To me it is a lot more challenging and interesting to discover somebody who is one film old rather than trying to rate a film. That brings me to my first thought... Srijit, your first film (Autograph) was a nice and safe package backed by Shree Venkatesh (Films), Prosenjit, lovely tunes by Debojyoti (Mishra) and Nayak as the backdrop. It was also a relationship story, which is a very safe zone. Overall it was a sure-shot formula for a hit. But you decided to shift to a completely new territory in your very second film. Something I never would have had the guts to do, as in overstep my understanding of life beyond a territory. How and why did you move to this totally different genre? Did you not feel unsafe?
Srijit Mukherji: Yes, I did but then feeling unsafe is what keeps me ticking. This fear of moving into unchartered territories is something that challenges and threatens me and makes me probe and question myself as a storyteller. Although Autograph had all the ingredients of a hit film, I wouldnt call it safe because we were also taking on one of the greatest classics of Bengali cinema, Nayak, as a film within the film and working with someone like me or Anupam Roy (writer and composer of a few tracks) who were newcomers. There were insurances but risks as well. In 22shey Srabon what propelled me to make something diametrically opposite was the fear of stereotype. I wouldnt like to be labelled.
Aniruddha: But hats off to you for successfully crossing that bridge. A slight mistake could have toppled you over...
Srijit: That edginess and fear made the tightrope walk even more enjoyable for me. Actually, if you look at my personal history, a thriller is not that risky a territory also. Im a thriller buff and all my plays have been thrillers too. But yes, telling a story on stage is different from playing it on screen.
Aniruddha: Youve also ventured into a very gritty and real visual description for which I have to give Soumik (Halder, cinematographer) a pat on the back. We see the dark, murky and dingy drains, lanes and bylanes of Sonagachhi yet theres a flow, a certain smoothness that is very pleasing. I remember the scenes where a distressed Goutamda (Ghose) is seated on the railway platform talking to a man, almost like talking to his alter ego. There are plenty such anecdotes that remind me of my younger days around Kudghat or Purba Putiary or watching two drunks in conversation. We tend to glamorise the dark and gritty reality. How did you manage to go beyond that?
Srijit: Ive had the good fortune of going through the various layers of society from childhood. Partially because Ive grown up in a crowded lane in Bhowanipore. Id play in garages, run around the murkiest of lanes with friends who were from lower-middle-class families. On the other hand, since my parents were both professors, Id have the good fortune of visiting the hallowed institutions and clubs. Probably in my first film, the prettier side of life that Id seen came out and in the second my experience of the darker sides of life.
Aniruddha: The mise-en-scene you managed to create in the poets house, Goutamdas, is something I could identify with. Ive actually come across many such distressed artistes with a craving and earnestness to find an outlet for their creative pursuits. Avik (Mukhopadhyay) did that in Ekti Tarar Khonje and Calcutta needs to be captured and seen in this light too…
Srijit: One film that warmed my creative side is Sumandas (Mukhopadhyay) Mahanagar@Kolkata. It was a story that went beyond the shopping mall. I believe that when a film is an extension of the city it should represent the city fairly. While my first film was more about the pretty and glamorous Calcutta, this delves into its underbelly.
Aniruddha: I must admit that I went to watch a thriller but after a point the story moved to a bigger picture and I came away with a sense of pain, exasperation, nostalgia, old Calcutta and people from the olden days who had a certain integrity and pride. Was that intentional or did it evolve?
Srijit: I have always maintained that only if you put a gun to my head and force me to describe my film in one word, Id call it a thriller. Otherwise, Id call it a mixed-genre film with questions of insanity, loneliness and old-world nostalgia.
Aniruddha: You have also evolved technically as a filmmaker. The editor Bodhaditya Banerjee and cinematographer Soumik have done a fabulous job. The photography, shots and the storytelling blended in like a western symphony, something well worked out before the three of you decided to play...
Srijit: During Autograph, Bodha and me would have arguments that would carry on till the wee hours. This time, we didnt have to waste any words. 22shey Srabon was much smoother in terms of teamwork. We had learnt from the blues that came out of Autograph and knew what we wanted this time and they delivered with a rapport that was magical.
Aniruddha: Like a culinary experiment that goes right each time, it seems like you marinate Prosenjit in an exotic mix of vinegar, onion, ginger and garlic before he embarks on your film. Please share your special recipe with Prosenjit that brings out such a splendid and authentic performance from him every time…
Srijit: The recipe is very simple. Some of the ingredients are already there when I script the character. That apart, we push each other. He asks me uncomfortable questions — why Im doing a certain scene, if Im showing off, if Im convinced about it or if I really believe an actor can do this. Bumbada has a fantastic regulator inside him, which can rotate at various speeds. But the director has to communicate that. That rapport Ive developed with Bumbada.
Aniruddha: Prosenjits bonding with Parambrata reminded me of Scent of a Woman and Prosenjit in isolation had elements of Scarface. The nuances were brought out very well through his body language.
Srijit: Autograph was very close to his real life so he had a reference frame to draw from — the life of a superstar. 22shey Srabon was radically different from what he is. In fact it was a new character for everyone, including Param who broke his urban, intellectual image to become a hardworking geeky character.
Aniruddha: But I had reservations about Parambratas use of language or expletives with his girlfriend. I found it a little self-indulgent.
Srijit: I draw my movies from what I have seen and the people Ive met. I have seen a lot of polished and educated people losing it in a very ugly way.
Aniruddha: But even losing it needs a context… I found it jarring.
Srijit: I started the context of the tiff from the middle. The audience hasnt seen the months and days of frustration this boy has been going through in trying to solve the case. There was a prelude to it, which I couldnt show because of the screen time and space.
Aniruddha: But the audience doesnt know that.
Srijit: Thats why I try to leave hints.
Aniruddha: Youve scored quite a few points so you shouldnt mind accepting one wrong! I must also commend the performances by all the actors. Goutam Ghose as the hungry poet never goes over the top. That intensity in his voice, his agony, his passion and fervour reminds me of so many disillusioned artistes I have seen. Parambrata complements Prosenjit aptly and does a great job as the conscientious police officer with two sides that seem so natural and relatable. Abirs is not an author-backed role, despite that he adds a refreshing touch. Raima does justice to her character of a chirpy young girl with a mind of her own. And I must mention Sumit Samaddar who was so impressive in that bit role.
Aniruddha: I have noticed a strong musical and lyrical quality in both your films. And the right use of musical sensibilities is important. How did you acquire a knack for this?
Srijit: Music is a very important trigger for my stories. I have a mixed bag of influences ranging from Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole to Nikhil Bandopadhyay, Ustad Amir Khan, folk and Kabir Suman. My musical articulation is very good. If I want to articulate a particular emotion through music, I have a pulse for which musical phrase, hook or lyrics to use.
Aniruddha: Theres a lot of intensity in the way you explore pain, anguish and frustration in the characters, the shot-taking and acting, but a very sweet strand in the film was the relationship between Parambrata, Raima and Abir. Couldnt you have delved a little deeper into that?
Srijit: There were scenes delving deeper into the triangle but I had to be ruthless on the edit table. I was divided. On the one side I wanted to build on the love angle but I didnt want to compromise on the thriller aspects either.
Aniruddha: Now that you know youve done a good job, I hope the success wont go to your head! (Laughs.)
Srijit: It shouldnt because I go by something Mr Woody Allen once said — Dont believe them when they tell you youre great; dont worry if they tell you youre no good. Just shut up and make your movies and that really works fine.