This weekend, Samrat Chakrabarti is one of the special guests at the inaugural Washington D.C. South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF 2012), sponsored by Ceasar Productions, which runs from Friday, June 1st, through Sunday, June 3rd, 2012 at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, Maryland. The Festival brings together a wide variety of films from across South Asia and and includes films in Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Bengali, and Telegu.
Shyam Benegal (Director of Well Done Abba!, Zubeidaa, Kalyug), Ketan Mehta (Director of Mangal Pandey, Mirch Masala, Maya), Deepti Naval (Memories in March, Firaaq, Shakti), Rajit Kapur (Guzaarish, Well Done Abba!, Zubeidaa), and Raima Sen (Memories in March, The Japanese Wife, Teen Patti) are scheduled to attend.
The festival kicks off Friday night with an exclusive opening night red carpet gala featuring Shyam Benegal’s classic film Mammo, and continues throughout the weekend closing with Deepti Naval’s directorial debut Do Paise ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane ki Baarish. Highlights of the weekend include a Shyam Bengal retrospective, acting and filmmaking workshops, short films directed by local artists, and the Washington DC premieres of a number of exciting new films. The campus is located just a short shuttle ride from the Shady Grove Metro Station and 40 minutes outside of downtown Washington. For more information check out the website.Included on Elle Magazine India’s Hot 100 to Watch List alongside Freida Pinto, Ajay Naidu and others, Samrat Chakrabarti has had the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor a lot lately.
In April, the award winning actor/composer attended IFFLA in Los Angeles, for the debut of Ravi Kapoor’s (“Crossing Jordan”) The Five, featuring Chakrabarti, Nicholas Brown, Parvesh Cheena, Anil Kumar, Sunil Malhotra, Vik Sahay, Aly Mawji, David Paul Francis, Meera Simhan, and Natch Narasimhan; and for a special tribute screening of Loins of Punjab of Presents, by the late Manish Acharya. (www.indianfilmfestival.org).
In May, Chakrabarti was seen in the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) screenings of Bornila Chatterjee’s Let’s Be Out, the Sun is Shining, which featured a “breakout performance” by Lipica Shah and received the 2012 NYIFF Feature Film Audience Award; and Gangor, an Indo-Italian project, based on the short story ‘Choli Ke Peeche’ by Magsaysay Award and Padma Vibushan Award winning writer Mahasweta Devi. Gangor has garnered numerous awards, including the Lino Brocka Grand Prize at the 13th Cinemanila International Film Festival, and the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Film at the 11th New Jersey Independent South Asian Cine Fest.
Bakwas Bumbug on view at the Library of Congress
Samrat Chakrabarti is best known for his film roles in The Waiting City (as Krishna), Kissing Cousins (as Amir) and The Wedding Weekend (as Will). On TV he has guest starred on “30 Rock” (as Ramesh), “In Treatment” (as Arun Sanyal) opposite Irrfan Khan (HBO), “Damages” (as Manu Singh), “Outsourced” (HBO), “The Horrible Terrible Misadventures of David Atkins,” “Bored to Death,” and “A Gifted Man,” (CBS) with Patrick Wilson.
Chakrabarti was dubbed the “independent film king of New York” by AVS TV, when three short films he starred in – Rehana Mirza’s Zameer & Preeti: A Love Story, Shiva Shankar Bajpai’s Raju and Soham Mehta’s Fatakra – screened at the New York Indian Film Festival in May 2011. He also composed the score for Fatakra, which has garnered accolades at Film Festivals across the country including a Student Academy Award, the Linda Mabalot New Directors/New Visions award from the 2011 LOS ANGELES ASIAN PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL and the Audience Award for Best Short at the 2011 Sarasota Film Festival.
During our phone chat on the eve of his departure for Washington D.C., Chakrabarti shared his experiences of working on Gangor, Ashes, Hotel New York and Let’s Be Out, the Sun is Shining. Below are edited excerpts of our interview.
“I’ve been fortunate with the body of my work to do a lot of things, from The Waiting City to Ashes, Gangor to Midnight’s Children,” said Chakrabarti. “I look absolutely different in that and have a totally crazy role. To play different characters is like an addiction, to try to figure things out. To live in other people’s shoes. I continuously want to expand and play challenging roles.”Italo Spinelli’s Gangor unravels with migrant labourer Gangor’s statuesque breasts that excite the attention of ace photographer Upin Puri, and become the objects of obsession and oppression triggering off a train of violence that ends in tragedy. Upin, a photo journalist, is sent to Purulia to cover a story on the exploitation of tribals. There he comes across a woman called ‘Gangor’, who he thinks is the epitome of ancient Indian beauty. He is fascinated with Gangor’s breasts and clicks pictures of her while she is feeding her child. The picture then appears in the newspaper in an article written by Upin. What happens in their respective lives after this article forms the crux of Gangor.
