Team Optimist: As an actor who started out with Ray’s films to becoming an investment analyst, how exciting has your journey been so far?
Siddhartha Chatterjee: When I was chosen to act in Ray’s films, I was only 14 years old. Obviously, back then, I didn’t aim at becoming an investment analyst. However, by the time I finished acting in two of Ray’s films, Sonar Kella and Joy Baba Felunath, I had already passed out of St Xavier’s College. Around the same time, I became a qualified chartered accountant. I got my first job with Dunlop Tyres, a company which has, unfortunately, ceased to exist. That’s how my career in finance began.
Soon, I felt a bit saturated with my job and craved to do something on my own. I left Dunlop Tyres and joined another company, where I didn’t deal directly with finances, but with merchant banking processes, thus giving me my first opportunity to explore the stock market.
Gradually, I felt myself getting really interested in the stock market, about which I’d only had a vague idea before this. I started reading books and studying about it, which helped in understanding the stock market and the process of prices rising and falling. As my knowledge grew, I penned my first book in 2003. It was in Bengali and delineated the basics of the stock market; the book still sells like ‘hot cakes’.
I also started teaching students in the subject and so began my journey as an investment analyst. I wouldn’t consider films and acting as part of my journey. It’s a beautiful thing that just happened to me during my school and college life. I was never really keen on acting. Rather, it worked as an enhancement of my journey as a CA and, later, an investment analyst. My journey in acting, therefore, more or less stopped after those two films.
When I started 18 years ago, very few Bengalis had any idea about the stock market. Even today, they have a vague idea about it. But, slowly, they’re taking interest in the subject and some have even taken it up as a career. Being an investment analyst is my passion and how I wish I could teach 10, 000 more students! I also intend to open a college someday with stock market studies as the primary course and finances as an important part of it.
Team Optimist: Your subtle mannerisms in acting had rendered Topshe a memorable character. Despite playing a few other roles here and there, why didn’t you choose acting as your profession?
Siddhartha Chatterjee: Well, I became an actor by accident; it wasn’t something which beckoned me, although I surely enjoy watching films. I never actually pondered over or understood, the acting part of films. I was more fascinated by the guns and revolvers and horses — especially those in Western films. Now, let me talk about one of my most favourite films, Sholay. That was when I understood what kind of acting goes into portraying a character like Gabbar Singh.
However, my ‘subtle acting’ in Sonar Kella has hardly anything to do with ‘acting’. Ray had instructed me to act very naturally just as I behave in real life and deliver my dialogues. He assured me that he would manage the rest and asked me not to impose anything on my character. I acted in a few films recently, but I essentially follow ‘natural acting’ as Ray had taught me. Obviously, Topshe’s innocence appealed to the audience. Ray did not teach me anything specially, nor did I learn anything. People saw the ‘natural me’ on-screen and they liked it.
Team Optimist: You are a popular name in investments and the stock market. Earlier, there was a lot of conservatism over this. Do you think the situation has changed over time?
Siddhartha Chatterjee: Yes, it has. Geographically, definitely in the areas of Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Bengal today, the number of people interested in the stock market has drastically increased, maybe on a scale from 10 to 1000. The popularity of investment through SIPs has increased in the past 4-5 years. When one saves money usually, one knows that he or she will get a certain amount of interest. But in stocks, you don’t know whether your money will increase or decrease. Now, the trick is that, out of all your investments, the majority will not go into the stock market because there’s a fair chance of you losing everything. However, small investments can give you huge returns, often, much more than any bank can offer. Say, a 35-year-old, with savings of Rs10,000 can afford to save Rs2,000 as SIP in the stock market, while the rest of the money can be invested in the form of a fixed deposit. On the other hand, if your age is 62, then, maybe, you have to keep Rs9,000 as a fixed deposit and 1,000 in stocks. Hence, this portfolio mix has to be right and, through mutual fund investments, these things are getting very highly rated nowadays.
Team Optimist: How has your experience been as a food entrepreneur? Recently, we’ve observed a trend of dependence on e-commerce services for door-to-door food delivery. What’s your view?
Siddhartha Chatterjee: My exposure to the food industry is through our Bhojohori Manna, the restaurant chain serving Bengali cuisine. Such platforms as Swiggy and Zomato have, indeed, altered the way in which customers order food because they do home delivery. However, Bengali cuisine loses its charm when it is home-delivered. It doesn’t taste quite as good. So, at our restaurants, I do see people going in and enjoying their food.
