A poet who paints on celluloid, director Buddhadeb Dasgupta this time weaves his magic realism in “Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa.”
It is history once more. Buddhadeb Dasgupta has made one more film and once again the festivals are beckoning him. This past week “Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa” was premiered at London Film Festival but before that he stopped over in Delhi to tell us what the kissa is all about. We know he has made films like Andhi Gali but he has always reserved his best for Bengali cinema.
Dasgupta reminds that it is his fourth film in Hindi and that he wanted to return to Hindi cinema. “There are certain subjects, which can be identified anywhere. ‘Anwar’ is one of them and also the producer wanted to make it in Hindi. Initially, I thought of making the film in Bengali but the biggest problem was getting an actor for the subject in Bengal.”
Isn’t language crucial to cinema? “It definitely has a defined role but if someone is conversant with the language of cinema then this problem can be sorted out. The best example is Mrinal Sen. Without knowing anything of Telugu, he made a very good Telugu film and also a film in Odia.” Dasgupta can read and speak Hindi, it may not be grammatically right all the time and he had no qualms in listening to his actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is a master when it comes to playing with words. “When dialogues were being translated to Hindi, Nawaz was part of the process and he suggested many times and I accepted it whenever I felt that it sounds better.” In between he tells us that his good old friend Gulzar offered to translate the dialogues in Hindustani but then backed out perhaps because the production budget didn’t suit his calibre. “Not everybody can be like Resul Pookutty, who said I just want to work with you irrespective of what you will pay me.”
At a time when many detective stories are on the anvil, Dasgupta emphasises his isn’t one. “It is a story on the life of a detective. A detective’s job is to follow other’s lives. What happens when he decides to follow his own life? At one point, Anwar decides to follow his own life and what comes out of it forms the story.” He says at one level it is a comment on today’s society. “In this business of following others’ lives we forget that we also have a life. That something is waiting to be discovered.” He says life is magical and that magic has to be discovered. “Life is so wonderful but we have to live it. The problem is we don’t live it. We are busy with so many things unnecessarily.”
However, it all started with a dream that Dasgupta used to get for a long time. “It was about my aunt who used to play gramophone in our house in Purulia. I would not sleep until I listened to the gramophone. When she passed away she became a part of my dreams. This time I thought to bring her alive in my narrative and believe me now I have stopped getting those images in my dreams.”
Dasgupta promises that at the surface level the film will hold us to the chair. “But finally it takes you to the world of magic, to my world.” Is it more accessible than some of his previous films? “I don’t know. I can’t answer that question because I don’t think I make inaccessible films. ‘Bagh Bahadur’ was very popular abroad, ‘Charachar’ also found an audience. That day I was watching Akshay Kumar’s ‘Special 26’. It held me and told an entertaining story and perhaps for the first time Akshay acted. But my daughter told me it didn’t do well. Then I watched ‘Chennai Express’ and I could not stand it for more than 20 minutes. I found it crude. But then it has created all kinds of records. So you never know,” reasons Dasgupta adding that he tries to watch all kind of films.
To conjure up his magical world, Dasgupta was looking for a completely deserted space and after a lot of research found it in Shimultala in southern Bihar. “You won’t get even a hotel to stay. There are dilapidated buildings, nobody lives in those houses. I wanted that kind of building in a no-man’s land. Miles after miles there is nothing. It is a completely Maoist area but we didn’t have any problem. Even the amenities that you get in a small town were not there.”
Dasgupta finds Nawaz intense and very sensitive. “He was my first choice. In fact one of the producers backed out because he wanted somebody like Irrfan for his reach but I was adamant on Nawaz. He was my Anwar from day one and he could identify with Anwar’s background from the first narration.”
In the past Dasgupta has worked with the likes of Pawan Malhotra and Mithun Chakraborty and he puts Nawaz at par with them. “I give special credit to Mithun because he spent a decade in Hindi commercial cinema before he came to me but the way he transformed himself (in “Tahder Katha”) was something unbelievable. That’s why I always put Mithun a little above the rest.”
The recent controversy over selection of Indian entry to Oscars has reminded some of the times when Satyajit Ray was gaining all the international attention while Ritwik Ghatak was being ignored. Dasgupta doesn’t find Anurag Kashyap big enough to be compared with Ray and finds the way he and his team have behaved a little manipulative.
He is known to brook no interference from the producer. “When Bappi Lahiri wanted to produce my film (“Lal Darja”) I made him sign contract where the producer was allowed to visit the sets only thrice during the whole shooting and he happily agreed,” says the two time National Award winner for the best director. Five of his films have won the National Award for the Best Film. It is often said that he just has to make a film, the awards are guaranteed. “They don’t mean anything to me and that’s the advice I give to young filmmakers. Put them in a dark corner, enjoy the money that comes with them and move on. Else you will cease to grow.” “The Lunchbox”, “Miss Lovely”, “B.A. Pass” and “Udaan” are some of the films that he liked from the young crop of filmmakers. “Overall, what has been happening in Bombay is good. They are trying to do something different and we must respect it.” Niharika Singh, who was seen in “Miss Lovely” and Pankaj Tripathi will dot the landscape of Anwar’s tale.
Talking of Ray, Dasgupta says he did impress foreign audience and critics in a big way. “But not all”, he avers. “I know Francois Truffaut almost hated “Pather Panchali”. It was his Apu Trilogy that appealed to the West the most. He didn’t get much appreciation for “Kanchenjunga”. What he had shown in “Kanchenjunga” was very much a reality but they didn’t want to believe it because conceptually their idea of India was altogether different. Perhaps that’s why Ritwik Ghatak was discovered much later. It is not that he was not respected abroad. His “Ajantrik” was unbelievably good. It was for the time that non linear storyline was attempted in India. Ray had consistency something Ghatak didn’t because of his lifestyle.”
On him following Ray’s style, Dasgupta says, “I have been told many times that I am following his style. I find it non-sense. His main focus was always about telling the story but I don’t want to tell the story all the time. The problem faced by Ghatak and many other filmmakers, who at times made better films than Ray, is the Indian media in general and Bengali media in particular. They don’t want to discuss their work. They had put Tagore and then Ray on a pedestal and then everybody has to be beneath them. No, they don’t even look at them,” Dasgupta gets into a pensive mood.
He is not happy with the state of cultural affairs in Bengal. “It is fast becoming what Charlie Chaplin portrayed in ‘The Dictator’. And the way artistes are changing colours hurts me,” he signs off with the promise that his next film will also be in Hindi.