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Dia the Bangali

Marathon interviews could not tire her out on her recent trip to the city. After all, it was all for a film close to her heart. Here’s Dia Mirza unplugged, on her first Bengali film Paanch Adhyay that releases this Friday.

Last time you had told t2 that you always go by instinct. The trailer of Paanch Adhyay, your first Bengali film, is out. What is your instinct saying?

My instinct is right. (Smiles) You cannot deny heart. Film is a craft that thrives on heart and Paanch Adhyay has so much of it. I think we have really been blessed as well. We shot the film well. We enjoyed the process and had such a wonderful time making it happen. Then the editor (Arghyakamal Mitra) came in and he did magic with the edit. All these elements and all these people, from different departments have really come together as one solid team. It is credit to the director [Pratim D. Gupta of t2] for bringing us all together.

Have you seen the film?

I had seen the film at a very raw stage. I saw the first cut with my mother, Priyanshu (Chatterjee, her co-star in the film) and Pratim. We sat in our home and we watched it. And you know when you are so close to a film, it is difficult for you to be objective. So, we were heavily relying on my mother’s reactions because as you know this is a film I have done for her. I was really, really nervous... it was a litmus test... judgement day indeed! And she cried, she laughed, she loved it. She said two things. She said, “I cannot believe Pratim is just 30 years old because he has the maturity of a far older person”, and she thought Paanch Adhyay was mine and Priyanshu’s best work. That meant the world to all of us. I saw the final cut recently. Without sounding too pompous and raising too much expectation, I would say that I am very proud of the film. I want people to go in with average expectations and walk out completely blown away. It’s a very simple film and it’s the simplicity that is very beautiful.... I cannot wait to watch the final print with my mother and you all in Calcutta with a live audience. That will be a very special day!

You had also told us you did not quite relate to Ishita. Today, what do you make of the character?

Somebody just asked me how much of Dia is in Ishita. I said if Dia had to exist in Ishita’s world, she would be Ishita. Hmm... there are certain aspects that I did not relate to, but they are an inherent part of Ishita. But there are so many things about her that are intrinsic and inherent to every woman. And there are so many things about her that are mysterious and unknown perhaps even to herself... (smiles) that for me was intriguing. It’s always nice to play a part which is not all you... not all comfortable. It is important to push your boundaries and to be able to explore a world and a time, space, environment, that you are not entirely familiar with.

When I was a young girl, I always used to have dreams of having a farmhouse with my own little chicken and geese... and also teaching. I have always wanted to be a teacher. For me, certain aspects of Ishita completed me.

You have been tweeting in Bengali quite a lot these days. How much Bengali have you picked up?

You know my Bangali was very rough... very, very sketchy before I came to Calcutta. It’s gotten a lot better since and I am working towards making it even better because it is such a beautiful language. I owe it to myself to know it better. I wish I had learnt to read and write it. Life would have been so much easier because I think Bangali literature is so rich. I wish I could read the original text and not adaptations. Currently, I am not reading anything, but you know, my little niece (Anushka) is learning Rabindrasangeet and she sings the most beautiful songs and I am so enamoured by the way she sings. She is all of 11, but she sounds like a seven-year-old. She’s got a really sweet voice. Every time she sings a new song, I am like, “Tell me the meaning, now!” (Laughs) I am so happy that my cousin’s putting her through all this because I was bereft of it.

You have also dubbed for Ishita...

Why is everybody so surprised that I have dubbed? I had to dub! I feel that your performance is also made by the way you sound and speak. I would have been devastated if I had been told that somebody else would lend voice to my character. The way Ishita speaks makes her who she is. It was something that I couldn’t accept as an alternative. I am so happy Pratim allowed me to dub and I think he made that decision based on what he saw on the edit table. He was happy with the way I was sounding. Our editor did not believe I was not Bengali! I cannot call myself non-Bengali; I am half-Bengali! Hmm... I am hoping that people would enjoy what I sound like in the film. So far, the reaction has been, “Oh my God! We cannot believe that you speak Bengali so well... you sound so Bengali.” I am like, “Wow! Thank you!”

You called Priyanshu your Bengali teacher. Were you a good student?

I hope as hell I was! I not only tortured him on the sets, but traumatised him at the dubbing.... Priyanshu and Pratim were made to sit in the adjacent room so that if I ever faltered or wasn’t sure, I could always go back to them...

You have been quoted saying that this film has made you a better human being. Take us through five moments that made you feel so...

The first day when I read the script, there was an overwhelming sense of nostalgia that it made me feel. I had no clue why I felt so! I felt it right through the shoot as well... whether it comes from this undeniable intensity that I felt for the film and the moment and the character or it was just... experience from a past life.... I don’t know what it is! It was this intense connection. Then of course, the first song that we filmed... Agontuk... my first moment on the north Calcutta streets.

