Saswata Chatterjee: The makers of Kalki 2898 AD did not worry about time or money

The actor, who plays the role of Commander Manas in Kalki 2898 AD, talks about his experience working on the pan-Indian sci-fi spectacle
Saswata Chatterjee: The makers of Kalki 2898 AD did not worry about time or money

Saswata Chatterjee, who plays the role of Commander Manas in the upcoming Nag Ashwin directorial Kalki 2898 AD, has been active in movies since 1997. However, it was in 2012 with the Sujoy Ghosh directorial Kahaani that the actor achieved nationwide recognition. And yet, the actor remained very selective in signing films outside Bengali cinema.

On his absence outside Bengali cinema, the actor says, “The roles I was being offered after Kahaani from Bollywood were not up to the mark or were in a similar zone as Kahaani, which didn’t entice me. By the time I signed my next Hindi film, Jagga Jasoos, over four years had passed.” The actor shares an amusing memory from the sets of the Anurag Basu musical, where the film's lead, Ranbir Kapoor, asked him, “Dada aapko four saal lag gaye aur ek Hindi film karne mein? (It took you four years to sign another Hindi film?)”

Kalki 2898 AD, however, was a unique working experience for him, Saswata notes, while candidly admitting that he didn’t know how to react when he first heard the concept of the film. He adds, “ It was hard to grasp the vision that director Nag Ashwin had in his mind.” The actor says that it was an equally different experience on sets, where a lot of the work was done against a green screen. “Even while I was shooting, it was hard to visualise how the film would look after all the CGI work,” he says. The Kahaani actor remembers having many discussions with Nag Ashwin before they went on the floors. He says, “Ashwin told me, ‘Trust me, sir, you are in good hands.’ So I did.” However, it was the look test that proved to be a crucial step in preparing for the character, Saswata notes. “It was such a heavy costume. It was when we did the look test wearing that heavy costume that I got a much better idea of how to approach my character, what kind of body language to use, and how to deliver my lines,” he adds.

Recalling how he got on board for the film, he states, “I was actually surprised to hear from their team because I don’t know Telugu.” Saswata informs us that he also dubbed for himself later in Telugu. He elaborates on the process: “They gave me the Telugu dialogues written in English script, as well as an additional English translation script so that I knew which words to emphasise.” Saswata adds that the entire team was very helpful through the dubbing process, including the assistant directors’ team who were present with him throughout.

Talking about Nag Ashwin, Saswata Chatterjee remembers being surprised by the director’s composed demeanour when they first met. He says, “Nag Ashwin is so calm and quiet on the sets and very soft-spoken. It was only when instructions were being passed on sets that you would hear him speak loudly. Looking at him, you would not believe that he has conceived this idea and made this huge film. He is an amazing director.” Yet, on a lighter note, Saswata adds, “He drives very fast. He has a racer mindset. But apart from that, he is very calm.” Saswata Chatterjee reveals that he shot for Kalki 2898 AD over a period of two years, adding that most of his scenes were with Deepika Padukone, who plays the role of Sumati in the film. Talking about his working experience with Deepika, Saswata says that he was floored by the down-to-earth nature of the Gehraaiyaan actor. He then goes on to recount their first day on set together. “We both came around 10.30 a.m., and I was continuously going and giving my shots till 5 pm. And all the while, Deepika was waiting there on the sets, laughing around. After every shot, she would sweetly ask me, 'Dada, phir aapko bulaaya. Mujhe nahi bulaaya?' (Dada, again, they called you but not me?). It was very sweet of her.”

Praising the thorough process of the Kalki 2898 AD team, Saswata recalls the detailing for one particular action sequence where he was one of the principal actors. “When I went on the floors, I saw this huge board with 250 photographs, with each photo representing a particular shot. Then they showed me the edited version of the whole fight sequence in pre-visualisation. After each shot was taken, they removed that photo from the board. They were that elaborate.” Further talking about his working experience with the Kalki team, Saswata states, “There was so much background work going on all the time; it was amazing. In general, I don’t know how the Telugu film industry works. But for this project, they did not worry about time and money. They just wanted to make a great film. ”

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