IN CONVERSATION SUDHISH KAMATH talks to the scientist-filmmaker Bedabrata Pain about Chittagong and the buzz it has generated in Bollywood
I t’s just storytelling, not rocket-science. Try telling that to former NASA scientist-turned-inventor-turned-filmmaker Bedabrata Pain, the director of Chittagong that finally released this week after a two-year ordeal and he’ll quickly tell you — ‘rocket science is simpler’.
In the 1990s, Bedabrata along with his four friends invented the CMOS Active Pixel Sensors. The technology that enables cameras to capture light digitally, at a very low cost and is used in almost 95 per cent of all digital cameras produced in the world today — from that little camera in your mobile phone, to the latest digital cameras used in filmmaking, all the way to the camera on the Curiosity Rover on Mars!
Bedabrata holds about 87 patents relating to innovations this technology has brought in. Married to filmmaker Shonali Bose and father to two kids — Ishan and Vivan — he didn’t have the slightest idea of what life had in store when he embarked to make Chittagong in 2008, with all the money he had saved up from his inventions.
With Ashutosh Gowariker’s Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se starring Abhishek Bachchan tackling the same subject, the market wasn’t kind to Bedabrata’s film. Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap had criticised the Bachchans for mounting up pressure on distributors to delay the latter’s release.
And with the death of his son Ishan, owing to a freak accident caused by an electric razor in September 2010, Bedabrata’s world turned upside down with a two-year legal battle in the U.S.
After the memorial screening in Mumbai last week, Amitabh Bachchan himself told Bedabrata he wished he were a part of Chittagong . Excerpts from an interview with the director.
It’s been a frustratingly long journey for you. Are you worried the film released with seven other Hindi films this weekend?
Yes, I am. But it’s not in my hands... If I didn’t release it now, I would have had to wait till January. There’s great buzz about the film. I hope that will turn into something positive. It has been a tremendous learning experience, not about filmmaking but about life. Earlier, I would be frustrated when things didn’t work out; I would get angry. Now what I have come to realise is the truth behind the line from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge — Bade bade deshon main chotti chotti baatein hoti rehti hai (such small things happen in big countries). But you have to put your 300 per cent. You cannot control the result, but you can control the effort you put in and that has a calming effect on you. Life has taught me a lot in the last three years. It was baptism by fire. Now I am like, ‘bring it on. What more can you do to me?’
Do you intend continuing the legal battle in the U.S.?
If I had the money, I would have fought. Two years ago, when the accident happened, I didn’t know what exactly had happened. My reactions were instinctive. Now that I have had to confront the evidence, I know that it’s the razor that caused it. I know for sure this is what happened. That helps to take it to a closure. Even if we had won, how do you put a monetary value on the loss of your life of somebody so close to you, somebody so fantastic...? All you want is for Ishan to come back.
Did you watch the popular film made on the same subject as Chittagong ?
Interesting choice of words. As far as I know, it wasn’t popular. I do hope my film becomes popular. My film is not about Do or Die. It’s about Do and Live and Go and Do Something More. Chittagong is a story of a victory of an ordinary people that would resonate with people. It’s a simple and accessible film. And as for the other film, honestly, I haven’t watched it. I started shooting for Chittagong after the 36th draft. I would have wanted to do a few more drafts, but because the other film was announced when I had gone through 18 or 20 drafts, I had decided right at the point, ‘this is not a film I’m going to see because I don’t want to be influenced by it’. Most historical films have been about the sacrifice but this is about victory... Also, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s songs on the Bengal theme and the brilliant music seem to have been liked by people.
You say rocket science is simpler than filmmaking.
Yes, given my experience, filmmaking is a far, far more difficult job. Maybe because it was an independent film — I was the accountant, I was the runner, I went and sang the song...
So I was singing a song, doing the finances, and sitting with Resul and wondering if I like the sound when I didn’t even know what the barometer was… what I should like or not. I was extremely nervous. Besides, you have to keep an eye on what others are not looking at. One day, I noticed that the uniforms (to be used for a scene in the film) were absolutely well-ironed. I had to have them take off the clothes, had them roll on the ground…
You have to have the vision, an eye for detail, organisationally and creatively and make sure everything is being executed according to it. I hope that in my next film, I don’t have to do everything. Ask me after the second film, maybe I will say rocket science is more difficult.
You cannot control the result, but you can control the effort you put in and that has a calming effect on you