HT Short Stream | In Chithi, the past is not rose-tinted, but harks to stranger times - Hindustan Times
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HT Short Stream | In Chithi, the past is not rose-tinted, but harks to stranger times

Apr 01, 2024 12:39 PM IST

The short indie Bengali film with English subtitles is more than about personal memory. In it, the protagonist grapples with ageing, loneliness and past trauma

Bollywood screenwriter Pubali Chaudhuri (Rock On!; Rock On! 2; Kai Po Che) has written, directed and produced her first film — the 23-minute long Chithi (Bengali for letter) — as much as a personal memory project as an exercise to test her screenwriting skills on an actual set and with actors.

In its short running length, Chithi, [Bengali for letter] is able to portray an expansiveness of emotions(Author) PREMIUM
In its short running length, Chithi, [Bengali for letter] is able to portray an expansiveness of emotions(Author)

“After decades of working in the ‘industrial' environment of mainstream movie-making, I wanted, for once, the freedom to have the film shape up in the way I imagined it,” Chaudhuri says.

The indie film premiered at the Indian Film Festival of New York in May 2023 and also went on to be an official selection at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne and the London Lift-Off Film Festival last year.

In its short running length, Chithi is able to portray an expansiveness of emotions. The film has two characters: An elderly lady who lives alone at the address '34 D Dover Road', and a stranger who comes to her home calling himself a representative of an orphanage.

Chaudhuri wrote the script in Bengali and chose to shoot in the old house in Kolkata in which she grew up. Her parents lived in that rented house for decades before they moved out soon after the filming of Chithi. “So, in many ways, Chithi is a long winding goodbye to 34 D Dover Road in South Kolkata, the only address that has truly been home,” Chaudhuri, who moved to Mumbai in 2005, and has been part of the film industry for almost 20 years now. 

Chaiti Chaudhuri (played by the writer-directors mother, a seasoned theatre actress of Kolkata and the protagonist of the film) lives alone in a house that has the easy identifiers of a Bengali household—brass figurines and crockery, old photographs, a Bengali calendar fluttering on the wall and a tattered poster of Diego Maradona pasted on the walls. One day, a man visits her, trying to sell her trinkets made by children at an orphanage. For reasons revealed later, Chaiti develops an instant fondness for the man, about the age of her son, who, she tells the stranger, lives in America.

As a bond develops between the two in fits and starts, the motives of neither — is he there to rob her; why is Chaiti being so nice to a stranger —are clear till the heartful climactic scene.

At an obvious level, Chithi is about the loneliness that comes with ageing. Most of us see that in our ageing parents, the need to connect, to repeat stories, to live in nostalgia.

“I am always interested in playing with the perception the audience has about characters and the power dynamics between any two people and how it keeps changing with situations. Both characters take recourse to some kind of deception in my film— who’s to say who’s right and who’s not?” the filmmaker says.

But at its core, the film is about the human ability to understand and empathise with strangers. “That, I believe, is the hope we hang on to,” Chaudhuri says.

As with any indie film made on a shoestring budget of less than 10 lakh, this one too was made possible with a little help from friends.

“It is truly a friends and family production. I cast my mother as the main lead, my sister Tomali and her best friend Sujata run a dubbing company in Kolkata called Sound Ideas TCS, and they came on board as co-producers. A large part of the crew, including editor Meghna Manchanda Sen, and music director Kanishka Sarkar, are all friends who worked on the film out of their love and support for me. It truly takes a village to make an indie film and I have to mention the immense support that Macguffin Pictures and Swastik Productions offered to help our 'no budget' venture.”

Director Abhishek Chaubey, who co-owns Macguffin Pictures, says, “I found Pubali’s Chithi moving and haunting in equal parts. In its short runtime, it manages to carefully examine loss, loneliness and ennui; about things rarely said yet are universal.”

“We have not made the film public as yet, so I’m eagerly waiting to have the response of a wider public audience,” Chaudhuri says. In India, this is the first online release of the film.

Short Stream, curated by journalist and film critic Sanjukta Sharma, will present an independent short film that is making a buzz in film festivals. The film will be available for viewing for a month (till April 1, 2024).

The film is owned by the production house/filmmaker, and the Hindustan Times does not endorse any of its views or messages.

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