You know the meaning of Agontuk?

Yes! I know the meaning...

Tell us...

You tell me! (Laughs) Stranger.

That’s also a Satyajit Ray classic...

There are a lot of things you will find in the film. Pratim is an inspired man. So, he has very beautifully and very subtly paid his homage to several people... whether it is a poster on the wall or a word or a dialogue. You will find your notes when you watch the movie.

[Going back to the few moments that left a deep impression] There is one scene which terrified me the day I read the script! Every time I would read it to get familiar with the dialogues or Priyanshu and I were prepping for that scene together... we spent three hours after we packed up one day, prepping for the scene. We met two hours before the scene, prepping for it. I was just crying. He was like, “We are not in front of the camera! Stop crying!” And I am like, “Poor thing! What is this moment?! How am I going to do it!” When a scene is written hitting the right note, even an actor cannot deny it. Even when I read it, tears would well up.

The fourth (moment) would be my last day at work... my last shot... the final announcement that it’s a wrap for Dia... my God! I did not want it to be over. I wanted it to go on forever. I remember walking up to Pratim and saying how you know when you read a good book, you don’t want it to end, I am feeling like that right now. I want to shoot for it forever.

The fifth moment would be watching the trailer. I cried and I had goosebumps. I saw it 10-15 times and I was goosebumped out! I felt so good and I know that the best is still to come. I don’t want to build up too much expectation. I just want people to go and watch the movie because it’s very special and every Bengali would feel proud that a fellow Bong has made a film like this and I know for a fact that people in Calcutta have always been great connoisseurs of art. I am going to count on that and hope that Pratim gets the acknowledgment I so believe is due to him.

How does it feel to see your first Bengali film go to the Mumbai film festival?

It’s a wonderful thing... I said that on Twitter as well... the language of cinema is universal and you don’t need to be a Bengali to get the film. Of course, if you are a Bengali, you will get it a little more, but I think anybody anywhere in India should be able to connect with the film or the world for that matter. It is a story of relationships. I am very proud of Pratim. His message to me was of course... ‘Team Paanch Adhyay... we have done well!’ (Laughs) The ever-so-correct Pratim!

Any more Bengali offers?

Quite a few. I have said no to all. I wanted Paanch Adhyay to release. I wanted to see how people would respond to me. For me, my process of selection has become very personal. It is not about the money anymore. It is more about how it makes me feel... so, at the cost of sounding very choosy, I am blessed to be in a place where I can make choices that are my own. I really wanted Paanch Adhyay to be exclusive... to release as my first independent Bengali film and I did not want any new announcements to come along during the process of release because I don’t want to dilute the attention that this film deserves to get at any level. I would love to do more Bengali films and I would love to work with Pratim again and again and again.... (laughs) This is a world that has to be explored lots more... too gratifying.

Has Sahil (Sangha, Dia’s boyfriend) seen the film?

Yes, he has seen it. I saw a very rare side that I have never seen in him before (laughs). And it’s definitely in the positive.

Are you getting married next year?

Well... it is looking like that... let’s see. He said next year. Somehow for some strange reason, we are always waiting for the man to pop the question. He doesn’t really need to ask me anymore! But we need to finalise the dates and he will have to do that!

Dia’s 5 loves

Five romances

Before Sunrise

Before Sunset

Autumn in New York

Love Breakups Zindagi

DDLJ

Five books

Tuesdays with Morrie [“It changed my life.”]

Into the Wild

The Magic Faraway Tree [“It is a book that had a huge impact on me as a child, I don’t know why! I would actually dream about the characters.”]

The Motorcycle Diaries

Kabuliwala [“It’s a story I will never forget.”]

Five people

My father

My stepfather

My mother

Sahil (Sangha, boyfriend)

Theia (friend and stylist)

Five actors to romance

Gregory Peck

Hugh Grant

Ranbir Kapoor. He is the most beautiful actor of his generation.

I’d love to work with Param (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) from here. There is something so lovely about him. Well-spoken and dignified.

Aamir Khan or Hrithik Roshan

Five men to date

I am not interested! (Laughs)

Five characters to play

Noor Jehan. She is one of the most powerful characters from history. Very interesting.

Amrita Sher-Gil. Fascinating! Her life as a painter... her sudden death... the dynamism she had.

I would love to do a modern-day relationship film based on a couple that is married like Arth was or Parama. Intense and beautiful love stories.

Rukmini Devi Arundale. She started Kalakshetra, choreographing Bharatanatyam in the form that exists now. Her association with the Theosophical Society was a very intriguing aspect.

I’d love to do a movie based on my guru J Krishnamurti, whose school I went to.

Saionee Chakraborty