Cinemawala has opened to a wide range of audience, from the New York Indian film fest to IFFI and now BRICS. How are you balancing an audience at home and this increasing global audience?
A. I am really honoured. BRICS International film fest is a different kind of a film festival. It is very prestigious and a personal initiative of the Prime Minister of India. It’s a diplomatic film fest, rather, which has been undertaken to create a bridge between these countries. Hence, I don’t think we should compare this with any other film fests. As for catering to the audience, you must have heard that this film has got UNESCO Fellini award. There was a deliberation on the film and it was said that the film deals with a local problem which has now become a universal crisis: the issue of piracy, the exit of celluloid industry and closing of Kodak, Fuji films. Cinemawala is a farewell to celluloid. Everybody is empathising with this story. So that is how the film is becoming global.
Q. How different is BRICS as a film festival, as you just said, from other events?
A. Other film festivals are basically film festivals which are organised to promote and research on films and to talk about films. Here the Prime Minister has taken this initiative to create bonding of friendship between these countries just prior to the BRICS International summit. So the purpose is different. I am very proud that we have so much faith in Indian films and what a nice way to start this BRICS Summit. It shows that Modi has thought that cinema can be that bridge and as filmmakers we should feel honoured.
Q. In fact, your film Cinemawala is part of the competition section of films from India at BRICS?
A. As far as taking part in the competition section, see, it’s always a matter of pride. Very often we call all these films regional films. But for the last 10 years I suppose it is actually regional films which are representing India in international competitions. Not typical Bollywood films. If you keep an eye on those festival brochures, you will find that most of the regional films are participating and representing India. I can tell you that for the last five years in IFFI, only regional films have competed in the category of “competition films”. In fact, we should stop calling them regional films; they are Indian films. Let’s say for a sportsperson, we don’t say Dravid is from South India, or Sachin is from Mumbai. They are all Indian sportspersons representing Team India. Similarly, all films that we are making should be addressed as Indian films. And I expect a forum, you know, a national, centralised distribution system which will circulate all these well-made films all over the country. No producer or private distribution can do this, but only the Indian government can. In fact, this has already begun. Like, the Indian Panorama film festivals which are taking place all across the country. Maybe they can do it on a bigger platform. Panorama films are only 18-20 films a year. What they can do is have a central distribution system where directors will go and submit their films and they can be paid for that. Government can pay subsidy to the producers, that is, if at all the film gets selected. There can surely be a board of selectors to decide the eligibility of film selection. Brilliant things are happening in the regional industries. My film has got UNESCO Fellini award and it is the first time anything of this accord has been awarded to a film in Eastern Asia; but there is hardly any celebration, any awareness.
Q. Congratulations on that front.
A. Thank you so much. Well, this was just an example. What I mean is that there are films in regional industries getting international responses like this but they are hardly showcased. Only 5% people are aware of and watching such films. Things have changed, you know. Previously, when we were young — I’m still young [laughs] — there were powerful cine societies. Now you can access a movie from anywhere. You don’t need a society anymore to arrange your viewing. Cine societies are dysfunctional today. Only these festivals are platforms where you go, talk about cinema, think about cinema, debate about cinema, plan your day according to the screening schedule. After the screening, you come and meet the director, talk to him, have a cup of coffee with that person, and if you have any queries, you may ask them. There are Q&A sessions. All this is so interesting…
Q. Coming back to Cinemawala, as you have already pointed out, it deals with the issue of piracy. I would like to know what your take is on the subject.
A. There has to be a centralised law against piracy, a strict one. Because piracy is a crime. If you go to any country, you will find hundreds of pirated DVDs. From one original DVD, they are copying 100 DVDs. This is killing! Imagine that money coming to the producer’s pocket, the entire picture would have changed.
Q. In fact, piracy is leading to a declining rate of theatre-goers because entertainment today is so readily available.
A. Absolutely! There were 700 theatres, and now it has come down to 245.
Q. So if you could shed light on that. Cinemawala centers around the shrinking spaces of standalone theatres in urban Kolkata. A major part of the film, you have said, is linked with memory. Please share with us some of your memories that have gone into the making of the film.
