ANINDITA ACHARYA, Kolkata: Ten years ago, on a summer afternoon, I had met a filmmaker in slim frame and shoulder-length hair at a flat in south Kolkata, which has been turned into the set of his debut Bengali film Autograph. He was busy discussing a scene with cinematographer Soumik Haldar. There sat Prosenjit Chatterjee wearing a black robe. I asked him why did he say ‘yes’ to a script of a new director. He chuckled and said, “He has given a character to me that nobody could even think of. He will go a long way”. As rightly as Prosenjit, who played superstar Arun Chatterjee (who called himself the industry in Autograph) predicted that very day, Srijit Mukherji went onto become one of the most successful filmmakers of Bengali cinema. In fact, Autograph producer Mahendra Soni called Srijit, “Wisden filmmaker of the last decade.”
On October 14, 2010, Autograph had released and it changed the landscape of Bengali cinema. I would not go into the details of the story of the film but rather discuss what it did to Tollywood. So, how did Autograph change the career of an economist and statistician, who was involved with theatre in Delhi and Bangalore? Firstly, it was a Durga Puja release and since then for the next 10 years (barring 2020), Srijit made sure he had a fixed puja slot. And thus in a way, the clash of the titans started at the Bengali box office. Let’s not forget, October 14 was the same day Raj Chakraborty’s Dui Prithibi starring two superstars Jeet and Dev hit the theatres. So, in a way, 2010 was an eventful year for Bengali cinema and so was October 14. Prosenjit, Jeet and Dev clashed at the box-office for the first time – and for the last time – together.
Also, Srijit made a bold move in his launch vehicle. Make no mistake, anything on Satyajit Ray and Bengalis don’t take it lightly. And here in Autograph, Srijit was on thin ice as the very opening scene reminds us of Ray’s cult classic Nayak. The JNU passout did not provide a remake of Nayak. Srijit’s Autograph was smart, sleek, dramatised and modern and he paid tribute to Ray.
With him, Bengali cinema found a director, who could weave his own tales, and present it in a new way. The film also impressed both the art house and hardcore commercial moviegoers of Bengal, which was indeed a breather for multiplexes.
Autograph paved the career for Srijit, but then the film also introduced a new talent to Bengali cinema whom we can’t get enough of. Amake Amar Moto Thakte Dao in Anupam Roy’s voice still plays as a ringtone and a lot of youngsters must have mouthed this line when their mothers knocked on their doors especially amidst lockdown. All the songs of the films are still a rage and till today, Anupam and Srijit churn out some of the soulful hits.
In fact, I remember during an interaction, Srijit had said that he didn’t expect Autograph to go into the second week. He thought the film would be watched only by his friends and family. But then, if I remember vividly, Autograph nearly ran for 17 weeks and won multiple awards.
Srijit’s team with Autograph has remained with him. His DOP Soumik has worked with him on innumerable films, even on Kakababur Protyaborton, which was supposed to release this Durga Puja if the pandemic didn’t hit us. His first film superstar – Prosenjit– has worked with him in some of his biggest hits be it Baishe Srabon, Mishawr Rawhoshyo, Jaatiswar, Yeti Obhijaan or Gumnaami. And again, we are excited to watch him in Kakababur Protyaborton.
As a former economist, he loves numbers and his films enjoyed quite a great run at the box-office. So, as he completes 10 years in the film industry, he gives himself a score. “10 years.18 films.2 web films.1 web series.17 releases.14 superhits.177 awards.59 film festivals,” he tweeted. He also thanked the audience and critics in the journey.
Since, we are talking about team work, SVF’s Mahendra Soni has seen Srijit wade through different emotions. He is also producing Kakababur Protyaborton and Srijit’s big digital debut Robindronath Ekhane Kawkhono Khete Aashenni. Soni said “no numbers can justify his achievements.”
No numbers can justify your achievements. No scoreboard can fit in your score. Wisden filmmaker of the last decade goes to you Mr @srijitspeaketh. Now @rafiath_rashid by your side, tomaye awtkaye ke! https://t.co/CyBTYyknKy
— Mahendra Soni (@iammony) October 14, 2020