In a freewheeling chat, director Sujoy Ghosh takes us into the journey of making ‘Kahaani' and dissects the film.
Sujoy Ghosh had a promising debut (Jhankaar Beats) but followed it up with two duds (Home Delivery and Alladin). Then, he set out to make a thriller with a pregnant woman as its protagonist. Obviously, many producers didn't see it as a viable box office proposition. But when the film finally hit the marquee, word-of-mouth publicity saw collections soaring from day two. Of course, Vidya Balan's presence was a huge help. The Kolkata-born director, who studied engineering and management before moving to filmmaking, feels both humbled and ecstatic at the success of Kahaani. Excerpts from an interview with the filmmaker:
A thriller is not a genre one associates with the City of Joy. Did you choose Kolkata since you were familiar with it?
Precisely. Mumbai and Kolkata are the two cities I am familiar with. I chose Kolkata to show how the city can be warm and menacing at the same time for this woman who is in search of her husband. For any thriller, the location is very important. I wanted to tell this story during the time of Durga puja. When 90 per cent of the city is regaling in festivities, here is one woman going against the grain.
Was it a conscious effort not to present a touristy picture of Kolkata? How did you shoot in crowded areas?
The Hindi film audience is used to seeing Kolkata in a certain way with iconic images. The other filmmakers view the city as outsiders. I wanted to take people into the narrow alleys and make them be a part of the city and the story. I wanted to shoot in real locations to get a feel of the pulsating crowd.
If you try to re-create it in a studio, it would appear artificial. It wasn't easy. It helped to have someone like Vidya. She never hesitated to walk into the crowds.
A lot of people dissuaded you from making Kahaani. What gave you the courage to go ahead?
I don't blame people who didn't want to put their money into this film. I had two flops behind me and I was telling them a story about a pregnant woman.
There was no scope for glamour and two years ago, Vidya was not such a big star.
The struggle I went through to make Kahaani reminded me of my Jhankaar Beats days. I believed in the script and was determined to make it.
Do you regret making Home Delivery and Alladin? Did you have to bow down to diktats of producers in those projects?
Not at all. I made Home Delivery and Alladin just as how I intended to. Bowing down to diktats would mean cheating myself as a filmmaker.
Not everyone agrees with the ending of Kahaani. Did you have to justify it all?
That justification was important to me as a filmmaker. Vidya Bagchi had to be one among us. Otherwise the story and the narrative would have been different.
How did you select Parambrata Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui?
Cinema is a visual medium. For me, having actors who look like the characters they play is half the job done. When they can act well or not comes next. I went by my instincts. Instincts can go wrong. In Kahaani, I got it right.
We've seen two unlikely back-to-back hits (Paan Singh Tomar and Kahaani). Sign of good times ahead?
I am really happy when I hear these films are doing so well in different parts of the country. It goes to prove that the audience is always willing to support good cinema.
We hear that you finished Kahaani even before The Dirty Picture but waited to cash in on Vidya's popularity in the eventuality that TDP became a hit?
As creative people, we think we know it all… when to shoot, how to shoot and when to release the film. It's all rubbish. I've realised it's important to be patient and let the marketing people and producers handle the release. Viacom18 wanted to wait since October and November were choc-a-bloc with big budget releases.
I don't know. I'll take some time off before deciding my next film.
We can't help but talk to him about some pieces of the zig-zaw puzzle of Kahaani.
Sujoy is game for a discussion but requests us to keep it off the record so as to not give out spoilers. “Watch the film again and things will connect even better,” he laughs.