By Anindita Acharya
Your debut Bengali movie as a producer — Avijatrik — has won a lot of accolades. The film has travelled to more than 32 film festivals including the Montreal Independent Film Festival, Canada & Caleidoscope Indian Film Festival of Boston USA. Also, Avijatrik has a Hollywood connection with Warner Music Group, India, releasing the album.
It is, indeed, a great feeling when you venture out to try something new, which in this case is presenting and producing a Bengali film and your work gets appreciated. The journey of making Avijatrik has been very fulfilling — the kind of people that have been involved with the project and also the appreciation it has received so far. The music of Avijatrik, just like the film, stands out. Bickram Ghosh’s soulful composition elevates the film to international standards.
You are known for making hard-hitting realistic Hindi films such as Chandni Bar, Page 3, Traffic Signal, and Fashion. Avijatrik takes off from where Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy had ended in 1959 with Apur Sansar. It is based on the concluding part of author Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s novel Aparajito. The film is different from the kind of movies you are associated with, so what made you agree to produce it?
(Cuts in) I have been a film buff since childhood. I have grown up watching movies of legendary Bengali filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and RitwikGhatak and others. When Gaurang Jalan (producer) and Subhrajit Mitra (director) narrated the script of Avijatrik to me, I felt it was a story that was needed to be made. It didn’t take me long to decide that this was a story that the world needs to hear.
I liked Subhrajit’s vision, too, when he narrated the script. I was completely captivated. I have presented the film, too. Earlier, several Bengali filmmakers had approached me to present their projects but I didn’t find a subject worthy enough to get associated with. But Avijatrik touched my heart’s innermost chord. The milieu and world of Apu and Kajal recreated by Subhrajit in Avijatrik was beautiful and I knew I wanted to associate myself with this film.
For the Bengalis, Soumitra Chatterjee, who made his debut with Apur Sansar, is the quintessential ‘Apu’. Apu is an emotion.
I could feel it when Avijatrik was screened at various national and international film festivals. Everybody is connecting with Apu (played by Arjun Chakrabarty in Avijatrik). When Avijatrik was screened at Kolkata International Film Festival last year, people lapped it up and especially connected with the journey of Apu in Avijatrik. What’s heartening is that people are liking Arjun as Apu. Art has no boundaries. Emotionally, everyone will connect with Avijatrik.
Now that you are familiar with how the production system works in Bengal, will you be backing more films here? Also, do you have plans of directing a Bengali film?
If I am approached with fascinating subjects thatcan move me, then I would love to produce more regional content. When it comes to directing, I do not like to rush. It depends on the subject. If I feel I can do justice to the script, only then I decide to direct.
At the age of 16, you worked in a video cassette library in Mumbai’s Khar.
Yes, I used to run errands and deliver cassettes door-to-door on a bicycle. From Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Subhash Ghai, Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal to Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, it was here I was introduced to a world of cinema and got access to a huge collection of movies. I studied filmmaking through it. I consider myself immensely lucky that I had the opportunity to meet Mrinalda in Kolkata. His work has always motivated me. He had watched my films and spoke highly about them. Mrinalda was very encouraging.
So, language is not a barrier.
(Cuts in) Look at the world today. With the OTT platforms dominating our lives, the world is within our reach in terms of creativity and connectivity. Today, you can watch any film in your living room be it Spanish, French, or Turkish with subtitles. Avijatrik is being screened all across the globe and people are not accustomed to Bengali. But they understand the subtitle and are connected with the emotion of the film. The emotion is universal.
Your next film, India Lockdown, has been passed with an A certificate and minor changes by the revising committee of the CBFC. However, earlier, the CBFC had asked for 12 cuts in the film, which revolves around a sex worker.
I am thankful to the revising committee of the CBFC for understanding the context and gravity of the subject. India Lockdown highlights the plight of sex workers during the Covid-19 lockdown. Actress Shweta Basu Prasad plays a sex worker in the film. They had a minor issue with the kind of language used by the sex workers. But when they watched the film, they appreciated the effort.
National Award-winning film Chadni Bar (2001) established you as a realistic filmmaker. Thereon, you found your signature style in realistic movies like Page 3, Fashion, Traffic Signal, Corporate and Jail. You did change path with Aan: Men at Work and Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji but the films tanked at the box office. So, you think your unique brand of cinema didn’t let you get success in the commercial zone.
After Chadni Bar, people started thinking that whenever anything happens in the country, I will make a film on that issue. So, every time an incident occurs, I am the first one to receive a call to make a film. My image has become like that.
Do you get tired of that image?
No. I am a storyteller. I am not a proposal filmmaker. As already mentioned, I am not in a hurry to make films. After Indu Sarkar (2017), I wanted to direct a big-budget action-oriented film. That didn’t happen. Then, the world went intolockdown. During that time, I wrote the script of India Lockdown.
Chadni Bar starring Tabu recently clocked 20 years. Buzz is Chadni Bar 2.0 is in the making.
(Laughs aloud) I definitely have Chadni Bar 2.0 in my mind and I also have the concept. But I can’t go to the shooting floor with the concept… I need to have the screenplay.