Having said that, yes, Swiggy and Zomato do deliver the food, as well, but that fraction is tiny compared to our entire business. I travel abroad quite frequently and I’ve realised that home delivery is ideal for such European food as burgers or sandwiches, but not really for regional food.
But, even then, people do feel like walking into a café and enjoy a cup of coffee, fish and chips or sausages and bacon by going downtown to a London club. It’s some kind of recreation for them. Of course, while watching a cricket match, for instance, one might order some fast food, that food is usually not something like bhaat and ilish maachh.
Team Optimist: You’ve been publishing a weekly newspaper on stock investment. What’s the feedback on such a niche content? Do you plan to expand it?
Siddhartha Chatterjee: My She-ar-bajar is a weekly tabloid that gives the reader an immediate idea about trading and buying stocks in a particular week. One page is dedicated to understanding a particular stock and how it may perform in the coming years. Fortunately, the demand for this newspaper is quite high and it has also reached those pockets of Bengal where newspapers generally don’t. I’m soon going to take out an e-version of it and I’m trying to take membership for an e-Patrika, although I, personally feel that a hardcopy version of a newspaper is much more appreciated than a soft copy one — that’s how we, Bengalis, have grown up. So, my paper is part of the regular routine of not only Bengalis, but also non-Bengalis, who, probably, get it read out by a Bengali friend or assistant. I know a lot of Marwari and Gujarati gentlemen who subscribe to my paper. So, it has created a niche for itself. Despite a ‘no-advertisement’ policy, I’m still making money through it.
Team Optimist: As an entrepreneur, what suggestions would you give the government on policy-making?
Siddhartha Chatterjee: As an entrepreneur, the ease of being in various businesses is a big issue. Nowadays, the government has acknowledged it and has, at least, recognised that entrepreneurs should be allowed to do their business at ease by focusing on it, instead of getting trapped in lengthy procedures, tiresome forms, licences and so on. Thankfully, some necessary steps have been adopted to ease the process, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Why should my person go to the Calcutta Corporation office to get a trade licence? There should be an online procedure through which I can apply for it and can get a trade licence without being asked a lot of questions. I’ve observed a lot of hidden government agenda in the trade licensing process which makes it cumbersome and takes away the ease I’m talking about.
For running a restaurant, I have to have as many as 21 licences for fire, safety, garbage and so on and the number is increasing by the day. It’s understandable that the government needs money and that’s okay. I have a very dedicated person working with me whose only job is to redeem all the licences of all the 22 restaurants we run. This whole thing is ridiculous!
Also, there’s a basic conflict between the government and entrepreneurs since the government demands a lot of disclosures, while entrepreneurs desire the opposite. Thus, there’s this basic problem regarding governance which entrepreneurs are falling prey to. There should be a proper mechanism to handle this problem.
Say, a person, who doesn’t hold a licence applies for a bank account. Nowadays, everything happens through online banking. So, there should be a facility that can make the government aware through the online process of the whereabouts of that person. There has to be two-way communication between entrepreneurs and the government to ensure maximum benefit for both.
One thing that saddens me is the quality of entrepreneurship declining by the day. The thirst for quick money is the reason behind 93%-94% start-ups failing in the first two to three years of setting up shop.
Team Optimist: What are your plans for the next few years? Any new domain planned?
Siddhartha Chatterjee: (Laughs) Every day, I come up with new ideas. We, at Bhojohori Manna, have recently ventured into teaching the culinary science to students. It’s a government-aided programme, called Ranganshala, where we train students thrice a week for six months on the art of cooking Bengali cuisine, starting from the choice of vegetables to the choice of fish pieces for various dishes.
Apart from this, I also plan to open a full-time academic institution which will primarily train students in the stock markets, both in English and Bengali. We’re trying to rope in the best faculty in the field and devise an updated and useful syllabus. This is a large project which will require a lot of effort, starting with an appeal to the government.
Another top-of-the-mind plan is the expansion of Bhojohori Manna, not only in Kolkata but also in Bhubaneswar, Delhi and even abroad. And, finally, I want to expand my stock market business by devising an Artificial Intelligence (AI) unit which will guide people in their stock market ventures without me interfering much in it.