My film Zulfiqar is a tribute to The Godfather, says Srijit Mukherji
Srijit Mukherji was confined to the hospital bed when he wrote the script of his upcoming Bengali film, Zulfiqar, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedies, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. The multiple National Award-winning director admits that Julius Caesar being his favourite play, he has always wanted it to adapt it on the silver screen.
The director, whose film is set against the backdrop of Kolkata’s underworld, has roped in some of the biggest Tollywood stars such as Prosenjit Chatterjee and Dev in the film. And Srijit has his reasons for showing Kolkata’s dark underbelly in Zulfiqar. “It’s a tribute to The Godfather (1972). This is my first film on underworld and it has to be a tribute to The Godfather,” smiles the Rajkahini director. He also mentions that every time a story idea germinates in his mind, he tries to push the envelope. “Both the plays talk about power and I thought it would be apt to set it in underworld, where power rules supreme. Never has anyone made a Bengali film set against the backdrop of the underworld. I always try to come out of my comfort zone and do something different. This time, I have done the same. Luckily till now, the audience has been with me. They have made six out of my eight films blockbusters. I have always enjoyed both box-office success and critical acclaim which won me National awards. So, who will experiment if not me?” he says.
If there’s one director in Bengali film industry, who has tasted success in the last six years with most of his puja releases, it has to be Srijit. He made a thumping debut with Autograph in 2010, which released during Durga Puja. Since then, he has had a Durga Puja release every year — 22 e Srabon (2011), Mishawr Rahasya (2013), Chatushkone (2014) and Rajkahini (2015). Naturally, the filmmaker knows that he has a loyal fan base that will watch his films during the festive season. However, it wasn’t an easy task to adapt two literary masterpieces of the Bard of Avon on the big screen. He made sure to consult a number of scholars before finalising the script. He even met scholar Shankarlal Bhattacharya, who also gave him a reading list.
It isn’t unknown that Julius Caesar has a brief presence in the original text. So, how has he interpreted the character in the film, which has been played by Prosenjit Chatterjee? “Caesar is quite visible in the film. It’s not just about the two Shakespearean plays. There’s a book by Plutarch titled Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, commonly known as Parallel Lives, and I have taken a lot of Caesar’s back story from there. I also extensively read Roman history,” says the Jaatiswar director.
Srijit, who is also busy with the post production of his debut Bollywood film, a remake of his Bengali film Rajkahini, with Vidya Balan in the lead, has also split the character of Mark Antony, Caesar’s loyal friend and his army’s general, between two actors. “It’s one character but has been played by two people (Parambrata is Tony Braganza and Dev is Markaz Ali). Since I have adapted two plays, there was enough material on Mark Antony. Interestingly, the character traits of Mark Antony in Julius Caesar are different from those in Antony and Cleopatra. So, I felt it would be better if I split the character between two people,” he says.
Known to be one of the most successful filmmakers in Bengali film industry, the trailer of Srijit’s film has been appreciated by Amitabh Bachchan on Twitter. “I still remember vividly. I was confined to the hospital bed after I met with an auto rickshaw accident in Delhi. I didn’t see the sky for 21 days. A good part of my left leg was missing. So, I was physically and emotionally drained when I started scripting this film. Julius Caesar was the first Shakespearean text I ever read (in class 10). But I have always felt that after Mark Antony’s speech, the play somehow loses its momentum. Antony’s speech (Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears) comes in the fifth or sixth reel in a film. So, I needed a narrative, to hold the story till the end. Suddenly it struck me that the characters of Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar are common. I thought if I could bring all the characters in the same time space then it would get an interesting narrative,” says the director.
So, has he deviated from the text, we ask? “No, it’s only that I have removed 15 years between Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra in terms of the history of Rome,” he says nonchalantly.
Watch the trailer of Zulfiqar: