Truth is stranger than fiction. Though this old saying is driving a number of Tollywood directors to churn out movies inspired by real-life incidents, the audience still seem to be hooked onto fiction. Fantasy, no matter how unrealistic and far-fetched, continues to ring the bells at the box-office. The Bengali audience loves watching sleuths from best-sellers digging out truth on big screen. Truth is, not too many films based on real-life events are finding takers in Bengal.
In Bollywood, on the other hand, films inspired by real-life events are minting money at the box-office. From the Aarushi Talwar murder case, aftermath of the Gujrat riots and 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts to the 2008 Mumbai attacks; Bollywood filmmakers have found perfect plots for their projects. Neeraj Pandey’s recent release MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, starring Sushant Singh Rajput in the lead, became the second highest grosser of 2016. Two other films that have rocked the box-office this year are Rustom and Airlift, both starring Akshay Kumar. The message is clear: Bollywood has learnt to comfortably bank on real-life incidents.
It’s no secret that for most of its projects Tollywood draws inspiration from Bollywood. Bengal’s filmmakers, too, have resorted to the ‘follow-real-life’ model of filmmaking and churned out quite a few films. But unfortunately, not many films have been able to move the audience or the box-office.
There is an exception though. Rituparno Ghosh’s Dahan (1997), based on a real-life incident in Kolkata, won hearts and actors Rituparna Sengupta and Indrani Haldar won National Awards for their powerful performance.
But the same cannot be said about the other projects inspired by true events. Take for example Agnidev Chatterjee’s last release Dark Chocolate, a film on the Sheena Bora murder case. The director and producer received legal notices from Peter and Indrani Mukerjea’s lawyer to stall the release. Since the matter is sub-judice, the film received a lot of attention from the media. Yet, it didn’t make good business at the box-office. But that didn’t stop the director from experimenting with another real-life subject. Agnidev is shooting for a Hindi film, Jihaad, which is based on the massacre in Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka. The film, starring Rohit Roy and Rituparna Sengupta, will be shot in Paris, Barcelona, Montenegro and the borders of Turkey. “I was in Paris with my wife and I could feel the tension in the air. The attacks in Paris and Dhaka shocked me,” says Agnidev. The terrorist attack in Bangladesh has also made director Anjan Dutt plan a film on terrorism.
Debaditya Bandopadhyay’s film ‘8.08 er Bongaon Local’ was partly based on the Rajib Das murder case in Barasat. Director Arun Roy had to struggle a lot to make ‘Cholai,’ based on the hooch deaths at Mograhat in December 2011. Roy’s debut film, ‘Egaro’ (2011), based on the football match between Mohun Bagan and East Yorkshire Regiment in 1911, was, however a hit because in Bengal football always sells.
Tollywood directors racked their brains to come up with an interesting and thrilling plot when Kolkata woke up to the horror of the Robinson Street skeleton case in 2015. Director Rhitobrata Bhattacharya showed interest in making a film on the Robinson Street horror house. It’s a different matter that no director finally went ahead with it. National Award-winning actor-director-musician Anjan Dutt even contemplated a film on the mysterious death of 17-year-old Abesh Dasgupta. But the project is yet to materialise.
Directors admit that it requires a lot of courage to make a film on a real-life incident. Also, not too many producers are willing to invest money on movies like these. Director Riingo, who is presently shooting for his maiden gangster film, ‘Senapati’ with Parambrata Chatterjee, Riya Sen and Suhel Seth, has included an episode in the film which will be based on the murder of IPS officer Vinod Mehta on March 18, 1984. The then deputy commissioner of Port Division of the Kolkata Police and his bodyguard were killed by gangsters in a planned attack when Mehta rushed to Garden Reach to address a law and order problem. The director says that he has been researching on the subject for three years now.
Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay and Nandita Roy- the director duo known for making family dramas such as Bela Seshe and Praktan- too tried their hands in realistic cinema. In 2012, they made Accident, which was inspired by the road accident at Kestopur where 20 people were killed when a bus plunged into a canal.
Young filmmaker Hrishikesh Mondol has taken to sports for inspiration. His new film, ‘Kusumitar Goppo’, is on Bengal footballer, Kusumita Das. Just like Mondal, debutant director Raja Banerjee made a film, She, on controversial athlete Pinki Pramanik’s life. Pramanik, an Asian Games gold medallist, was accused of rape by her live-in partner. The film was a flop.
Today, directors who plan projects based on real-life incidents, prepare themselves for all kinds of controversies. Just before the release of Akshay Kumar’s ‘Rustom’, which was based on the life of naval officer KM Nanavati, there were reports that the actor’s uniform in the film missed out on important details. Agnidev, one of few directors in Tollywood who work on these projects, has earlier directed films such as ‘3 Kanya’ (reportedly based on the infamous Park Street rape case) too got embroiled in controversy. Agnidev admits that it’s a challenge for a filmmaker to direct a film on a true incident. “Every day is a challenge because you don’t know what to expect. But do you think I deliberately want to get involved in controversies?” he asks.
Popular scriptwriter NK Salil says that one needs to find a “proper” incident, which can be adapted for the big screen. “Not all incidents have cinematic elements and one needs to be very careful while handing real-life events,” says the scriptwriter of ‘Awara’ and ‘Rangbaaj.’
Director Raj Chakraborty, who is mainly known for making remakes of south Indian movies, showed courage when he narrated the tale of Barun Biswas, who got killed when he raised his voice against rape, in his film Proloy (2013). Parambrata Chatterjee played the title role and though the film was appreciated for its content and acting, it didn’t rake in big moolah.
The money may not be coming but it’s definitely a good sign that Bengali filmmakers are trying to portray real life on celluloid. Who knows, someday a film on Sourav Ganguly may supersede the success of MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. One has to wait and watch.