“Gangor is a hard hitting, political statement about media that can have both positive and negative repercussions. Specifically in this context of a very gritty, tribal society, which, we as people from the city, we’re actually going there, one photograph that becomes controversial of a woman breastfeeding her child, comes back to the city of Calcutta, sells a lot of papers and makes our newspaper pretty famous and do really well. However, what happens to that woman who was exposed, back in her tribal society. She’s looked upon as selling out,and is kicked out of her society in a very tragic way. It’s a very gritty film about India, today’s India, class, class systems, how the upper class take the lower class for granted. How we need to be aware. We might think that we are helping, it can actually affect other places and lives in a hyper sensitive way.”
The story is told from the point of view of Ujan, photojournalist Upin’s assistant, played by Chakrabarti.
“There are two parallel stories going on, told in a very interesting way. I was there with Upin, the photographer, when he first went to take this picture, then he disappears. I am now trying to find him. The search is going on, and as I’m relating the story to his wife, it flashes back to when I went with him the first time. It’s a really cool and dynamic character because I get to play him first, as the innocent assistant when it first happened. Afterwards, when he is narrating because he was there the whole time, he’s had a coming of age moment. He has since changed. The older photographer teaches him that this is where the real life happens. Sometimes tribal India is more civilized than the world we live in. I am the guy who is learning all of that, interacting with these tribal people. In my character’s mind, uncivilized people, through this experience, I come to the realization that it is not about judgement, like I am better than them. I am actually understanding that they’re human. My character definitely goes through that kind of journey from looking down upon it, to learning from it and being humbled by it.”
Returning to his Bengali Roots
“I go back to my Bengali roots and continue to learn more about that. After The Waiting City, it’s like another gift. Even Purulia, where we shot, my parents have never been there. We shot there for 7 weeks, on location. It’s a different world, India is a different world, Calcutta is a different world. Purulia is like the smallest village you could ever think of. It’s very earthy.”
Working with Mahasweta Devi
“In her 80’s, Mahasweta Devi is an award winning author, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2009, and is a legendary activist to the core. She is someone who has really brought about social change, especially for tribal society, and tribal women and their needs, facing many injustices. She’s really changed a lot and continues to fight the fight. It’s pretty amazing to meet her and work on a film with her. When you are working with the writer, you can talk about the character you are playing, and secondly, we had our premiere in Rome, where there was a standing ovation for 8 minutes to more than 2000 people. It was incredible, sitting next to her, standing next to her, holding her hand. She was being interviewed, she’s a force. She’s talking about it in English, let’s continue this conversation about what being civilized means. It’s very important.”
Ashes is unlike any film coming out of the South Asian Diaspora
“Ashes is a film that is like no other. It is a very unique film, told in a very unique way because of the way we shot it and the way Karsh Kale and Midival Punditz used a really digital gritty fusion sound. It’s a very personal story and a landmark film, with the aesthetics that Ajay Naidu has, you don’t see films like that coming out of the South Asian diaspora showcasing the underbelly, sex drugs and rock and roll on that level. Indian and Indian Americans are portrayed in most television or film as doctors, engineers, terrorists, hot dog vendors, taxi drivers and this film is nothing close to that. Ashes is the exact opposite of that, which is really powerful. The very urban cast-South Asians, Latinos, African Americans-is a great representative of New York. It’s about two brothers, and the older brother is mentally ill. The younger brother played by Ajay has to pay for the medical bills because they don’t have any medical insurance. He gets tied into a greedy gangster world of selling drugs to make money and gets seduced. At first, it’s just to make money, but when offers come to be a bigger player in the world, he signs on, facing repercussions when he finds he is way over his head.”
In Ajay Naidu’s Ashes, Chakrabarti plays Rishi, a reptilian-like gangster with punked-out hair and a gold tooth, who does all of the dirty work.
“Playing the character was great. In Gangor, I play an innocent photographer’s assistant who grows into his own shoes. In Ashes, I play the complete opposite, a shifty, dangerous firecracker. You just don’t know which side Rishi is on. This is one of the more dark and psychotic characters I’ve played. He was a wonderful character to play because you don’t really know what he’s thinking or what he’s going to do next, and if he’s on your side or not. At the end of the day, Rishi becomes a huge part of the plot of the title character’s arc.”
