|Rii as Haratani in Tasher Desh
His ‘underground, punk’ film Gandu has fetched him a cult following, and now Q is ready with his take on Tagore — Tasher Desh. A t2 chat with the Calcutta-based filmmaker as he readies to screen Tasher Desh on November 11 at the Rome International Film Festival.
Tagore seems an unusual choice for the man who made Gandu. What inspired you to take up Tasher Desh?
Well, I grew up with Tasher Desh and this is the only Tagore text I have empathy for. The fantasy element in it always fascinated me as a child. And Tasher Desh is staged in every para and school. Inevitably, I got involved with every Tasher Desh performance that was going around in my life. So my association with Tasher Desh is very, very long and when I decided to be a filmmaker, this was definitely the first thing that struck me... that I should make Tasher Desh. Obviously I knew I couldn’t at that point and I needed to have the resources to make the film. The film has a very bizarre set-up and the way I would have liked to make it wasn’t possible given the circumstances independent filmmakers are in in India. There’s simply no funding and no support system, so I had to create that support system myself and through Overdose (Q’s production house).
Did Gandu’s popularity open doors for you as a filmmaker?
Not particularly. I would say that our strength comes mainly from Love In India, a documentary that has rooted us into the system of production. Gandu has made it possible for us to be known beyond a niche. I wouldn’t say that that was our intent. The intent was to sort of connect with the mainline. How can we make films that would have some serious content but interest people so much that they would like to watch it even if it’s not available, like what happened with Gandu. Just by making it unavailable, a curiosity was built. Gandu definitely opened the critical door, so we knew that we would have the support of some people.
What challenges did you face while making Tasher Desh?
Every challenge possible. Who would fund a film like this? Why would someone spend this much money (Rs 3 crore) to create something which is not even scripted?! The film was entirely improvised. We have done a huge international collaboration on the music. There are all kinds of artistes from all over the world, which is exactly how I thought Tasher Desh should be done, you know. The play is experimental, it allows you the liberty to play up and to be able to do that you need resources. That was the main challenge... understanding this idea of co-production and also the fact that Anurag (Kashyap, filmmaker) is the only other person in India who understands co-production. The process of rights sharing, management and the process of creative control... everything is different from a normal way where a producer comes to you and you make a film for him.
It must be a huge thing for you to have Anurag associated with the film.
Is it that or is it the other way round? Tasher Desh has five co-producers. NFDC is presenting the film. Overdose is the primary producer. Anurag, Dream Digital and the Belgium-based company Entre Chien Et Loup are the co-producers.
My understanding with Anurag is on another level. It’s a filmmaker’s connect and he likes me more than I like him! We hardly talk to each other but when we do, we seem to understand each other perfectly and this whole thing happened without him getting involved physically or clinically. He was not a hands-on producer. He brought in a lot of resources and also the NFDC association happened because of him. So in terms of getting money, yes, he is my main support system in India for sure.
How did Anurag come to know about you?
We met in New York and he knew about Gandu.
Tell us how you’ve interpreted Tasher Desh.
I took the text as my foundation and then jumped. Now the jump was improvised. It’s not contemporary. It’s fantasy, so it had to have a timeless quality. I have followed a fairy-tale structure, vastly different from whatever you’ve seen before. It’s like a psychedelic adventure and it’s a trip film. The interesting thing is that every Bengali knows the story. So for me it was about how I could actually take away the baggage of almost 80 years of Tasher Desh being seen in a particular way. One of the main reasons the Rome International Film Festival selected it was because of that. We are in a section called Cinema 21. It’s basically a section dedicated to cinema which is beyond cinema in terms of form. Once inside the theatre, you will be surrounded by this new world, hopefully. The music is huge because it’s got 16-17 songs and there are artistes like Susheela Raman, jazz greats like Erik Truffaz and Anusheh Anadil, and Sahana Bajpaie from Bangladesh. The entire production was handled by Neel Adhikari. There are 100 actors in the film. The key players are Joyraj Bhattacharya (Taash king), Anubrata (Saudagar Putra), Rii (Haratani), Soumyak Kanti De Biswas (prince), Imaad Shah (Ruiton), Tilottama Shome (Suo Rani), Sayoni Gupta (Duo Rani), Maya Tideman (Iskaboni), model Tinu Verghese (Patrolekha) and Arijit Dutta (Raja).
You mention Tasher Desh has a bizarre set-up. What else about it is bizarre?
I don’t make films to please people. My intention of making films is disturbance. Till the time disturbance happens, nothing happens. I am into that noise and if you qualify that disturbance as bizarre, I would say it’s entirely normal.... See, Tasher Desh will have a mainstream release. Over a million people in India have watched Gandu, illegally. Whether they liked it or not, whether it went above their heads or below their knee and hit them where they don’t want to be hit — the fact is they watched it, so we made it possible for that to happen. Don’t you think that’s a much bigger deal than to just do a mainstream film that pleases the producer and the people and makes money. We did the unthinkable.
Who do you make films for?
Myself! Ask any creative person and they would say they create for themselves. Filmmakers don’t see themselves as artistes, so they cater to what people want. I want to show people what I want to see, how I see things.
How bold is Tasher Desh?
I don’t consider any of my films bold. The kind of films I watch, my film looks pale in comparison. What your question is is that how much sex is there in Tasher Desh!? It is a sexual revolution that happens in Tasher Desh. It is a romantic script and it is a Tagore story, so it has a classical sensibility and therefore I have gone exactly that way. Yes, the idea of sexuality is my sense of subject and I continue to explore it in every form but it shifts dramatically. This time, it’s a completely Rabindrik take on it. My Rabindrik take. There are no explicit sex scenes. This is also a film about anarchy but this anarchy is far more romantic in nature. It’s a very sensuous film. But nothing outrageous. The outrageousness is in the treatment. It is erotic but it is not a sexual film. It is a story about sexual tension and liberation.
Don’t you see films made in Tollywood? Don’t you think you’re a part of this industry?
We are registered as a producer and I am registered as a director. I mean, obviously we are in the industry, but we are definitely on the boundary. I don’t watch films made here because I want to watch films I can never make or do. I would rather watch films that will make me go, ‘F**k what did I see!’ I am aware of everybody’s work here.
What’s next for you?
We have shot a feature-length untitled film in four days in Goa, Bombay and Calcutta. This is also with Anurag’s company Phantom Films. It’s an experimental black-and-white film in English. Tanaji Dasgupta and Rii are the two protagonists. The backdrop is the Sunburn festival in Goa. It’s about these two characters being in that space of a festival, how they feel and also about these two characters playing games with each other.