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The daring debutant, 90, ready for cameras to roll

After Tabu, it’s back to Jyotibabu. After the Gorumara forests of north Bengal, it’s back to Indira Bhavan, Salt Lake.

Goutam Ghose, whose Abar Aranye, starring the Mumbai actress, is set to hit the halls this Friday, will be back behind the camera to complete a project he had started more than seven years ago — a docu-feature on “the most daring of all (his) actors”, the country’s longest-serving chief minister. “There is no other politician in present-day India through whose life so much of the Indian political scenario can be captured. I plan to take a long interview on his views, post-retirement, to cap off the film,” says Ghose.

And Jyoti Basu is willing to pick up the dangling conversations with the director. “He (Ghose) makes good films... He has gone with me to many places, asked me many questions. I am not used to such things… With my failing health, if I have the time, I will cooperate and finish off the film,” said the 90-year-old.

The film is said to provide rare moments of candour from the elder statesman, known to keep a stiff upper lip. A trip to Holong, in north Bengal, also stands out. “The camera was set rolling on the lawn beside the forest bungalow. The (then) chief minister was giving me an interview. Suddenly, a cry rose from among the crew. A rogue elephant had appeared from the adjoining forest and was smashing down the salt mounds on the borders of the bungalow. The guards panicked and wanted to escort him indoors, but Basu was absolutely calm. He was definitely the most daring of all actors I have worked with,” says Ghose.

For a debutant, he also displayed an admirable sense of the craft. “Jyotibabu has an amazing understanding about how close to the microphone the mouth should stay to capture the sound best, and at what angle to ‘give the look’ for the camera,” says producer Amal Ghosh.

The film contains anecdotes about Basu from a cross-section of acquaintances — Hiren Mukhopadhyay, Indrajit Gupta, Benoy Choudhury, Satyen Ganguly, a fellow-prisoner during the rail strike, and wife Kamal Basu, who recounts how the two met and got married. During a London trip, Basu has been recorded talking to his granddaughter Payel about his student life in the city. There is also an adda with successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee over tea at a petrol pump near Stratford-on-Avon. Though the film-maker has followed Basu on his trips far and wide, from Britain to Bangladesh to Bankura, the lack of footage on the veteran politician’s early days has been a “disappointment”.

Ghose insists he does not want this to be “a black-and-white biography”, and promises “enough colour”. Basu, for instance, has spoken out on issues where he has differed from the party line. “As a partyman, there were many decisions he had to obey, but could not accept as an individual,” is all that Ghose is willing to reveal, keeping the controversy cards close to his chest.

The director is upbeat about the making of the film, but not its screening. “Neither television channels nor organisations here are interested in documentaries. Perhaps the film will be screened at Nandan. After that, who knows…”

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