Known for his stinging documentaries, Shubhradeep Chakravorty comes across as an affable soul across the table
Shubhradeep Chakravorty defies brackets. A Bengali, who grew up on Mughlai cuisine in Lucknow, a documentary filmmaker, who is not too keen to leak his work on the Internet for instant hits, a social crusader who doesn’t mind being labelled as a Muslim agent even by his near and dear ones…. Chakravorty knows it’s difficult to defy tags even in cosmopolitan India. For those who can’t place him Chakravorty came on the radar with Godhra Tak, arguably the first investigative documentary on what led to the burning of S6 coach of Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002. Since then he is hounded by Hindu extremist groups. He followed it with a film on the threat that defence lawyers, who appear in terror-related cases, face. Made in the aftermath of the murders of Shahid Azmi and Naushad Kashmiji, Out of the Court Settlement asked some difficult questions about our legal system. The questions became all the more probing in After The Storm, which talked about seven terror accused, who were set free by various courts across India.
The screening of his films has been stalled many times. He is yet to get a certificate from CBFC but Chakravorty is unfazed. “I am working on a trilogy on how Muslims are being systemically targeted. My last film is on custodial torture. It talks about how religion is used a tool to torture the undertrials,” says Chakravorty, as we settle for a quiet lunch at 19 Oriental Avenue of Shangri-La’s-Eros Hotel. Here we are away from the dangers of being slotted or slaughtered. We start with mango salmon roll and basashi nigiri and move on to crispy mushroom with black pepper. Soon stir fried lobster makes a grand entry and the table starts looking visually appetising as well. Shubradeep remembers the hotel for its bar where he once gulped six pegs of single malt whiskey and still managed to retain his composure.
Calling himself a “food hunter”, Chakravorty says he always goes for the local food. “It is very difficult to appreciate other’s food but that is the only way you will get something authentic and fresh.” He is game to share his observations. “When I went to Hyderabad for the recee of a film, I found the Hyderabadi biryani overrated but then I was told to try it without mirchi ka salaan and it worked. Still I feel more than biryani the city should brand itself as the haleem capital of the country and should also promote its shahi tukda.”
All recees are not as appetizing though. “During my research for Godhra Tak, I discovered that in Gujarat Hindus and Muslims know very little about each other. It is in stark contrast to Uttar Pradesh where I grew up. When the communities know each other you can communalise the situation only to an extent. I always maintain that a community gets a leader that it deserves and Gujarat is an example,” avers Chakravorty.
He is often asked why he focuses only on one minority. “Sikhs have also suffered but 1984 is not part of my growing up years. I can’t be fair to it.” Does he feel a non Muslim voice carries more weight than a Muslim voice when it comes to issues of discrimination? “It is unfortunate but true. After Godhra Tak, when a leading Hindi literary magazine asked me to suggest a name for reviewing the film, I suggested a leading Muslim critic who is a known atheist but the editor shot down the idea because he felt that the person would not be perceived to be fair and went for a Hindu critic.” Another sad reality, he says, is the misuse of creativity on both sides of spectrum. “Godhra Tak was used to garner Muslim votes in Bihar elections and I couldn’t do much to stop it.”
Prawn mayonnaise cabbage basket is here and Chakravorty gets a chance to pose. Though surrounded by South Asian food varieties, the talk bounces back to Indian cuisine. When it comes to comparing Hyderabadi food and Lucknowi delicacies, Chakravorty picks the latter for the sheer variety and aroma that Awadhi cuisine has. Chakravorty is often found in the kitchen and finds the process creative. “You will find my preparations rich as I don’t hold myself back when it comes to the use of ghee, spices and dry fruits. My wife often says that you don’t cook like home food as my cooking reminds her of the way they usually cook in restaurants.”
It is time to sum up and as mango sticky rice makes an appearance for dessert, Chakraborty feels the hotel staff finally seems to have realised that a bhaat boy is here!