Tota Roy Chowdhury: “Choices become available to you if you are commercially successful.”

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He has been the toast of Tollywood. Keeping his acting game on point, he has arrived in Bollywood and how! Actor, director and martial arts practitioner, he has unfailingly packed a punch with his powerful performances.The not so quintessential babumoshai Tota Roy Chowdhury engages in a freewheeling chat with Sharbani Mukherjee discussing life, acting, Bollywood and beyond. Read on…

Your name is Pushparag Roy Chowdhury. What made you change your name?

My grandpa, an ardent devotee of Lord Tota Gopinath, was visiting the Lord’s temple when he got the news of my birth and that’s how I got my daak naam (pet name). Bengali’s give a lot of importance to daak naam. Everybody eventually started calling me Tota, I never changed my name. One is usually called by the daak naam by the people who are very close to you and love you. So when people call me Tota, I feel that they are connected to me!

Your acting skills got noticed in the critically acclaimed short film Ahalya. How did you bag that role?

One evening, post dinner I got a call from Sujoy Ghosh. He said that he was sending over a script and wanted me to read it. Once the script arrived, I couldn’t keep it down till I finished it. It stirred a million emotions up in me. I was amazed reading it, and so I called him up and asked him what were you having when you wrote this! And before he could ask me, I announced that I am on board. So that’s how it started. Ahalya is a mind blowing short film. Standing today, around 20 million people have watched Ahalya. The feeling is flabbergasting.

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Did that help you pave your path in Bollywood?

Yes. It happened to me after Ahalya and that too by chance. Initially, I had no plans to move to Mumbai. It was in 2016 that Sujoy Gosh was producing Te3n. He asked me to do a cameo in which I was asked to play Mr Bachchan’s son-in-law. Working in Kolkata and getting the opportunity to work with my idol was absolutely unimaginable and I couldn’t afford to miss it. In the designated scene, I had to shout at Mr Bachchan as my daughter was kidnapped and killed.And when that happened, Sujoy said, if he can do that to Bachchan sir, I’m  sure he won’t be intimidated by Vidya Balan!  I was then cast by him in Kahaani 2.

You played the role of a bureaucrat Naveen Sarkar in the film Indu Sarkar.  What made you take it up?

Madhur sir was looking for a Bengali actor. He wanted somebody who was fluent in Hindi and had the body language of a North Indian but sensibilities of a Bengali. Our meeting was rather interesting.

One day, somebody from Madhur sir’s office called me and informed that Madhur sir would be in Kolkata and would like to meet me. I was pretty excited and was looking forward to it. I have watched all his films and am a huge fan of his work. I met him on a Sunday and as I entered, I found him looking at me intently. We had a meeting and almost after two weeks I got a call and I was asked to come to Mumbai. I thought maybe it is for an audition. And when we met, he treated me to a sumptuous lunch and announced that I‘d got the role. He said that the moment I walked in he observed me walk, he decided to cast me then and there. It’s my walk which made me Naveen Sarkar!

Is there something which you would change about B-town?

It feels very premature to be answering that question. Right now, I’ve just met this beautiful girl and everything is rosy about her. Let me be with her for five years! (Laughs)

Is there any difference between Tollywood and Bollywood? And if yes, what is it?

The sensibilities are the same. Everybody is out to make a good film. What is different is that projects in Bollywood can generate a lot more money which regional cinema can’t afford to. A Bengali film can’t match up to the scale of a Tamil or Telugu film due to the budget. A big budget film in Bengal which we can afford is six to seven crores, beyond that, it makes no sense.

You’ve worked in Kahaani 2 and Te3n, which primarily had a Bengali cast and crew. And now you’ve worked with Madhur Bhandarkar. How was your experience?

Madhur Bhandarkar casting me without an audition and selecting me on the basis of my walk, I think I am very lucky to get the opportunity to work with him.

But now of course, that I’ve tasted blood (laughs), the kind of eyeballs a film like Indu Sarkar generates is way too much. As an artiste, at this stage of my career, I want my work to reach maximum number of people. Bollywood is no more local, it’s gone global. And to get my work across to the people around the globe is every actor’s dream.

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A lot of Bollywood films earlier were inspired by Bengali films. But of late, the tables have turned. What do you think of this trend?

The remake culture will ultimately stop and die a natural death. The tectonic shift has started taking place and people aren’t realizing it. With the advent of very competitive data plan, people are watching the content over their mobile phones. So today if I want to remake a Tamil, Bengali or Hindi film, it makes no sense as people have already watched it. The trend in the past three years has changed. And remakes are almost out and thank God for it! A young lot of technicians and directors have come in and there have been directors who have given us good films. And this huge talent is now underlining their innovation with the content they are putting up.

Will you ever want to trade content rich projects for commercial success?

Commercial success is something which is very basic for an artiste. The choices become available to you if you are commercially successful. If I am a commercial success, I know some content will be made for me.

A good film is made from the brain of a director, the heart of the unit and from the pocket of the producer. Commercial success is very lucrative and at the end of the day, whatever aspirations we may have, the producer is waiting for his money to come back. If his pockets aren’t refilled he won’t make another film.

Has your life changed post Indu Sarkar?

People are coming up to me and complimenting me and are tweeting about my performance. It is special as people who I admire like Anupam Kher sahab and Ashutosh Gowarikar sahab have praised my work in the film. That is a great high and an impetus to keep growing and do better. I’ve realized a strong interest which has been generated in Bollywood and I am happy about it.

If one looks at your film trajectory, you have portrayed diverse characters.  What do you have to say about that?

One good thing is that people can’t link my onscreen avatars. Most of the people haven’t been able to link the same guy with Ahalya, Te3n and Kahaani 2. Of course, the credit goes to the director, the makeup and costume department that I could have differentiated in my avatars. And it gives me immense pleasure and makes me believe that I am on the right track.

What are your upcoming projects?

I didn’t look for anything till Indu Sarkar released. Now that it is out, yes, I am in talks with people. Presently, there are two projects which are at their initial stage and it is too early to talk about. Secondly,  I have a few Bengali projects which I intend to start by August end and wrap up at the advent of Durga Puja.