Aditi, you chose a mother-son story for your first film...
Aditi: Yes, it’s a very simple story about a boy who returns from the US to his native city after almost 25 years. He comes back to sort out some legal matters when he starts discovering his mother with whom he had no connection... through her writings, paintings, neighbours. It’s not just about Soumya (Ankur) discovering his mother (Roopa) but also a discovery of the kind of person his mother was.
You’ve pulled off quite an ensemble team, which we believe wasn’t easy...
Aditi: It was tough. The first problem was casting. We had very specific people in mind. Roopadi’s role was written with her in mind and convincing her wasn’t easy! She was living in Bombay then. So for two years, we were calling and texting her but she was just not interested. Two years later, she suddenly said, ‘Okay, read the story out to me’ and she liked it at one go. Then she became apprehensive again after she saw me! She felt I was too young to direct a film and she wasn’t keen to work with a newcomer.
|Ankur, Roopa, Raima and Aditi at the t2 chat in Casa Toscana. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Roopa: Initially, yes I wasn’t.
Ankur: And I wasn’t. In fact, I was just jealous because I was trying to make my own film at that time. She’s exactly the same age as me (31), my film got stalled and hers took off! I called her and said, ‘My film is not happening, I want to do yours!’ (Laughs) But I’ve worked with many first-time directors (he was in Sonali Basu’s Amu and Naseeruddin Shah’s Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota.
Aditi: Ankur, I got in touch with through Sohagdi (Sen). Ranjan Palit was the next tough nut to crack. I was told by friends to not even think of approaching him because he’s so snooty! Ranjanda asked me, ‘Oi nyaka nyaka Bangla cinema na toh?’ But I managed to convince him. And once we narrated the character to Raima she was very keen on doing it.
Raima: The day Aditi was narrating the script in my house, my father happened to pass by. Later when I told him I was doing this film, he asked me who the director was. I said you just met her! He was like, that little girl is going to direct you in a film? (Laughs) We always have these apprehensions when working with a new director but once you’re on the floor you know.
Roopa: More than directing, I think your father was worried about whether she would be able to control you!
Raima: Well, I had to control myself because I was more afraid of you than the director! When I worked with Shabana Azmi for the first time (in Godmother), I was petrified of her. When you’re working with someone so senior, you’re scared.
Roopa: Raima is naughty. Her jokes and pranks scare people, make them laugh and cry but she is not like a heroine of today. She has no tantrums and she is very obedient. If the director scolds her, she’ll quietly listen and try to do as told. I have never seen any heroine-like behaviour in her.
Aditi: Whatever you want Raima to do, you must get it done within the words ‘action’ and ‘cut!’
Raima: That’s what everyone says. From Vinay Shukla to Rituparno Ghosh... that ‘you don’t hold for even a second after cut.’ (Laughs)
Roopa, why were you so difficult to convince?
Roopa: First, because I hardly had any time in the first two years that they were trying to connect with me. And frankly, these days I’m a bit apprehensive about new directors. I don’t want to fight on the floor. Our wavelength wouldn’t match if I don’t understand what they’re trying to say but I still have to give a shot just because he or she is the director. I get pissed off very fast. I get very irritated if I am asked to do unconvincing, stupid things. Bhoy pai actually, ki korte giye ki bole debo…(I fear what I will say).
Ankur: But even with veterans, it can be like that.
Roopa: See, if you’ve worked with someone and faced a problem, you understand how to go about it the second time. How to mould, manipulate or handle the person and sort things out. With new directors, they won’t understand what I’m trying to tell them technically. It has happened a few times with first-time directors. Boyesh hoye gechhe toh... I get tired and I prefer working with those who understand me or my point of view more easily. When I met Aditi, I had the same apprehensions. A slip of a girl, what will she do?! But then I felt I was able to understand her and she understood whatever I had to say.... I still believe in the school of thought where my director is my boss. So I need to respect that person and her ability. Our communication was very smooth.
And eventually the unit moved into your house!
Roopa: Yes, they convinced me into shooting at my place! And didn’t I take good care of all of you? Khawa daowa, jotno…
Aditi: Roopadi is very caring, so she was always looking after everyone, if we were eating...
Ankur: It was because of Raima that we all were eating too much. She was always ordering food and after sometime I would have a Pavlovian response. If Raima was around, there must be some good food around.
Aditi: Yes, his cheeks actually fattened up in three days during our shoot in the hills of Namchi.
Raima: I was eating because I love eating. Mainly phuchkas, jhalmuri and aloo chaat. But I wasn’t spoonfeeding him! He was just getting greedy looking at me. He would eat from my plate and order his own too. So it’s his fault.
Roopa: Raima would eat all the time and try to convince us that she hadn’t eaten much!
Tell us about the stunt with Roopa behind the wheel that almost went horribly wrong...
Aditi: We were just not being able to convince Roopadi to sing for the film. We had a scene of a car winding down the mountain path and speeding towards a truck. None of us wanted Roopadi to drive but it was her condition...
Roopa: So I told them, ‘I will sing, provided you let me drive during my own accident sequence.’
Aditi: The truck-driver got his timing wrong and with Roopadi behind the wheel and Ranjanda and me at the back, we almost collided! Thank god Roopadi swerved at the right moment and we averted a real accident.
And the Rabindrasangeet (Durey kothaye) you sang and won the National Award for?
Roopa: Yes, I eventually went to get the National Award. How embarrassing it was!