A. I live in a place in South Calcutta where I was surrounded by film theatres when I was born. I have grown up hearing stories of how my parents would direct my relatives to our residence using a particular cinema hall as a landmark. Cinema was an address for us. Even in Mumbai, in Delhi, if there is a cinema hall around, people will refer to that as a landmark. Now I see four to five theatres collapse, they’re not there anymore; the major reason being the owners are earning more money than film revenue by handing it over to a promoter or a builder. The government has to fix a rule that if you break a theatre, there has to be at least two small screen theatres, maybe 200 seaters or 150 seaters, that you must put up. Otherwise you wouldn’t get the new corporation permission. And next thing, is the facade of a theatre; we are losing our heritage, the skyline is changing. Metro Cinema is Kolkata: if you remove Metro Cinema from Dharamatala, Dharamatala won’t remain the same. Cinema, for us, is never a serious issue except the gossip or entertainment part of it. But this is the medium which is portraying, maneuvering public opinion. It is a powerful medium and is contributing so much to the society. It should be taken more seriously.
“I am just trying to create a bridge between very arty films and very commercial films, through my sensibility and storytelling. Our country has a rich folklore culture; we have grown up hearing stories narrated to us by our grandmothers.”
Q. You are one of the directors in Bengali film industry who have steadily been contributing to middle-of-the road cinema with varied subjects: from dwarves to child artists, from a laptop to Chapal Bhaduri. At a time when cinema is increasingly being put into watertight compartments of being either commercial or arthouse, where do you place yourself?
A. I am just trying to create a bridge between very arty films and very commercial films, through my sensibility and storytelling. Our country has a rich folklore culture; we have grown up hearing stories narrated to us by our grandmothers. That has become our habit: where a story has a beginning and an end. There’s a fulfilling experience in thinking that a story will have a proper ending. We are familiar with that culture, so storytelling is very important in Indian cinema. I am not talking about music or cinematography or choreography. Personally I concentrate on storytelling. I believe I am a writer, I am writing my own stories visually.
Q. Where do you think is the Bengali film industry heading?
A. It’s doing well. Last year it was Chotoder Chobi contending at IFFI, a year before that it was Apur Panchali…so, from my side I can say that for the last five years, Bengali films are representing India and are competing in international competition sections of various film fests.
Q. How has your background in telefilms helped you in your film career?
A. If you study in a film institute, you are supposed to make diploma films. Those were my diploma films. And they had really good subjects. Sometimes I am just remaking, rearranging those subjects with my present experience. Take for instance, Arekti Premer Golpo, it is a lift from my telefilm Ushnotar Janyo, Laptop from Utsho Hote, then my last film Khaad was inspired by one of my telefilms called Palatak.
Q. So did you always want to be a filmmaker? Who has been your inspiration?
A. I always wanted to become an actor. After class XII, I used to visit studios to see how heroes were using lipsticks, they would look as beautiful as heroines only to come back home and realising that I will never get a good role [laughs]. I am very fond of Wong Kar-wai, and in Indian film fraternity, Mani Ratnam, Gulzar and
Q. But today, multitasking is the emerging trend in film fraternities. In Bengal, young actors like Parambrata Chatterjee are donning the directorial hat, directors like Srijit Mukherji hosting celebrity chat shows, even you have played cameos in many of your directorials.
A. Yes, we have demolished the hero yuga. Now the actors’ legacy has started, wherein a person like me can afford to get a role despite being dark or fat, if somebody has a good character in mind. But 30 years back, it wasn’t like that. I could only think of bagging the role of a villain or a hero’s friend. A senior director had once told me, “Looking at you I can say that you will only get small roles”, despite me assuring and reassuring him that I could act. On asking why, he had said, “Most of the Bengali zamindars in real life look like commoners, like you, but you will never be trusted to play the role of one; in films, zamindars would only be played by people like Uttam Kumar or Basanta Choudhury or Chhobi Biswas—never a Rabi Ghosh”. That was the cinematic reality and that face of cinema has undergone huge change now.
Multitasking is great. When I act, it’s a holiday for me. I enjoy shooting—the reflectors, lights, the smell of make-up. And when I direct, there is more responsibility, there’s so much more burden on me. If it rains and I can’t shoot, I will be absolutely shattered; for there will be a loss of at least three to five lakhs per day. I love acting in other directors’ films more than my own.