HOTEL NEW YORK 2012
“I enjoyed working with Shome Banerjee, the director of Hotel New York 2012. We’re talking about working on a feature, a film in India. We really connected well. He found me at a festival, we had a meeting, he told me about the script, a window worked out and I liked it. He is someone I believe has a lot of promise. I liked the duality. There is a reality and fantastical element of it as well. You see this guy dealing with his demons. There are two parallel stories going on at the same time about a flawed guy, who has cheated on his wife and is experiencing metaphorically a place of purgatory. We see him in real time, how he’s dealing with it, and then we see a dreamscape of what’s going on in his head in his purgatory place. Sometimes New York can feel that way, a place of purgatory, it can be hell. Things can work out or things could go drastically spiraling down and tragic. A glimpse of this one guy’s one night who is in a moral dilemma and who is trying to make things right. Hotel New York has a very stylized look, the photography is beautiful and cinematic. In the dreamscape there are clowns, Cancan dancers, firebreathers. Crazy surreal stuff in it, to show that purgatory can really bring out some surreal images.”
A special shoutout to Let’s Be Out, the Sun is Shining
Chakrabarti’s other film credits include Shilpa Sunthankar’s Seeta’s Demon, Joseph Mathew’s Bombay Summer, Kabir Khan’s New York, Shailja Gupta’s Walkaway, Bruce Leddy’s Sing Now, Sai Selvarajan’s Joy Lies, and Manish Acharya’s Loins of Punjab of Presents alongside Shabana Azmi. He has also had roles in Spike Lee’s She Hate Me, Leonardo Ricagni’s Indocumentados, Jonathan Betzler’s Homecoming, Manan Katahora’s Arya, Ajay Naidu’s Ashes and Joseph Castelo’s The War Within which was nominated for an Indie Spirit Award. In addition, he has appeared in Gareeb Nawaz’s Taxi, Robert Harte’s Finding Graceland, Anjaan Dutt’s The Bong Connection with Victor Banerjee, Sarba Das’s Karma Calling, Randall Krongard’s Override, Manan Katahora’s Arya and When Kiran Met Karen, Joseph Matthews’ Days of Love and Loss with Tanishtha Chatterjee, Raj Basu’s Piyalir Password and and Suman Ghosh’s Dwando. Dogs Lie, Richard Atkinson’s latest indie feature starring Chakrabarti, Frank Boyd and Ewa Da Cruz, scored two awards, for “Best Film” (USA) and the “Feature Film Audience Award,” at the 2011 ITN Distribution Film and New Media Festival in New York. Photos: Richard Atkinson’s DOGS LIE, Starring Samrat Chakrabarti, Frank Boyd and Ewa Da Cruz
Chakrabarti is the recipient of a U.S. CARA for Best Original Pop/Rock Song for his composition “What’s It all About” and the 2010 TMG Award for Global Achievers in the category of Film, TV and Drama, for his outstanding body of work as an actor.
Sneak Peek of Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam in Singapore on June 8
“South India has its own humongous film industry and Kamal Haasan is one of the most prolific and respected actors out of India,” said Chakrabarti. “To be in one of his masterpiece films, that he wrote, directs and stars in, is like a dream. I’m really proud to be part of the cast.”
If you are in Singapore on June 8, you can see Chakrabarti in excerpts of and the first look of Vishwaroopam, directed and co-produced by Kamal Haasan, and featuring Haasan in the lead, with Rahul Bose, Andrea Jeremiah, Pooja Kumar, Jaideep Ahlawat, Zarina Wahab, and Shekhar Kapur. It is the Hindi version titled Vishwaroop that will be unveiled at the Raffles City Convention Centre the 13th Videocon IIFA Weekend.
Click here for more articles on Samrat.
Other Articles by Lia Chang:
Soham Mehta, Award winning Filmmaker of Fatakra
Gattu, Dekh Indian Circus & Shala Garner Top Awards at The 12th Annual New York Indian Film Festival
12th Annual New York Indian Film Festival Nominees for Best Picture, Best Documentary, Best Actor, & Best Actress
C.J. Wilson navigates armor and swordplay in Signature Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Kenneth Lonergan’s Medieval Play
Photos: In Rehearsal with BD Wong at Dixon Place for Live Concert Recording of Herringbone
David Henry Hwang Set as Signature Theatre’s Residency One Playwright for the 2012-2013 Season
Jarlath Conroy set for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, June 12–July 15, 2012 at Sidney Harman Hall in Washington D.C.
Thom Sesma, Francis Jue, Robin de Jesus and John Tartaglia set for MUNY’s Aladdin, July 5-13
Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2012-2013 Season: Richard Thomas and Boyd Gaines to star in An Enemy of the People at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
Thom Sesma is the keynote speaker for the Library of Congress celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) at the Mary Pickford Theater on May 17
BD Wong Creates Kickstarter Campaign for his Live Concert Recording of HERRINGBONE, to be performed May 21-22 as a Benefit for Dixon Place
Photos: David Henry Hwang, Oskar Eustis, BD Wong, Brian d’Arcy James, Francis Jue, Jennifer Lim and Leigh Silverman at WNYC’s The Greene Space
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.