June 1 - 3 - South Asian Film Festival Wash DC Spotlight: Interview with Samrat Chakrabarti, award winning actor and composer

Posted by Lia Chang

This weekend, Samrat Chakrabarti is one of the special guests at the inaugural Washington D.C. South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF 2012), sponsored by Ceasar Productions, which runs from Friday, June 1st, through Sunday, June 3rd, 2012 at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, Maryland. The Festival brings together a wide variety of films from across South Asia and and includes films in Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Bengali, and Telegu.

Samrat Chakrabarti Photo by Lia Chang

Samrat Chakrabarti Photo by Lia Chang


Samrat Chakrabarti is featured in Ajay Naidu’s Ashes which screens on Saturday, June 2 at noon, Italo Spinelli’s gritty and disturbing Gangor, and Shome Banerjee’s experimental David Lynchian short Hotel New York 2012, which both screen on Sunday, June 3 at noon. Clickhere to purchase tickets.

Shyam Benegal (Director of Well Done Abba!, Zubeidaa, Kalyug), Ketan Mehta (Director of Mangal Pandey, Mirch Masala, Maya), Deepti Naval (Memories in March, Firaaq, Shakti), Rajit Kapur (Guzaarish, Well Done Abba!, Zubeidaa), and Raima Sen (Memories in March, The Japanese Wife, Teen Patti) are scheduled to attend.

The festival kicks off Friday night with an exclusive opening night red carpet gala featuring Shyam Benegal’s classic film Mammo, and continues throughout the weekend closing with Deepti Naval’s directorial debut Do Paise ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane ki Baarish. Highlights of the weekend include a Shyam Bengal retrospective, acting and filmmaking workshops, short films directed by local artists, and the Washington DC premieres of a number of exciting new films. The campus is located just a short shuttle ride from the Shady Grove Metro Station and 40 minutes outside of downtown Washington. For more information check out the website.

The cast of Ravi Kapoor’s The Five

The cast of Ravi Kapoor’s The Five

Included on Elle Magazine India’s Hot 100 to Watch List alongside Freida Pinto, Ajay Naidu and others, Samrat Chakrabarti has had the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor a lot lately.

In April, the award winning actor/composer attended IFFLA in Los Angeles, for the debut of Ravi Kapoor’s (“Crossing Jordan”) The Five, featuring Chakrabarti, Nicholas Brown, Parvesh Cheena, Anil Kumar, Sunil Malhotra, Vik Sahay, Aly Mawji, David Paul Francis, Meera Simhan, and Natch Narasimhan; and for a special tribute screening of Loins of Punjab of Presents, by the late Manish Acharya. (www.indianfilmfestival.org).

In May, Chakrabarti was seen in the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) screenings of Bornila Chatterjee’s Let’s Be Out, the Sun is Shining, which featured a “breakout performance” by Lipica Shah and received the 2012 NYIFF Feature Film Audience Award; and Gangor, an Indo-Italian project, based on the short story ‘Choli Ke Peeche’ by Magsasay Award and Padma Vibushan Award winning writer Mahasweta Devi. Gangor has garnered numerous awards, including the Lino Broka Grand Prize at the 13th Cinemanila International Film Festival, and the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Film at the 11th New Jersey Independent South Asian Cine Fest.

Bakwas Bumbug on view at the Library of Congress

Samrat Chakrabarti Photo by Lia Chang

Samrat Chakrabarti Photo by Lia Chang


While it seems that Chakrabarti has been on a merry-go-round of film sets as of late, he found the time to compose the score for the pop operaBakwas Bumbug an electrifying musical reinvention of A Christmas Carol, told thru the looking glass of NYC Immigrants and Hyphenated America, for which he also co-directed and co-wrote the book and lyrics with Sanjiv Jhaveri.

Opening night for the cast and creative team of Bakwas Bumbug at The Wild Project in the East Village on June 22, 2011.  (L-R) front row- Rehana Lew Mirza, Rohi Mirza Pandya, Lipica Shah, J. Kaitlin Becker, Roopa Mahadevan; back row Shiv, Nick Choksi, Kiarri D. Andrews, Sanjiv Jhaveri, Ryan Kim, Christian Carter, Andrew Guilarte and Samrat Chakrabarti. Photo by Lia Chang

Opening night for the cast and creative team of Bakwas Bumbug at The Wild Project in the East Village on June 22, 2011. (L-R) front row- Rehana Lew Mirza, Rohi Mirza Pandya, Lipica Shah, J. Kaitlin Becker, Roopa Mahadevan; back row Shiv, Nick Choksi, Kiarri D. Andrews, Sanjiv Jhaveri, Ryan Kim, Christian Carter, Andrew Guilarte and Samrat Chakrabarti. Photo by Lia Chang

Chakrabarti and Jhaveri’s script and the rehearsal photographs of Bakwas Bumbug were featured at the Library of Congress in May to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and are the photographs are part of the Lia Chang Theater Photography Portfolio in the Asian American Pacific Islander Collection of the Asian Division at the Library of Congress.

The cast of Bakwas Bumbug in rehearsal at DANY Studios in New York on June 16, 2011. Photo by Lia Chang

The cast of Bakwas Bumbug in rehearsal at DANY Studios in New York on June 16, 2011. Photo by Lia Chang

Photos: Christmas in June w/ Samrat Chakrabarti and Sanjiv Jhaveri’s “Bakwas Bumbug” at The Wild Project in NY
Performing Arts Images from the Asian American Pacific Islander Collection on Display at the Library of Congress to Celebrate APA Heritage Month

Samrat Chakrabarti is best known for his film roles in The Waiting City (as Krishna), Kissing Cousins (as Amir) and The Wedding Weekend (as Will). On TV he has guest starred on “30 Rock” (as Ramesh), “In Treatment” (as Arun Sanyal) opposite Irrfan Khan (HBO), “Damages” (as Manu Singh), “Outsourced” (HBO), “The Horrible Terrible Misadventures of David Atkins,” “Bored to Death,” and “A Gifted Man,” (CBS) with Patrick Wilson.

Samrat Chakrabarti in "The Waiting City" (2009)

Samrat Chakrabarti in “The Waiting City” (2009)


Film projects in the can include A.J. Carter’s Extinction, Dagen Merrill’sMurder in the Dark, Amit Kumar’s political drama Blemished Light with Victor Banerjee, Salim Khassa’s Desperate Endeavors, Dinesh Sachdev’s Captured, for which he also scored the soundtrack, and Michael Walker’s Price Check, starring Indie Queen Parker Posey, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2012 in January.

Samrat Chakrabarti and Rebecca Hazelwood in a scene from Amyn Kaderali’s Kissing Cousins.

Samrat Chakrabarti and Rebecca Hazelwood in a scene from Amyn Kaderali’s Kissing Cousins.


Slated for a fall release, Chakrabarti portrays Wee Willie Winkie, in Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children, based on Salman Rushdie’s book by the same name, and co-stars with Seema Biswas, Satya Bhabha, Shahana Goswami, Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi, Rajat Kapoor, Soha Ali Khan, Rahul Bose, Sarita Choudhury, Siddharth, Shriya, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Darsheel Safary.

Filmmaker Deepa Mehta & Samrat Chakrabarti as Wee Willie Winkie on the set of Midnight's Children, based on  a novel by Salman Rushdie.

Filmmaker Deepa Mehta & Samrat Chakrabarti as Wee Willie Winkie on the set of Midnight’s Children, based on a novel by Salman Rushdie.

Chakrabarti was dubbed the “independent film king of New York” by AVS TV, when three short films he starred in – Rehana Mirza’s Zameer & Preeti: A Love Story, Shiva Shankar Bajpai’sRaju and Soham Mehta’s Fatakra– screened at the New York Indian Film Festival in May 2011. He also composed the score forFatakra, which has garnered accolades at Film Festivals across the country including a Student Academy Award, the Linda Mabalot New Directors/New Visions award from the 2011 LOS ANGELES ASIAN PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL and the Audience Award for Best Short at the 2011 Sarasota Film Festival.

During our phone chat on the eve of his departure for Washington D.C., Chakrabarti shared his experiences of working on Gangor, AshesHotel New York and Let’s Be Out, the Sun is Shining. Below are edited excerpts of our interview.

Samrat Chakrabarti in Soham Mehta's Fatakra.

Samrat Chakrabarti in Soham Mehta’s Fatakra.

