A foley artist (who recreates sound effects for movies) gets so consumed by his work that he becomes oblivious to people talking around him. A group of dwarves work as jokers in a circus, not letting tough times snuff out their dreams.
These are some of the themes tackled by award-winning Bengali writer-director Kaushik Ganguly. His upcoming Bengali feature film, Cinemawala, won him the ICFT-UNESCO Award – the Fellini medal – at the recent 46th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) at Goa, making him the first Indian winner of the award.
But this is not the first time Ganguly has received an award. He won the Best Director for Apur Panchali at the IFFI in 2013, and his film Shabdo was the Best Feature Film in Bengali at the 60th National Film Awards in 2012.
Cinemawala, which stars Parambrata Chatterjee (who played a cop in the Vidya Balan-starrer Kahaani), is about a father-son relationship set against the backdrop of the fast-vanishing single-screen theatres in West Bengal.
Excerpts from an interview:
What was your inspiration behind Cinemawala?
There was a time when we had 700 single-screen theatres all across West Bengal. Now there are only 250 digital theatres – celluloid doesn’t exist any more. It’s a very painful situation for those who liked celluloid. Of all the films I have made, 10 were on celluloid, so I have a very strong attachment to it. I thought about the owners who’re still holding on to their theatres, and the thousands of celluloid projectors all over the country – it’s all junk now, and has no value.
What are your memories of single-screen theatres?
As a child whenever I wanted to watch a film, my parents would take me to the lobby of the theatre. Back then, they used to have photos set in different sequences behind glass panes. My parents would show me those pictures and call it cinema. I would roam around in the lobby, see ‘cinema’ and come back. Now the culture of photo sets has vanished completely, but I feel those photo sets used to sketch the story line of the film. Today we just have a standee in the multiplex.
You made 10 films on celluloid before stepping into digital films. How easy or difficult or different was the transition?
Celluloid was a very expensive affair – every four minutes of footage, you had to spend 12000-14000 rupees. When the film used to make sound in the camera, it was almost like stapled money rolling. So we had to go for several rehearsals to make sure we didn’t go wrong in the shoot.
In the digital way, there are definite benefits. There is fantastic quality – so let’s not stop this change. But at the same time, we should remember the old. Cinemawala is just to celebrate the heritage, more than 100 years of cinema. Before it vanishes, we should give a standing ovation to celluloid.
Tell us about your filmmaking journey.
I wrote my first script when I was in Class 9. Of course it was never made into a movie! I went on to study Bengali from Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, finished my Masters, and B.Ed and taught in schools for eight years. But it was impossible to work on films along with teaching. So I decided to quit teaching and to start with television serials.
All your films are very different from each other...
I never take myself seriously as a filmmaker. I am a storyteller. My stories should be fresh, new, and non-repetitive. The moment I start telling the same stories, people will refuse to listen to me. I look for stories and thank God that I keep getting new ideas. I am very worried about the day when I run out of ideas!
Where do you get your ideas from?
I’m not sure. It’s here, there. It’s everywhere. Just be alert and don’t ignore anything you see. There is a story everywhere – if you respect life, if you respect small, little things happening around you, you’ll get a story.
You wanted to be an actor. But you mentioned in an interview that you soon gave up on the idea...
While growing up, I realised that I was pretty ordinary-looking. Also, because of an accident in my childhood, I developed a squint in my right eye. At that time in Bengali cinema, the heroes were prettier than heroines: they had pink lips, pretty faces. So I started writing and directing. Today the scenario has changed so much that I get offers for playing the main protagonist. My old wish of becoming an actor has started to come true.
Do you think you have evolved as a scriptwriter?
Just a year back, I was clearing my loft. I had written so much for television, I started sorting out the scripts and as I was reading through them, I found that the scriptwriter who wrote those scripts was lousy. I didn’t like most of my scripts from 1987 to 2000. And I thought, ‘Why should I keep these records of my poor writing?!’ If anybody evaluates me ever, I don’t want those scripts around. So I took them all to the garden and burnt them!
A trend in cinema that you detest?
There was a time when the hero would be poor and the heroine, rich or vice-versa. Today, the hero is mostly seen in a tapori-type avatar. It’s no longer about being rich or poor. It’s about a learned family versus an illiterate family. It’s a different kind of a class fight, which I don’t support. It’s the ambience of panga and violence all over. I feel filmmakers need to be more sensitive about dealing with issues.
How important is a star cast in a film?
I have seen films flop despite having super stars, so that is no criteria. It’s good if you have a star– you get publicity and they have their audience. But he/she should be in the film as an actor, not a star. I don’t like actors; I prefer reactors, who will react in the film.
What do you feel about the trend of returning awards in protest?
A senior director said that he can return those medals but he can’t return that money – he has spent it already. The ones who have returned their awards – that’s their own language of doing it and I respect that. But I might write a strong sequence to protest in my own way; I believe in protesting through my craft.
Follow@JainAtisha on Twitter
From HT Brunch, December 6
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch