Are you happy with the audience response to Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish?
The feedback I got was, understandably, complimentary. Among the directors, Rinadi (Aparna Sen) said it’s my best film. Buddhada (Dasgupta) called to say he had liked it very much. Bappaditya (Bandopadhyay) and Atanu Ghosh too said they had liked it. Srijit (Mukherji) had tweeted right after the premiere....
But if people in general had really liked it, the film would have run longer. Since it is not, it is obvious that many couldn’t take it. Some people felt that three films on the same subject one after another (Aarekti Premer Galpo, Memories in March and Chitrangada) was a bit of an overdose, though I didn’t direct the other two films. Still, since I have become the face for non-normative sexuality on screen.... Also, there are several riddles in the film that might have been heavy for some people. But I do not regret any of it. If I can’t say what I want to say after making 20 films, then what’s the point?
In hindsight, any drawbacks that come to mind?
There are a few technical flaws. For instance, in sexual reassignment surgery, so much of hormones are injected in you that your voice changes. I knew about it but didn’t go for it…. Second, all the stage scenes have been shown from the audience’s perspective. A choreographer doesn’t view the stage like the audience does. He moves around, sees it from various angles. I should have kept that in mind. I also feel the scene featuring Kaushiki (Chakrabarty) on stage should have been designed more intelligently. It’s too much of a crowd at the centre…. Actually, I couldn’t oversee the scenes that had me in them.
Besides, some people have told me that they felt the dancer part of Rudra (a choreographer, played by Rituparno) has not been established well. I was aware of it…. Juggling acting, costumes and direction wasn’t easy. Then I would have had to learn dance three months earlier than when I started.
The dance bit is more like a backdrop in the story...
Yes, I wanted it just as a backdrop because I had to tell my story through (Tagore’s) Chitrangada. The two main characters bond through their love for art and also their marginality. That is sealed when Partho (Jisshu Sengupta who plays a junkie drummer) ties the ghungoor on Rudra’s feet… it’s a common motif actually. I took it from the film Guide; that too is a film about breaking norms. Raju (Dev Anand) quits his family business and becomes a guide; Rosie (Waheeda Rehman) comes out of her conjugal life to become a dancer. The moment she wears the ghungoor is her moment of emancipation. In Chitrangada, it comes when Rudra says goodbye to his ex-boyfriend.
But Rudra and Partho bonding over their love for art does not come across too well...
Yes, I agree that it needed to be established better. It should have been done with more care. That there was not enough time can’t be an excuse…. But you know, if I hadn’t played Rudra… I couldn’t think of anyone who could have done the role absorbing all the aspects.
Also, don’t you think Rudra’s decision to prioritise the artist in him over the need to be beautiful is sketchy?
If you notice the last dialogue between me and Anjan (Dutt) carefully, you’ll find it. That’s where Anjan asks me how I would like to be remembered — as an artist or as surupa. At that moment, I realise that I don’t need a woman’s body to realise my feminine desires. Because the body is not about physical boundaries, it is about the relationship between me and the person perceiving it. When Rudra opens his housecoat, Partho sees a bruised, bandaged body, which is a violation of the body. It is Rudra who betrays Partho, not the other way round. Because Rudra wants to change his body for himself, Partho had told him that he liked him the way he was.
If Shubho (a counsellor, played by Anjan Dutt) is an alter ego of Rudra, why didn’t you consider making it a female character?
Rudra is living with his feminine self, so he is talking to his masculine self, which is Shubho…. I did what came naturally to me, or else it would have become a psychology class. Besides, Shubho comes after Bunty (Sanjoy Nag as Rudra’s ex-boyfriend) and Partho, so there’s an element of intrigue there… it’s not clear if something sexual is brewing between Rudra and Partho. See, Rudra is acquainted with two women — his mother and Aparajita (Adhya, the dancer in his team). So here I have how two women are reacting to a feminine man.
Also, Rudra is playing out his female desires, and that’s where sex and gender meet. With two women, this interplay would not have happened. After all, Rudra is born a man and he wants to become a woman.... Oh, and a lot of people are calling up the number that is shown as Shubho’s in the film! It belonged to my father and his phone is still with me. (Smiles)
A lot of homophobic people are staying away from the film…
I made the film knowing that homophobic people wouldn’t see it. A large section of the mainstream audience is homophobic. (Ang Lee’s) Brokeback Mountain was also made keeping this in mind. For that reason especially, you have to give Shree Venkatesh Films its due for producing this film and also promoting and distributing it as they would any mainstream film. It’s a huge support. They had also produced Memories in March.
Rudra and his mother’s (Anasua Majumdar) track has struck a chord with most people....
Yes, I know. The mother is homophobic, which is what happens in most cases. That you are comfortable with an individual does not necessarily mean you are comfortable with the (gay) community in general.
The dining table has become a leitmotif in your films...
Yes, the dining table is the family space. It was there in Asukh and Abohoman too. In Chitrangada, the only time Rudra and his parents interact outside of the dining space is in the hospital, where Rudra is seated on the bed with his parents at a distance. I tried to capture the arch formed by Durga, Apu and Sarbojaya in the Pather Panchali poster.
Anjan Dutt is getting a lot of praise for his role…
Yes! Even Chanda (Anjan’s wife) said it’s his best performance…. I told him that you have to play an observer. And Anjan actually set the tone, the rhythm for me to follow in the rest of the film. The sequence with him and me was the first we shot.
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