“I’ve been fortunate with the body of my work to do a lot of things, fromThe Waiting City to AshesGangor to Midnight’s Children,” said Chakrabarti. “I look absolutely different in that and have a totally crazy role. To play different characters is like an addiction, to try to figure things out. To live in other people’s shoes. I continuously want to expand and play challenging roles.”

Samrat Charkarbarti in Italo Spinelli's Gangor

Samrat Charkarbarti in Italo Spinelli’s Gangor

Italo Spinelli’s Gangor unravels with migrant labourer Gangor’s statuesque breasts that excite the attention of ace photographer Upin Puri, and become the objects of obsession and oppression triggering off a train of violence that ends in tragedy. Upin, a photo journalist, is sent to Purulia to cover a story on the exploitation of tribals. There he comes across a woman called ‘Gangor’, who he thinks is the epitome of ancient Indian beauty. He is fascinated with Gangor’s breasts and clicks pictures of her while she is feeding her child. The picture then appears in the newspaper in an article written by Upin. What happens in their respective lives after this article forms the crux of Gangor.

Gangor is a hard hitting, political statement about media that can have both positive and negative repercussions. Specifically in this context of a very gritty, tribal society, which, we as people from the city, we’re actually going there, one photograph that becomes controversial of a woman breastfeeding her child, comes back to the city of Calcutta, sells a lot of papers and makes our newspaper pretty famous and do really well. However, what happens to that woman who was exposed, back in her tribal society. She’s looked upon as selling out,and is kicked out of her society in a very tragic way. It’s a very gritty film about India, today’s India, class, class systems, how the upper class take the lower class for granted. How we need to be aware. We might think that we are helping, it can actually affect other places and lives in a hyper sensitive way.”

The story is told from the point of view of Ujan, photojournalist Upin’s assistant, played by Chakrabarti.
“There are two parallel stories going on, told in a very interesting way. I was there with Upin, the photographer, when he first went to take this picture, then he disappears. I am now trying to find him. The search is going on, and as I’m relating the story to his wife, it flashes back to when I went with him the first time. It’s a really cool and dynamic character because I get to play him first, as the innocent assistant when it first happened. Afterwards, when he is narrating because he was there the whole time, he’s had a coming of age moment. He has since changed. The older photographer teaches him that this is where the real life happens. Sometimes tribal India is more civilized than the world we live in. I am the guy who is learning all of that, interacting with these tribal people. In my character’s mind, uncivilized people, through this experience, I come to the realization that it is not about judgement, like I am better than them. I am actually understanding that they’re human. My character definitely goes through that kind of journey from looking down upon it, to learning from it and being humbled by it.”

Returning to his Bengali Roots
“I go back to my Bengali roots and continue to learn more about that. AfterThe Waiting City, it’s like another gift. Even Purulia, where we shot, my parents have never been there. We shot there for 7 weeks, on location. It’s a different world, India is a different world, Calcutta is a different world. Purulia is like the smallest village you could ever think of. It’s very earthy.”

Working with Mahasweta Devi
“In her 80’s, Mahasweta Devi is an award winning author, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2009, and is a legendary activist to the core. She is someone who has really brought about social change, especially for tribal society, and tribal women and their needs, facing many injustices. She’s really changed a lot and continues to fight the fight. It’s pretty amazing to meet her and work on a film with her. When you are working with the writer, you can talk about the character you are playing, and secondly, we had our premiere in Rome, where there was a standing ovation for 8 minutes to more than 2000 people. It was incredible, sitting next to her, standing next to her, holding her hand. She was being interviewed, she’s a force. She’s talking about it in English, let’s continue this conversation about what being civilized means. It’s very important.”

Samrat Chakrabarti and Ashes filmmaker and star Ajay Naidu at the MIAAC screening of Ashes at the SVA Theater in New York on November 12, 2010. Naidu was named Best Actor for Ashes at the Festival Photo by Lia Chang

Samrat Chakrabarti and Ashes filmmaker and star Ajay Naidu at the MIAAC screening of Ashes at the SVA Theater in New York on November 12, 2010. Naidu was named Best Actor for Ashes at the Festival Photo by Lia Chang

