reflection of life and that’s how it should be portrayed. Some of the stuff we show in our cinema is absurd and unbelievable. For instance, imagine a scene where a hero lands in a helicopter and sprints towards his mother to touch her feet. You tell me, in which society will you see such things? It’s time we change. The new generation is more aware of the world and I think they will endeavour to bring reality into cinema. But it is our responsibility to instil the right values in them and make movies for them which provide them with meaningful and thought-provoking content."
“Look at how we are presenting life in our movies today, do you think it’s right? What lessons are we teaching them… that abusing, criticising each other or creating controversies is the norm? If we continue to feed them with such content, what will they carry forward? We have to stop doing it now otherwise it’ll have a terrible impact on their young minds and thinking,” he said.
Though Dibyendu prefers to keep out of controversies, a while back he was dragged into a major misunderstanding over a statement he made about a top Bollywood star. “I had referred to Aamir Khan being the cheapest India's actor. What I meant was, if you hired Aamir for your movie, then it was a given that the film would be a hit and make money. So, when you see the whole picture and take the revenues and cost into account, then a hero like Aamir comes cheaper than hiring a lesser-known actor who won’t be able to sell the movie and also demand a high fee. He will surely be a liability for the filmmaker because the production will suffer losses. That’s what I had meant. But the statement was misinterpreted by the media and it created a misunderstanding,” he said.
Bollywood has been going through a rough patch due to issues like nepotism, favouritism and drugs. Explosive debates involving stars, media and common people have been taking place on social media with the reputation of people getting tarnished in public view. “Why only Bollywood, the whole world is going through a rough phase right now. We have to be more understanding and deal with issues in a more dignified manner. Tolerance, it seems, has gone for a toss. People are lacking in patience. That could be the reason these issues are getting out of hand,” he concluded.