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Stumped but not out, Calcutta boy back to roots for shoots
Raveena Tandon in a still from Stumped: Mumbai masala

Raveena’s beau, Balaka’s debut'

That’s if a 34-year-old alumnus of Calcutta Boys’ School has his way. Gaurab Pandey is back from Mumbai to carry forward his celluloid dream of low-budget, ‘non-formula’ films in the city he spent the first 17 years of his life. After directing actress-cum-producer Raveena Tandon’s Stumped — on the sets of which she met her hubby-to-be Anil Thadani — Pandey has set his sights on a fresh face for his next film.

“If I was to pick my dream leading lady from Bengal, it would be Balaka, daughter of artist Bikash Bhattacharjee. Her eyes, her innocence are just what I have in mind,” says Pandey, now camping in Calcutta.

And with good reason too, insists the linguistics graduate from Jawaharlal Nehru University, who went to Paris for a diploma in art and culture studies. The film, tentatively titled Lips, revolves around “two amoral individuals”, a boy and a girl, walking the razor’s edge of success and sensibility. How much does one sacrifice to be successful, is the question.

“The city plays a key role in describing the context of a film,” feels Pandey. “So, Calcutta will be more than just the location. After all, this city is going through a transition and people sacrificing sense and sensibility in search of success is still an issue here. Delhi and Mumbai have already made that trade-off.”

Other things Calcutta will also figure in each frame of the film — from local actors to art director to sound recordist. “The city will play an important part in the film and so I want people who know the city to be part of it,” explained Pandey, busy identifying the shooting spots in Bagbazar and Shyambazar and also touching base with his friends in Tollywood.

Balaka, artist Bikash Bhattacharjee’s daughter: Director’s dream

The start-to-finish 50-day shoot has been scheduled for the summer of 2004 and Pandey is in town to “tie up various loose ends”. Having already signed Rahul Bose — back in Bengal after Mr and Mrs Iyer — Pandey is now scouting for the female lead.

“But it won’t be a big-budget film, as when the money put in the film is big, one has to stick to a success formula. The risks become higher,” said Pandey, who shot to fame after scripting Basu Bhattacharya’s Aastha, starring Om Puri and Rekha. Mahashweta, based on N.R. Narayana Murthy’s wife Sudha Murthy’s story, then Ek Ajeeb Bhoot ka Dastan followed for the small screen, before he was Stumped by Raveena’s first foray into film production.

Pandey, whose production unit Continuity will steer the project, has already started drawing up plans for his first English production, also to be shot in Calcutta. “Aami to Kolkatar-i chhele (I am a Calcutta boy),” is the reminder.

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