New Delhi: The characters they chose to portray were imbibed with the quirks that are peculiar to Bengalis. Their trenchant reproduction of difficult roles with a certain matter-of-fact panache made them the toast of the town this year. Yes, this has been a lucky year for the Bengali artistes in Hindi cinema.
Actors Parambrata Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee, Prasenjit Chatterjee, Paoli Dam, Bipasha Basu, Nandana Sen and Reema Sen, and directors Shoojit Sircar, Sujoy Ghosh, Anurag Basu, Dibakar Banerjee, Prateek Chakravorty and Bedabrata Pain have revived the glorious era of Bengali script writers, music directors, cinematographers, directors and actors in Bollywood. We doff our hats to the men and women from Bengal who made it easier to dream big. I spoke to 'Vicky Donor' director Shoojit Sircar. Here are excerpts from the interview:
This has been a year of celebration for Bengali artistes - be it a director, actor or script writer - do you think Bengalis spin a better yarn due to their vivid imagination?
When a film does not release, I can't tell you what a director goes through, says director Shoojit Sircar.
(Laughs) No, I wouldn't say that. But appreciation for Bengalis in the industry is not a new thing. Right from Basu Bhattacharya, Satyajit Ray, Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee - the list of Bengalis (in Bollywood) is quite long. This year has been a good year for cinema for a lot of people, some different genre and a new kind of cinema is evolving. The Bongs have been quite lucky. I wouldn't say they have an edge over anybody else but many Bengalis have shined this year.
You've had a very good year marred only by the Oscar nomination disappointment
No, no I have nothing against the Oscars or the jury's decision. I was very clear from the beginning that I thought it (Vicky Donor) should be at least given the opportunity. I had no grievances or aggression against anybody, and definitely not the jury. Eros is one of the biggest production houses yet it did not send the film. I had grievances against my producers. I think there has been a little bit of a wrong interpretation of what I had said. I clearly said that my disappointment is against the in house people who didn't bother to enter it in front of the jury for their consideration.
But you knew that notification was up on the website of the Film Federation of India?
We did remind them (producers). I asked them to enter the film, see, I don't own the rights of the film, na?
So in hindsight, are you happy with India's official entry to the Oscars?
There must have been a sensible jury sitting there and they must have taken a decision for 'Barfi'. It's a subjective issue and we have to go by the jury and their decision. But only one thing - Oscar is such an event that the jury should take a little more time in discussing and debating before they take the final call. There should be a lot of thought behind their choice but we should respect the jury's decision. A film nominated for the Oscars from a country becomes a national property. It is the responsibility of the Federation as well as the producers to see that the film is promoted and that funds are generated for its Oscar campaign. It's like representing an Olympian.
Has the success of Vicky Donor piled the pressure on you to be subsequently brilliant now?
I'll tell you one thing. There is no pressure. I have seen my bad days with 'Shoebite'. I have seen pathetic days because of 'Shoebite' - down to the point of being depressed. When a film does not release I can't tell you what a director goes through. The actors, producers move on, but the director goes through what a mother goes through when a child is stillborn. I've gone through a really bad phase and now it doesn't matter. If 'Vicky Donor' hadn't worked it would not have mattered.
So what's going on with 'Shoebite'?
I don't know what they want to do with the film. I directed it for UTV. That chapter is over. 'Shoebite' is very close to my heart, it's really close. I know it's a passionately done film. Had it released I would have said people who saw it would have walked out of the theatre loving it.
There's a whole movement in Kolkata cinema circuit now - there's Anik Dutta
(Bhooter Bhabishyat) and Srijit Mukherjee (Autograph, Baishe Srabon, Hemlock Society), who have taken over the reins from Rituparno Ghosh, making sensible, family oriented drama. While Qaushik and Amitabh Chakraborty make sexually explicit, unapologetic cinema - what do you think of the trend?
I give the entire credit for this to Rituda (Rituparno Ghosh). He made it possible to show a new dimension. There is a resurgence of a new kind of Bengali and Bengali-Hindi cinema mostly because of some new filmmakers. It's a great trend. We are still learning the genre. I have made only 'Yahaan', 'Shoebite' and 'Vicky Donor', I am too young to the medium. We are still getting the hang of it. But the footfalls have increased because of different kinds of films.
You started as a theatre artiste?
When I came to the medium, I had nothing to do with cinema, literature or music. I am originally from Kolkata but later came to Delhi. I was a student of BCom (Hons). I still run a theatre group called Act One. Me, Manoj Bajpayi, Imtiaz Ali, Huma Qureshi, we are all from the Act One group. I've made lots of ad films. My first feature was 'Yahaan', my second film hasn't seen the light of day and then came Vicky Donor. I am still too young to be called a 'filmmaker'.
So you and 'Vicky Donor' script writer Juhi Chaturvedi are working on some
From story to screenplay to dialogue of Vicky Donor, Juhi is one of the most talented writers the industry is going to have. She is doing the dialogue of 'Jaffna'. Juhi and I are writing three films. She's a part of Hamara Bajaj. She and I are writing Garden House together. I am going to direct it. Of the three projects, two films we are writing for Mr Bachchan. Once you work with Mr Bachchan, he's like an addiction. If you see 'Shoebite', he has left behind all the actors of Hollywood and Bollywood. I am mad about him, I want to write things for him. Yes, he's an addiction.
Are you looking to recreate the magic of Vicky Donor?
Ami boli ki kore holo? (Let me tell you how it happened) (films like Vicky Donor) happen automatically - there is no calculations, nothing, if you do make calculations the audience will know that this part of the film is meant to shock us. A film moves on its own if you get every aspect of it right - if you ask me to repeat it, I won't be able to.
Who's cinema have you grown up seeing?
My main influence is (Satyajit) Ray, if you are talking of plagiarism these days, I can say I actually copy his films. He's my grammar, my rule, my everything. I love Woody Allen, I love Steven Spielberg.
Does Bollywood openly accept regional film actors?
It's not that the regional acceptance is not there. People already knew Bumba-da (Prasenjit Chatterjee) before 'Shanghai' but he changed his style of performance over the years. The things he has done for the Kolkata film industry is amazing. I started seeing Bumba-da's films after 'Chokher Bali' and it gave a new perception of him. Param, Saswata are great actors but there are also a lot of factors - language being one. Bollywood has always been louder in their national presence and voice. When a regional actor comes in, he feels a little strange and it takes some time to settle in. But clearly people now want to see fresh faces or 'Kahaani' and 'Vicky Donor' would not have worked. It will take a little time but we are bridging the gap.