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A fresh plot

The new year is bringing a promise of change to the Bengali film industry. Forget the hackneyed boy-meets-girl story and the not-so-original films with borrowed themes that have largely defined mainstream Bengali cinema for as long as most people can remember. A clutch of young directors is set to change all that as they make their debut this year with original scripts, smart filmmaking and oodles of creativity.

Take Parambrata Chattopadhyay for instance. The 29-year-old actor, just back from Bristol after completing a course in film studies, is ready with his first directorial venture Jiyo Kaka!!, starring Rituparna Sengupta, Rahul, Rudranil Ghosh and Abhiraj. Releasing on February 4, the Rs 70-lakh film spins the tale of three friends who dream of making a film that will change Bengali cinema — much like its young director aims to do. “I think a director’s first film should reflect the kind of cinema he believes in. Jiyo Kaka!! fit into my vision of a well-told contemporary story. It’s a story about aspirations — something all youngsters would relate to.”

Says actor Rahul of Chattopadhyay: “Param will emerge as one of the prominent directors of the decade with Jiyo Kaka!!

Then there is the just released Egaro — The Eleven. Directed by Arun Roy, the film recounts the true story of Mohun Bagan Athletic Club’s against-the-odds victory over England’s East Yorkshire Regiment on July 29, 1911 to win the IFA Shield. The game found a place of honour in the lore of the Indian struggle for independence. “There has been no sports-based historical film in Bengali except Koni. I read about this story and felt it would be a challenging subject for my debut film. I spent hours in the National Library, interviewed the descendants of the footballers and worked on the script for four years,” says the shy 37-year-old director. The Rs 2-crore film sees the debut of a largely fresh cast with Ranadeep Bose, actor Soumitra Chatterjee’s grandson, as one of the 11 footballers.

“I wanted to cast new faces so that the audience identifies with the characters rather than with star-actors. The boys come from all over West Bengal and have trained and attended workshops for six months. There are also about 25 foreign actors in the film. We shot the climax in April at a punishing 40°C,” says Roy.

Comedy is one of the favourite flavours of the season, and the new crop of filmmakers seems to have embraced the comedian’s right to critique society through laughter — with a vengeance. Take Anik Dutta’s Bhooter Bhobishyot. The highly respected ad filmmaker has almost finished shooting his first feature film. It revolves around a bunch of ghosts living in an old house, whose existence is threatened when a realty shark decides to raze the house to build a multiplex in its place — a very relevant issue and not just for ghosts.

The 50-year-old Dutta, who has also written the script, says: “It is an entertaining film. There’s everything from slapstick comedy to very subtle humour and the story has many layers that will give the audience food for thought. Comedy gives one the liberty to make a socio-political commentary without being blatant or sermonic.” The film, made for about a crore, has an ensemble cast with Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Parambrata, Swastika, Saswata and others and will see a May-June release.

Interestingly, the film will feature ghosts from six eras — right from the Battle of Plassey era to the present day — and each will come with its specific props and costumes. “The look of every period is different. Apart from shooting in black-and-white or sepia, we have used specific lighting techniques and backdrops used in the films of the ’40s for instance, to get the look of that period right,” says Dutta.

Another dark comedy to look forward to this year is Arindam Dey’s Uro Choti Super with Sabyasachi Chakra-borty, Rahul and Paoli in the lead. Based on a true story, the film revolves around a bus that becomes the centre of rampant village politics. “It’s a very contemporary story and a funny take on our times. There’s a lot of dark humour with only an underlining of political commentary. The primary aim is to entertain the audience,” says the 38-year-old Dey — who’s already a veteran in the television industry. He will begin shooting in February in Bolpur and aims to have a post-election release. The budget is about a crore.

Another actor, ready to release his first film around August, is Neel Mukherjee. His tentatively titled Ghente Gho, starring Jisshu, Arpita, Rudranil and Kanchan, revolves around three friends who run away from home dreaming about making it big in life. In the movie, Jisshu wants to excel as an actor, Rudranil wants to be a painter in spite of being partially blind and Kanchan wants to make it big in politics.

“We have a lack of good comedies in modern Bengali cinema and I’ve always been drawn towards comedies. One can talk about a lot of serious stuff through them. These are people we meet in our everyday lives, but the story has got a very contemporary feel,” says the 36-year-old director. The film has a budget of about Rs 90 lakh.

Going against the comic tide is Aditi Roy’s Abosheshey. The 29-year-old Film Studies student from Jadavpur University insists that “relationship stories” are her forté. And that’s why she chose to debut with the unusual story of a son’s journey to discover the woman who was his mother, after her death. The film, with a budget of over a crore, has Roopa Ganguly, Raima Sen and Ankur Khanna in lead roles and will probably be released in August. “It is a very compelling story and convincing the actors about their roles was very easy. It’s a film that everyone can watch — it’s definitely not targeted towards a niche audience,” says Aditi.

Aditi’s words are echoed by the other filmmakers who insist that their films are for everyone to watch and hence, mainstream. “How would you classify films like Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne or Shriman Prithviraj — are they mainstream or art house?” asks Dey, and goes on to add: “The idea is to tell a good story that a whole family can watch together. A film need not resort to obscenities to draw in the audience.”

Dutta agrees, “There’s a certain perception about what elements a mainstream film should have. If it’s humour, romance, drama, strife, songs — even item numbers, Bhooter Bhobishyot has it all. There’s something for everyone. But I’ve made the film according to my sensibilities and can only hope that others like it.”

Actress Roopa Ganguly sums up the change sweeping over Bengali cinema. “The new directors are making films that are a beautiful blend of intellect, creativity and saleability. They are also well educated and have an in-depth knowledge of cinema, which stands them in good stead. They have indeed brought in a wind of change,” she says. Agrees Neel Mitra, screenplay writer/creative producer of Abosheshey: “The new directors believe in pursuing their passion for making good cinema while making money.”

The good news is that audiences are returning to the theatres in large numbers to watch Bengali films ever since the making of phenomenally successful movies like Srijit Mukherjee’s Autograph and Kaushik Ganguly’s Arekti Premer Golpo last year. “It was unimaginable even a couple of years back for a Hindi film to wait in line for release because a Bengali movie was running to full houses. But now that is a fact,” says Mitra. Adds Aditi: “There’s no longer a division between urban and rural audiences. Everyone is going to watch a good film.”

Actor Rudranil, who has also written the stories of Jiyo Kaka!! and Ghente Gho, says, “It’s evident that the audience had been waiting for original, sensible films for a long time. When they watch a good film, publicity is by word of mouth and good business follows. And that in turn attracts more producers to invest in Bengali cinema.”

The debutants are sticking to their principles and their aesthetic impulses as they venture into their first productions. Determined to make a film according to their own sensibilities, they’ve shot within rigid time frames (average of a month) and budgets. Now they are awaiting the verdict of the audience — even as they gear up for their next projects. As Arun puts it simply: “It’s time for my film to speak.”

So cheers to good cinema and the new directors who promise to bring us a good year’s entertainment! Time to head to your nearest theatre, folks.

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