Ashes is unlike any film coming out of the South Asian Diaspora
“Ashes is a film that is like no other. It is a very unique film, told in a very unique way because of the way we shot it and the way Karsh Kale and Midival Punditz used a really digital gritty fusion sound. It’s a very personal story and a landmark film, with the aesthetics that Ajay Naidu has, you don’t see films like that coming out of the South Asian diaspora showcasing the underbelly, sex drugs and rock and roll on that level. Indian and Indian Americans are portrayed in most television or film as doctors, engineers, terrorists, hot dog vendors, taxi drivers and this film is nothing close to that. Ashes is the exact opposite of that, which is really powerful. The very urban cast-South Asians, Latinos, African Americans-is a great representative of New York. It’s about two brothers, and the older brother is mentally ill. The younger brother played by Ajay has to pay for the medical bills because they don’t have any medical insurance. He gets tied into a greedy gangster world of selling drugs to make money and gets seduced. At first, it’s just to make money, but when offers come to be a bigger player in the world, he signs on, facing repercussions when he finds he is way over his head.”

In Ajay Naidu’s Ashes, Chakrabarti plays Rishi, a reptilian-like gangster with punked-out hair and a gold tooth, who does all of the dirty work.
“Playing the character was great. In Gangor, I play an innocent photographer’s assistant who grows into his own shoes. In Ashes, I play the complete opposite, a shifty, dangerous firecracker. You just don’t know which side Rishi is on. This is one of the more dark and psychotic characters I’ve played. He was a wonderful character to play because you don’t really know what he’s thinking or what he’s going to do next, and if he’s on your side or not. At the end of the day, Rishi becomes a huge part of the plot of the title character’s arc.”

Q&A of Ashes - A film by Ajay Naidu at the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival, SVA Theater in New York on November 12, 2010. Ajay Naidu Debargo Sanyal, Atul Ohri, Samrat Chakrabarti, Ajay Naidu, Reena Shah & Ajay Mehta. © 2010 Lia Chang

Q&A of Ashes – A film by Ajay Naidu at the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival, SVA Theater in New York on November 12, 2010. Ajay Naidu Debargo Sanyal, Atul Ohri, Samrat Chakrabarti, Ajay Naidu, Reena Shah & Ajay Mehta. © 2010 Lia Chang


A Beautiful Friendship and Making Films as a Labor of Love
“Ajay Naidu is a true definition of an artist. I had known about him for a long time. I went to the same grad school that he went to, the A.R.T/ Moscow Art Theatre School Program at Harvard University, years after he did. I saw his work. I even saw him in a play. He’s been connected and worked in music, specifically the British Underground when he was starting, and still continues to do so. Spoken word and interesting dancing. Luckily, he had seen some of my work. We are very close friends now, but when he was casting this film, he invited me lunch at Café Habana on Prince St and Elizabeth. When I got a call to have lunch with him, I didn’t hesitate. He told me about the film and he told me he wanted me involved. We did a film called Loin of Punjab Presents and we became extremely close friends. He’s one of my strongest artist friends in New York City. There are three South Asian Art Harvard grads and all three of us are in Ashes, Faran Tahir (Iron Man, Star Trek), Ajay and myself. It was amazing to be part of this family film that featured Reenah Shah, Firdous Bamji, Heather Burns, Maurice Carr, Piper Perabo, and many of my favorite South Asian actors, This is how we make films. We’ve got a story that we want to tell. This is how we come together. It’s also very low budget, a third of the film is shot in my loft, another third is shot in his old apartment, and the final third is shot in all his other friends’ apartments that were available. It’s really a labor of love.”

Samat Chakrabarti as Ricky in Shome Banerjee's Hotel New York 2012

Samat Chakrabarti as Ricky in Shome Banerjee’s Hotel New York 2012

HOTEL NEW YORK 2012
“I enjoyed working with Shome Banerjee, the director of Hotel New York 2012. We’re talking about working on a feature, a film in India. We really connected well. He found me at a festival, we had a meeting, he told me about the script, a window worked out and I liked it. He is someone I believe has a lot of promise. I liked the duality. There is a reality and fantastical element of it as well. You see this guy dealing with his demons. There are two parallel stories going on at the same time about a flawed guy, who has cheated on his wife and is experiencing metaphorically a place of purgatory. We see him in real time, how he’s dealing with it, and then we see a dreamscape of what’s going on in his head in his purgatory place. Sometimes New York can feel that way, a place of purgatory, it can be hell. Things can work out or things could go drastically spiraling down and tragic. A glimpse of this one guy’s one night who is in a moral dilemma and who is trying to make things right. Hotel New York has a very stylized look, the photography is beautiful and cinematic. In the dreamscape there are clowns, Cancan dancers, firebreathers. Crazy surreal stuff in it, to show that purgatory can really bring out some surreal images.”