Aditi: And Roopadi had said she would practise and sing more often which she isn’t doing.
Roopa: It doesn’t happen, Aditi. With a shooting schedule like mine, you can’t be singing as and when you like.
Raima, you agreed to go without make-up for the film…
Aditi: She was a bit apprehensive but during the dubbing she was surprised at how beautiful she was looking.
Raima: I think Ranjan Palit is a great cinematographer and no, I wasn’t very worried because I’ve done the no make-up look in half of my films. I was just worried that I was playing a doctor and it was a different get-up. But I’m happy with the way I look in the film.
Period characters to innocent girl, serious doctor and journo roles — what are you most comfortable doing?
Raima: I enjoy working with different directors doing different things. The characters I’ve done are very much like me and the one that I identified with, the most, was the one in Honeymoon Travels. But I don’t get characters like me so often because I’m crazy!
And your mother (Moon Moon Sen) says you can never say ‘no’ when approached for a film...
Raima: Yes, I have a problem. I can’t say ‘no’. When there are ones that I don’t want to do, everyone gets so emotional because they’ve seen me as a kid and they tell me that the film might not take off, this and that, that I start feeling guilty. I try to be nice and by the end of it I say yes and that’s how sometimes I have chosen the wrong films. And then I go, ‘Oh god, why did I do this film?’ That’s why my mother and father tell me all the time that I need to learn to say no, that I don’t need to be nice to everyone all the time. Of late, I’ve realised I’ve been trying to please everyone. So now I’ve learnt to say no. I still can’t say ‘no’ rudely, so maybe I’ll say I don’t have dates and I guess it will be understood that I don’t want to do the film.
What is it about a film that hooks you at first go?
Raima: I think it’s the director. I’m a director’s actor, so the director has to be very strong and clear in their vision. I’m really dependent on my director. Also, instinctively if I like something. In Abosheshey, I liked the story very much. It was an emotional one and I found the cast very interesting.
Aren’t you spending too much time in Calcutta and slowing things down in Bollywood?
Raima: Yes, I was spending too much time here but now I’m starting a Hindi film from October 26. It’s still untitled. There are six gangsters and one girl that is me. It’s being directed by Nitin Shinghal, who was the AD (assistant director) in Eklavya and Parineeta. We’re going to be shooting in Dehradun and Siliguri and then I’ll come back for Anjanda’s (Dutt) next film. Also, my film with John Abraham I, Me Aur Main is going to release. They’ve decided to add some more scenes, so I’m going back to Bombay to shoot for that.
Ankur, tell us what you’ve been up to in Mumbai till Abosheshey came your way...
Ankur: I’ve actually been busy scripting for people. I’ve written some stuff for television but I’m also trying to get my own film made, which has been an epic struggle. I used to do stage work in Delhi. After I went to Bombay seven years ago, I realised that to survive you have to keep working. I’ve been doing films off and on, some of which haven’t released, but I’ve wanted to do a Bengali film for a long time. In fact, I was meant to work with Avik Mukhopadhyay, which never took off. I’ve had this desire to work in Calcutta because I’m from here [he studied in St James’ School].
Sohag Sen had called me and asked me to read the script. I trust her judgement, so I was keen on doing it. In a way, I’m happy that my film didn’t happen at that time. But now I have to make my film before Aditi makes her second film!
And, are you still rolling your ‘R’s when you speak?
Ankur: Oh yes, that was traumatic but we had Debasish Ray of Databazaar who lives in the US and he helped me out.
Aditi: He just refused to talk with the accent because he felt awkward and people would shoot him.
Are you in touch with Bengali films?
Ankur: I am, somewhat. Now I keep asking Aditi to fill me in on the new films and I watch whatever she recommends. The last one I really liked was Anik Datta’s Bhooter Bhobishyot. In fact, (Aparna Sen’s) Yugant is one of my favourite films ever.
Roopa: Thank you! Tokhon jonmechhili (Were you born then)?
Ankur: I watched it a few years ago. I got myself an old print, so I got a pair of headphones, plugged it into the TV and watched.
Aditi: A big reason for Ankur working in this film was Roopadi.
Ankur: She is one actress who has been consistently good. Whether a film is good or not, she has always risen above the film.
Raima: I’ve also seen Yugant.
Roopa: I think she has seen me more in her house than in films!
Raima, you travelled to the London Indian Film Festival with Abosheshey. How was it?
Raima: Yes, and the audience there liked the film a lot although they didn’t agree with the ending. That’s probably because the film doesn’t call for a cliched ending.
Finally, why must the t2 reader watch Abosheshey?
Roopa: It’s a story of eternal truth. The subject or story is not anything uniquely new but the mother-son story has an eternal appeal. I used to cry every time I would read the script although there are no such crying or emotional scenes. It had the risk of getting melodramatic.
Ankur: Yes, it was very important to get the tone right. I was anxious that it’s a very Bengali-centric film that only Bengalis would understand but that wasn’t true. It’s a very layered film.
Raima: I think it’s an emotional, sweetly-told story. It also shows Calcutta in a refreshing way.
Aditi: I think one important factor is that Roopadi has a substantial role after a long time. Also, no one has seen Ankur in a Bengali film. Besides, two senior directors have acted in the film — Sumanda (Mukhopadhyay) and Ranada. Also, Roopadi singing should be a big draw.
Why will you watch Abosheshey which released on Friday? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org