Sangeeta Datta makes her directorial debut with Life Goes On that deals with rising Islamophobia and migrant communities
She's served as associate director on a handful of critically-acclaimed films ranging from “Chokher Bali” and “Raincoat” to “Brick Lane” and “The Last Lear” but with “Life Goes On”, Sangeeta Datta is all set to make her directorial debut.
Writer-filmmaker-singer, Sangeeta has spent a good amount of time putting together her first feature film, which has already received rave reviews at international film festivals. “I felt a strong need to connect the past with the present and to examine the layers of human emotion, especially experienced by migrant families, families who've lost loved ones and more importantly, in the current scenario, where Islamophobia has taken over most minds,” she says in a telephonic interview from London.
She holds a PhD in English Literature. It is no wonder then that the Bard's “King Lear” is where she's drawn her inspiration from for her movie.
“The film has death as its foundation. The story, however, isn't about death, but about a father and the relationship he shares with his three daughters. There is conflict as two successive generations don't see things the same way. There is this need for self examination and finding one's own identity that comes across. And this is a diasporic film that throws light on the fact that living away from one's own country isn't as fancy as it might seem,” the director explains.
At the crux of the film is the Partition of Bengal. Her protagonist, Sanjay Banerjee, played by Girish Karnad, is an Indian based in London, who is struggling to come to terms with his wife's (Sharmila Tagore) death.
The narrative is spread over the few days following the funeral when he gets to know that one of his daughters is pregnant with her Muslim boyfriend's child. The traumatic memories of Partition give rise to an inner struggle within the man.
Though she's borrowed the title from the opening lines of Neil Diamond's song, she says it is thoroughly befitting the theme of her film and is true to the context in focus. “The movie looks at life philosophically. Tomorrow is a new day and no matter what happens today, life does go on.”
“Life Goes On” features Girish Karnad, Sharmila Tagore, Soha Ali Khan and Om Puri. So how did she zero in on the cast?
Sangeeta says: “There was no ambiguity about Sharmila Di's role. When I wrote the story, she was the only one I had in mind to play the role of the mother. I've known Girish and Om for a good amount of time and they totally had what it took to execute the roles I had for them. As far as casting Soha was concerned, I'd seen her dedication and discipline in Rituparno Ghosh's ‘Antarmahal' and bringing mother and daughter together on screen was something that just happened organically.”
As a director, Sangeeta says she “gives the structure but then also gives space” especially given that she's worked with some real veterans on this project.
The film has not been shot in a studio but in a real house so that's something that brought the actors and other unit members closer. Though this is an English film, many of the dialogues are in Bengali as well. The director has incorporated songs from various genres in the film.
“My aim was to reflect the music-scape of London, which is multi-cultural and multi layered. I kept away from exploring mainstream spaces in music people are already familiar with. There are even two Rabindra Sangeets that have been translated into Hindi,” she divulges.
Ask her if she thinks Indians in India would take to this diasporic film and Sangeeta replies: “At the core of the film is an emotional family drama, which is a part of any Indian household so there is something for Indians in India to identify with.”
She's already working on her next film, which is woman oriented. She concludes: “If I'm allowed to have a wish list, I'd say it would be nice to work with Vidya Balan, Irrfan Khan and Prateik Babbar sometime soon.” “Life Goes On” releases today.