Patience, resilience and hard work – these are the three things that has made Apratim Chatterjee the much-loved actor today. With no background in cinema, the actor, who was preparing to become a chartered accountant, took the plunge into the field of acting purely because of the love and passion he had towards the craft. The journey has not been easy but he has walked on the most difficult paths with a positive outlook and a large smile. In this interview, Apratim talks about his eventful journey in the entertainment business, milestones in his career, love for theatre, working with some of the best talent in Bengali and Hindi cinema, forthcoming projects and more.
You have worked in all the mediums an actor could hope to work in but you started off with theatre.
Yes, that’s right. I started off with a group called Theatrecian in the year 2009. I played a very small part in one of their productions called ‘God’ which was directed by Kanak Gupta and staged at Kala Mandir in Kolkata. This was a play which was originally written by Woody Allen. Right now, I am one of the prominent faces of Theatrecian. I was a B. Com student and planning to become a chartered accountant. I had even cracked the first CPT exam of chartered accountancy. I did a couple of plays in school as a child. I remember our principal, Father Joseph Pathical, telling me that after finishing your graduation, you can think of acting as a vocation. I did not take his words very seriously then. In 2009, I joined Theatrecian for fun. My college was from 6 am to 9 am. After that, my tuitions classes would also get over quickly. I joined a local theatre group and started loving it. Mr Tathagata Choudhury, the founder of Theatrecian, used to pay me a stipend amount every month. Apart from Kolkata, I started performing in other cities like Mumbai and Delhi. I have performed nearly fifteen times in Canvas Laugh Club in Mumbai. I have performed in other major venues like NCPA Tata Theater, Sophia Bhabha Auditorium etcetera. Apart from Mumbai, I have performed at The Jagruti Theatre in Bangalore and Akshara in Delhi. Actually, when I started acting, I joined a Bengali theatre group. Once I did a show with them and they started asking me for money. I was confused. I thought since I was working for them, they should instead pay me. Why should I pay them for acting in a play they were producing? I did not like the way things were happening there and left the group. Then, I joined Theatrecian. There, I was treated with a lot of respect and got paid for my work too. It was a very healthy environment to be in. After working in several prestigious theatre productions, I thought of trying my hand at films. I was an assistant director on a Bengali film in 2012 called ‘Hoi Choi’. After that, I started getting small parts in films. After the OTT platforms came, I started getting a lot of work. Actually, the term ‘Hoichoi’ holds a lot of significance in my life (laughs). In 2017, the app Hoichoi was launched in West Bengal. Though it is a Bengali or regional app, it has become very popular across the world because of its content. ‘Dupur Thakurpo’ was the second web series produced by them and I played one of the main characters in it. I started getting acting jobs steadily after that. I have also done a series for Zee5 ‘The Judgement Day ‘. Recently, I acted in a short film directed by Debanjan Majhi named ‘Midnight Mirror ‘. It is streaming on Hotstar. ‘12 Angry Jurors’ directed by Tathagata Chowdhury, ‘The Comedy Kitchen’ directed by Dhruv Mookerji and GuGaBaBa directed by Supravo Tagore have been some of the most memorable theatre productions I have been a part of.
Was it easy to get the opportunity to assist in a film?
It was easy because the director was the very wonderful Debarati Gupta. It was her first film and she was open to working with newcomers. I was involved in every aspect of the production. It was a journey of around six months which taught me a lot. I was not supposed to be paid but the producer was very happy with my work and I was paid a decent remuneration for my work.
How was the experience of working on the web series ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’?
It was a wonderful experience. Before ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’, I had done another project in Hindi. I had acted in the Hindi film ‘Begum Jaan’. It was Srijit Mukherji’s first feature film in Hindi and I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to be a part of that film. The digital boom worked in my favour as I got to do a lot of work in the web space. I did four shows with Hoichoi. I recently completed the shooting of a series in which I am playing the lead.
When was that time when you realized people had started recognizing you?
There was a serial called ‘Rangiye Diye Jao’ in 2018. I played a supporting part in it and the show gave me a lot of recognition. It was the first time I realized what having a fan following means. I did another serial called ‘Netaji’ which has now been dubbed in Hindi and has become very popular.
What did your parents react when you informed them about your decision of becoming an actor?
Initially, my parents were not very supportive as they, rightfully, thought that it is an unstable profession. After some persuasion, my father finally agreed and said, ‘finish your graduation, do something that help you earn bread and butter and then, do whatever you wish to’. I used to do tuitions and teach economics and commerce. I have taught theatre in schools like Don Bosco, Modern High, Heritage. I have also been associated with The Bhawanipur College and taught theatre to their students. Last year, I did a huge production with the Chartered Accountants of India. There were twenty-six people who had acted in it. All the actors in that play were chartered accountants and were acting for the first time. My dad has now retired and is happy to see me doing well in this professional and he is now relaxed. I will always be grateful to my Baba and Maa and I am blessed to have them beside me all the time.
As you pointed out, this is an unstable profession. Was there ever a point in your career where you felt like giving up on this profession?
I am a very positive-minded person. Whenever something does not work out, I tell myself that it was not meant for me. This is not an easy profession to be in. I keep on polishing my craft and keep myself motivated. Many a times, the biggest of stars do not have work for some time. When you don’t get work, you have to create work. I do theatre productions at regular intervals. Nobody can stop me from doing that. So, I am always busy. Next year, I am planning to do a production on Agatha Christie’s novel, ‘Murder On The Orient Express’. Theatre has been my first love and it is one medium I will always be most attached to. The kind of feelings I have towards theatre is something I cannot describe in words. Whenever I am doing a theatre production, I do not take up any other project. I might do an ad in between but I do not take up any film project or show. Theatre is like oxygen to me. Once a year, I make it a point to go to the mountains with my friends. It makes me feel fresh and alive. Doing theatre leaves me with a similar kind of feeling. If I do not do theatre, I cannot polish myself. Theatre will always be the closest to my heart.
Who are the actors you look up to?
I always admired and was inspired by the work of Bengali actors like Bhanu Bandopadhyay, Utpal Dutt and Jahor Roy. I keep revisiting their films again and again. Among the current crop of actors, I like Ritwick Chakraborty, Dhruv Mookerji and Deborshi Barat. I was lucky to work with some wonderful actors like Rajkummar Rao, Ashish Vidyarthi, Rajit Kapur in Mumbai. I also feel blessed to have worked with the late Alyque Padamsee in many plays.
What is that one advice that you would give to an aspiring actor?
I would just request them to be honest. You have to be honest to yourself. Ask yourself whether you are regularly working on your skills. You have to keep working on your craft every single day. Then, look for ways to find the right platform to show your skills. You could be a shy person but when you are performing, you have to let go of all your inhibitions.
Can you share something about your forthcoming projects?
I am doing a film directed by Ratul Mukherji. I am playing a cop in it. I am doing another web series for Hoichoi. At the moment, it is called ‘Fish and Chips’ but the title may change later. It is a sweet comedy.
Would you like to do a Hindi project sometime in the near future?
Who doesn’t want to? (laughs). I was planning to go to Mumbai and meet some people from the industry in March but the lockdown happened around the same time. I have not done a Hindi project in a long time and I know that I have to start from zero again. I am ready to do that. Very soon, I will be busy with a new theatre production and I am looking forward to that as well.