A special shoutout to Let’s Be Out, the Sun is Shining

Cast and Crew at our Let’s Be Out, The Sun is Shining premiere at Tribeca Cinemas in New York on May 26, during the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF).

Cast and Crew at our Let’s Be Out, The Sun is Shining premiere at Tribeca Cinemas in New York on May 26, during the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF).

“Bornila Chatterjee, the director of Let’s Be Out, the Sun is Shining, which screened at NYIFF in May, has created a very fresh and new piece of cinema, which captured the aliveness of New York in Bushwick, Brooklyn, with young artists trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. She captures the vibrancy of this city in a way that is almost European, very On the Road like Jack Kerouac. I’m excited it won the audience award because a film like this needs to be seen –this is part of today’s Bushwick, a very diverse community with African Americans, Latinos, South Asians being American, being part of the vibrancy of New York which we don’t see enough of. It’s great that we are seeing more diversity on TV, however this film captures the vibrancy of young artists in places like Bushwick, because that is where they have to live to make art, that’s where they can afford it. A breakout performance by the lead actress, Lipica Shah. I’m proud to part of this because this is the present and the future. I love when cinema captures life. It captures a very bohemian lifestyle. It’s about the people and the rawness.”

Chakrabarti’s other film credits include Shilpa Sunthankar’s Seeta’s Demon, Joseph Mathew’s Bombay Summer, Kabir Khan’s New York, Shailja Gupta’sWalkaway, Bruce Leddy’s Sing Now, Sai Selvarajan’s Joy Lies, and Manish Acharya’s Loins of Punjab of Presents alongside Shabana Azmi. He has also had roles in Spike Lee’s She Hate Me, Leonardo Ricagni’s Indocumentados, Jonathan Betzler’s Homecoming, Manan Katahora’s Arya, Ajay Naidu’s Ashesand Joseph Castelo’s The War Within which was nominated for an Indie Spirit Award. In addition, he has appeared in Gareeb Nawaz’s Taxi, Robert Harte’s Finding Graceland, Anjaan Dutt’s The Bong Connection with Victor Banerjee, Sarba Das’s Karma Calling, Randall Krongard’s Override, Manan Katahora’s Arya and When Kiran Met Karen, Joseph Matthews’ Days of Love and Loss with Tanishtha Chatterjee, Raj Basu’s Piyalir Password and and Suman Ghosh’s DwandoDogs Lie, Richard Atkinson’s latest indie feature starring Chakrabarti, Frank Boyd and Ewa Da Cruz, scored two awards, for “Best Film” (USA) and the “Feature Film Audience Award,” at the 2011 ITN Distribution Film and New Media Festival in New York. Photos: Richard Atkinson’s DOGS LIE, Starring Samrat Chakrabarti, Frank Boyd and Ewa Da Cruz

Chakrabarti is the recipient of a U.S. CARA for Best Original Pop/Rock Song for his composition “What’s It all About” and the 2010 TMG Award for Global Achievers in the category of Film, TV and Drama, for his outstanding body of work as an actor.

Sneak Peek of Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam in Singapore on June 8

“South India has its own humongous film industry and Kamal Haasan is one of the most prolific and respected actors out of India,” said Chakrabarti. “To be in one of his masterpiece films, that he wrote, directs and stars in, is like a dream. I’m really proud to be part of the cast.”

If you are in Singapore on June 8, you can see Chakrabarti in excerpts of and the first look of Vishwaroopam, directed and co-produced by Kamal Haasan, and featuring Haasan in the lead, with Rahul Bose, Andrea Jeremiah, Pooja Kumar, Jaideep Ahlawat, Zarina Wahab, and Shekhar Kapur. It is the Hindi version titled Vishwaroop that will be unveiled at the Raffles City Convention Centre the 13th Videocon IIFA Weekend.

Click here for more articles on Samrat.


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Lia Chang. Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang. Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography


Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist.