A life lived by choice

Acting bug

Barun Chanda’s life is defined by the choices he makes. In 1970, when Chanda auditioned for Satyajit Ray’s film Seemabaddha, he didn’t let the latter know that he was “dying” to do the role.

“I had half an hour to impress Ray and if didn’t do it in that time, I never might have been able to, ever,” beams the septuagenarian, who went on to win the Leaping Deer Award for his debut performance in the veteran’s film in 1971.

Back then, Chanda emoted in front of the camera for the first time. Until then, he was the man behind the reel — making ad films and penning campaigns that turned the face of brands around. “Those days, advertising was about sticking to the basics and creating campaigns, which stuck in your mind for years. It was different from this era of multilingual, masala headlines. For instance, when I was working on a campaign for the Bengali magazine Desh, I came up with the tagline, ‘it opens the windows of your mind’ and it his stuck on through the years. Similarly, some of the other brilliant taglines of that era didn’t involve jugglery of words — like Fanta’s tagline: ‘it’s fun to be thirsty’ and more recently the soap advertisement Pears, which reads: ‘some complexions never grow old’.”

Seeking new thrills

As does the mark of a creative mind, which, in its constant thirst for newer, life-changing experiences, walks in to the spine chilling terrain of thrillers. And, Chanda went on to pen his first crime thriller in Bengali, Shaaper Jhanpi. “I’ve always loved thrillers. So when I thought of writing a novel, that was the genre I chose,” smiles Chanda, who has grown up on a rich dose of thriller stories, including Satyajit Ray’s Feluda series and G K Chesterton.

This choice gave Chanda a huge kick and he went out to churn two more thrillers, including, Kidnap and Coke. His recently launched fourth book, Rabibar, a racer-paced thriller, surrounds the life of a young man in a dream sequence, spanning 24 hours between Saturday morning and the dawn of Sunday. “It’s about the past present and future in the life of a guy growing up in the late 70s and 80s, when love was still met with love and you didn’t necessarily have to have sex,” says Chanda.

Chanda has been on his toes, taking writing and acting in his stride in the films Goutam Ghosh’s Shunyo Anko, Buddhadeb Das Gupta’s Woh, Anjan Dutt’s Bong Connection and Chalo Let’s Go, Rituparna’s first feature, Hirer Angti, and Sreejit’s latest hit movie, Mishawr Rahoshyo and most recently as Sonakshi Sinha’s father, the zamindar in Lootera.

Turning back the reel, it’s difficult to imagine any other actor as the zamindar. This time, the role chanced upon Chanda. “Filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane sent someone to scout for a character to befit the role. A few days after the audition, I got a call from a woman who said: ‘Hi, this is Deepa, Vikramaditya’s mother. My son thinks you are the zamindar. What do you want for the role? Don’t waste time, come right over to Mumbai, you’ve got to try on your costumes’.”

Intrigued Chanda landed up in Mumbai and carried out the role as if the zamindar’s character had been written just for him. “It was a challenge, because I had to work on my Hindi accent. But then, what comes easily to you stops being a challenge and there’s no fun in that,” he says.

Role play

The roles Chanda chooses need to infuse him the thrill of being or portraying the subtle and complex sensibilities of the character. “As does my role as a 100-year-old mullah from Egypt in the Bengali film Mishawr Rahoshyo,” explains Chanda, adding, “Through this role, I communicate only in hieroglyphics and the people who have brought me to Delhi feel I have the clues. It gave me a lot of thrill to crack this for it didn’t come easy.”

Life has got to be a roller coaster for Chanda. “Even if I were given a second life, I would choose advertising. There’s not a moment to be bored and I wouldn’t exchange it for any other profession,” he admits.

Adman, actor, writer — Chanda’s choices keep him in constant action. At 74, the choices are still being made as he aspires to have his thriller Coke, this time, published in English.

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