Bauddhayan “Buddy” Mukherji’s short feature The Violin Player, which was recently showcased at the Dharamsala International Film Festival 2016, is about a day in the life of a failed session violinist who finds an unusual vent for his talents. Having won the best feature award at the Durban International Film Festival, this film is Mukherji’s second successful venture after his 2014 Bengali film Teenkahon. The Violin Player also marks its lead actor Ritwick Chakraborty’s debut in a Hindi feature.

Q. How did the story of The Violin Player come about?

A. Very interestingly, this film is based on a true story. Not many would believe this, but I knew of someone who was approached at a Western Railway train station in Mumbai and given the same offer. [In the film, the lead character, a violen player, is offered a solo gig at a train station by a stranger.] But he did not take it up. Ever since it had intrigued me — what if he were to take it up? What would have happened? That was the germ of the story which later became the film.

Q. Why the violin specifically, and not any other musical instrument?

A. Partly by default. The person I spoke of was a violinist. That is one element of the story which I did not want to change. In hindsight, it seems to be a correct decision — the lyricism of the violin, the physicality of playing it… everything adds to the narrative. The violin ceases to remain just an instrument — it becomes a character.

Q. If you could share with our readers some challenges and memorable moments during the shooting of the film.

A. No one would possibly believe that we shot The Violin Player in ten days. It was impeccably planned by my team at Little Lamb Films. We did not shoot beyond what was budgeted for, not even for an hour more. This was possibly the most well-planned shoot I have ever done in life. And what memories and pride would this give me!

Trying to make Ritwick Chakraborty convincingly play the role of the violin player would possibly be the single biggest challenge we faced. On screen, we wanted him to behave like a violinist as we knew he could never become one. And this had its own funny moment when during one of our playback exercises, Ritwick came to me disgusted and said, “I can’t bear to listen to my playing anymore!” It’s then that we realised that he was playing inches away from his own ears and that too, completely out of pitch! Poor Ritwick!

No one would possibly believe that we shot The Violin Player in 10 days. It was impeccably planned by my team at Little Lamb Films. We did not shoot beyond what was budgeted for, not even for an hour more. 

Q. Was Ritwick your first choice? How did the rest of the cast come about?

A. Well, he was. His name was suggested by my editor Arghyakamal Mitra. Mona [Monalisa Mukherji, the producer of The Violin Player] had seen Ritwick’s telefilms on YouTube and she had made up her mind to collaborate with him on some project or the other. When Arghyada suggested Ritwick’s name, she just lapped it up. Ritwick has poetry on his face and that is such an important ingredient of the violin player’s character. Ritwick wanted to do the film but he had date issues — after all, he is an extremely busy actor in Bengal. We had then approached someone else but one of Ritwick’s projects thankfully got pushed down and we got a clear window.

Adil Hussain [the mysterious stranger who meets the violinist at the train station], however, wasn’t the first choice. We had spoken to someone else and had finalised him. With Ritwick’s sudden availability, the other actor could not match the dates I wanted. Our hunt then led us to Adil. I flew down to Delhi, narrated the script, Adil agreed, did a small look test and he was on. All of this in just two hours. We have remained friends ever since.

The most difficult part was to cast Nayani Dixit, who plays the violinist’s wife. She had to be uninhibited and needed to have complete trust in me as a filmmaker. I am so glad Nayani agreed to do the role. This was one cast that was giving me sleepless nights before we discovered Nayani.

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Q. Given that Ritwick isn’t a professional violin player, how long did it take for him to get the body language and other details right? If you could describe the whole process to us.

A. Very early on we did realise that it would be next to impossible to make an actor learn to play the violin in just two months — that’s precisely the time we had for us. Instead, we concentrated on trying to make Ritwick have the correct body language of a violin player. The posture of holding the violin correctly, the feeling of ease and comfort when an artist holds his own instrument, the effortlessness in which he works the bow on the strings — all of these we tried to achieve in whatever time we had. Ritwick started training under Dibyokamal [Arghyada’s son] in Kolkata. We got the violin made — a 1920s Stradivarius lookalike. And Ritwick started practising on the same one which would finally be used in the film. This went on for close to one-and-a-half months. Then two weeks before the shoot, Ritwick came to Mumbai and that’s when his real training began. Bhaskar Dutta, who, along with Arnab Chakraborty, are the film’s music directors, took over. Bhaskar started spending 12 hours every day to teach Ritwick. Ritwick was holed up in my apartment and was literally a prisoner. By evening his arms would swell up and we would apply ice compression and put him to sleep only to wake him up the next morning and start the torturous process all over again.

Q. Any plans of collaborating with the Bangla film industry sometime in the future?

A. Why not? My heart lies in Bengal and I would definitely like to make more Bengali films after Teenkahon. But I do think the distribution and exhibition end of the process in Bengal needs to be a little friendlier towards independent filmmakers like us, who fund their own films. The Bengali market is monopolistic and strangely ruthless — the industry doesn’t believe in co-existence. And honestly, in an industry which is run by producers who are businessmen, I feel creativity does take a back seat — it is all about catering to the market, to low, popular taste, dishonesty towards cinema, making strange bedfellows in media houses, scratching each other’s backs and through all of this what suffers is cinema. But that should not prevent me from doing more Bengali films. I would… amid all this. For sure. And let’s hope, one day the situation would change for the better and the Bengali film industry would regain its position in Indian and world cinema.

Q. Our readers would also like to know about your upcoming projects.

A. For self-funded independent filmmakers like us, it is a difficult thing to keep churning films. I cannot be a prolific filmmaker. I am working on a couple of ideas now. Varied subjects and in different languages — honestly I feel filmmakers do not need a particular language to express. The language of cinema is the only language we should be bothered about. Let me reach somewhere before I can shed more light on these projects.

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