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The witching hour

A detective thriller (Bomkesh Bakshi) and a musical (Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona) later, Anjan Dutt is turning to supernatural thrills. Or witchcraft, to be more specific. Wiccan high priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti has written two stories, based on real-life accounts, for Dutt to work on. First up is a telefilm to be shot in February; a full-length feature film will follow at the end of 2011 for which the Bong Connection director is in talks with Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh. Anjan and Ipsita shared their plans with t2 in a chat at the wiccan’s residence bordering the Lakes...

 

What got you interested in the supernatural?

Anjan: I want to make all kinds of films and supernatural thriller is one of the genres I want to try. In Bengali, we have had films like Hanabari, Jighansha, Satyajit Ray’s Monihara and Kuheli. This genre is very exciting cinematically.... I have read Ipsitadi’s works. At one point, we had discussed making The Loving Doll, a story from her book Sacred Evil, with Sarika as the protagonist but it didn’t work out.

What is the story of the telefilm?

Ipsita: The story for the telefilm is called The Mannequin. It’s about an actress who used to be a star and can’t accept the fact that her stardom is gone. She is obsessed with a life-size mannequin and believes that it can get her youth back.

Anjan: Our society has become very youth-obsessed. You see brands all around, shopping malls all around. Our values are changing. The mannequin represents this — the money, the night life and the power that comes with it. Sreelekha Mitra plays the actress and I am playing her husband. Ipsitadi is playing herself in the telefilm. Since wicca has to be there in the telefilm, I thought it would be best if she played her part instead of getting someone to play her. Deepta (Ipsita’s daughter) has a small role as a mannequin. We are shooting in February.

What prompted you to play yourself?

Ipsita: This (acting) is new to me. I told Anjan that if he directed the telefilm, I would be game. I was rather disappointed with the way the film Sacred Evil had turned out. I felt wicca hadn’t been projected with authenticity. I felt Anjan had the mark of a wiccan and this project had tremendous promise.

You plan to cast Aparna Sen against Rituparno Ghosh in the feature film...

Anjan: Both have agreed in principle. They will hear the script. I thought Ritu’s performance in Aarekti Premer Galpo was brilliant and so I wanted to cast him. He is a playing a psychic in the film (yet untitled). Rituparno also had a link with Ipsitadi from before. He plays a psychic and I needed a believer for this role.... Rinadi (Aparna) will play an ageing actress who takes help of witchcraft to keep her looks.

Not many actresses would be willing to play this kind of a role..

Anjan: Yes, I agree. I had approached quite a few actresses and all of them backed out on some pretext or the other. Rinadi has no problems. I feel Rinadi also wants to experiment with her roles now.

What’s the feature film about?

Ipsita: Here again you have the glamour world and the film industry. There’s an ageing actress who is desperate to cling to her beauty and youth. And whenever young actresses come within her territory some calamity strikes them. She invokes the supernatural power to help her. Rituparno comes in as the psychic who tries to solve this supernatural puzzle. He has a conventional day job and is a semi-recluse. He is willing to sacrifice everything in order to de-possess and heal her. When he feels he needs more power, he goes to his teacher (played by Ipsita). Again, there is this battle of good and evil. But you needn’t be a goody-goody saint in order to heal. Wicca can counter wickedness with wickedness. That way, I would identify myself more with Rasputin!

Anjan: It is about the cosmetic world, set in the film industry. There will be a lot of suspense but scaring people is not my objective. Pritish Nandy wants to put money into the film, let’s see.... Once I am through with Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona, I will make another Bomkesh Baskhi film, an action film and then this one.

But why do a telefilm on a similar subject before a film?

Anjan: I am doing the telefilm as an exercise because I have always tried to use TV as a training ground. I did Rudra Sener Diary for TV before doing Bomkesh Bakshi. I did Half Chocolate for TV before doing music-based films like Madly Bangalee and Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona. I am doing a series of telefilms for ETV Bangla. The Mannequin is one of these.

Ipsita: The underlying theme of the telefilm and the film is the same but everything else has been changed, including the storyline. In Beloved Witch, I had written about an actress’s obsession with hanging on to stardom and youth. The film focuses on that.... It is possible to pry open nature’s secrets and wicca can make it happen but at what cost? Is eternal beauty desirable? Because there is a price to be paid for it.

How does wicca come into the telefilm and the film?

Ipsita: Wicca acknowledges that evil exists alongside good. In both the stories, there’s a tussle between the good and evil all through.... A few of the wiccan tools will be shown in the telefilm. The Wiccan Brigade will come in a few flashes. Not that we are going to sit and propound wiccan philosophy; it will be woven into the story.

Anjan: I would like to sit with Ipsitadi and I would also like my cast to sit with her and observe. To me, wicca is a strong healing force. The concept will be explored further in the feature film.

Do you believe in the X factor that wicca talks about?

Anjan: Yes, I believe in it. As a filmmaker, I am open to everything. But I do believe that an unseen world exists... whether it is in the form of energy, spirit or soul, I don’t know. Besides, you can’t explain everything scientifically. Also, people don’t have a clear idea about what wicca is. Some think it is black magic. I want to take a rational approach to it.

I was Ipsita aunty’s student and she has been like a guardian to me. I have great respect for wicca; it is not mumbo-jumbo. I wanted to learn a few wiccan things and Ipsita aunty did teach me. It had made me mentally stronger when my mother passed away.... It is interesting that Anjan wants me to do a different kind of a role. Shooting with Rinadi will, of course, be great fun! I am interested in this but I am more interested in another film that Anjan is planning to cast me in.
Rituparno Ghosh

My latest film Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona is in the post-production stage. We are dubbing for the film. It should be ready by April and we are looking at a post-elections release. Ranjana is a culmination of a series of music-based work I have been doing over the years. We have mounted it on a huge scale. — Anjan

Sahara One Motion Pictures is producing the Hindi film Lorie, based on Ipsita’s short story The Loving Doll from the book Sacred Evil. Diana Hayden plays an ageing actress in the film, Karan Singh Grover plays her husband. Kitu Gidwani (picture left) plays Ipsita. Pavan Kaul, who made the STAR Plus horror serial Shh... Koi Hai, will direct Lorie. The film will be shot in Bangkok in February. “We have changed quite a bit of the story and there would very little resemblance between the Bengali film and Lorie,” said Ipsita.

Anjan’s favourite supernatural thrillers: Rosemary’s Baby (“my most favourite film in this genre”) Monihara, Saheb Bibi Golam, The Exorcist, Eyes Wide Shut, The Haunting

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