It's never easy making a film set in a bygone era. The task gets tougher when the protagonist is the enigmatic Kadambari Devi, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's sister-in-law.
Kadambari Devi's life has always been mired in controversies; her relation with Tagore and her equation with the Thakur Bari and her eventual suicide have always been topics of discussion and debate. Now, National Award-winning director Suman Ghosh is all set to bring Natun Bouthan's (as Kadambari Devi was known) life on the silver screen for the first time in a Bengali cinema, Kadambari. What's more, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan has played the sarod for Kadambari, which releases May 8, in Kolkata.
We caught up with Ghosh, who is also an associate professor of economics at the Florida Atlantic University.
You directed Nobel Chor with Mithun Chakraborty in the lead in 2012. What took you so long to direct another feature film?
(Laughs) I teach economics so I cannot afford to make too many films. I love teaching and doing research. Also, there's a philosophical reason why I do a handful of films. Even if I had time, ideally I would have made only one film a year. I don't want to be a factory, which churns out films one after the other. I need time. I read a lot, watch films, theatre, listen to music… these are my sources of nourishment.
Kadambari Devi's relationship with Rabindranath Tagore has always been a topic of discussion. So how did you weave your screenplay?
The challenge was to portray a real life incident in that period, which has a lot of sociological ramifications. A lot of myth has been propagated about this incident, which is actually good ingredient for cinema. I wanted to imbibe those elements in the screenplay.
The suicide episode is sensational. In those days, a woman belonging to the Thakur Bari committed suicide, so naturally a lot of stories were circulated. I wanted to represent the story in an aesthetic and responsible manner. Also, I would like to clarify that it's not a documentary on Rabindranath and Kadambari Devi. It's a feature film. Cinema is all about creating myths. The film is roughly based on reality. I have incorporated these myths in my screenplay to make it more palatable. But I do believe that everything should be handled in a responsible manner when someone is dealing with Rabindranath Tagore. Myths are not bad.
But when it comes to Rabindranath Tagore, the audience, especially Bengalis will be over sensitive.
It's good to be sensitive about Tagore because he is a great personality and such a person hasn't evolved among Bengalis ever. But there's a difference between being sensitive and touchy. I think a certain section of Bengalis are a bit too touchy about Tagore. A lot of people have problems with the fact that Tagore (Parambrata Chatterjee plays Rabindranath Tagore in the film) shouldn't look this way. One should definitely be sensitive, respectful and I too have tried to maintain that in the film.
A lot of research would have gone into making this film.
(Pauses for a second) My screenplay is based on Sunil Gangopadhyay's Prothom Alo, Mallika Sengupta's Kabir Bouthan and Tagore's own writings during that period. Obviously, I had to read a lot. I read the authoritative biography of Tagore by Prasanta Kumar Pal and Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, a book by Krishna Kripalani, which helped me a lot. Konkona (Sen Sharma) also suggested the book Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti. We had to be authentic about the look of that period.
Do you plan to release the film abroad?
We had plans of taking the film to international film festivals and then release it in India. But now, we want to release it here first and then take Kadambari to various film festivals abroad. Since it's about Tagore and everyone is interested, I am planning to release it in the US and UK too.
Why did you select Konkona Sen Sharma for the role of Kadambari Devi?
When I was writing the screenplay of the film, I realised that the character has a huge variation of emotions. So I needed an actress who is not only good but also has done a variety of roles. Konkona's body of work is amazing. From Mr and Mr Iyer, Omkara to Wake Up Sid, I think she is a rare actress in the national arena who has such variations.
How did you go about casting Parambrata Chatterjee in the role of Rabindranath Tagore?
I knew that casting for the character of Tagore would be the most talked about. But what I needed to capture was the spirit of Rabindranath, which Parambrata captures extremely well. He is a person who is equally adept in English and Bengali culture. He has knowledge about eastern and western literature and I needed this confluence for Tagore's character. I needed intellectual flamboyance for Tagore's character and Parambrata suited the part.
The next film, Peace Haven, will release in December. It stars Soumitra Chatterjee, Paran Bandopadhyay and Arun Mukhopadhyay and it's about a journey of three old men who are preparing for their own death. It's a dark comedy.