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Tollywood 2

We are in Roybari in north Calcutta into the third week right after completing our first schedule in Bharat Lakshmi Studio where Konkona (Sensharma) and Shrabanti had a scene as mother and daughter on Monday. It was 1971, and Chaitali (Shrabanti) was having a conversation with her mother regarding the “goynar baksho”. The jewellery box around which revolves the story of an old zamindar family. The jewellery in that box, which is worth a fortune, travels through the late 1800s into 1971, owned by different women, facing a variety of treatments, experiencing perspectives and enhancing its value with time. Three generations treat the jewellery in three diverse ways. Bangles, balas, sitahar, konkons, bichhehar and more entrapped in an exquisitely carved wooden box.

The week before that we had a sequence with two children, and all I can say is that it was tough! We were all close to having nervous breakdowns trying to convince the kids to do the right things. They did what they thought was correct. But interestingly, the scene worked out really well. Mainly because Rinadi (Aparna Sen) is fabulous with kids.

Here in the approximately 250-year-old Roybari, built by Raja Ramchandra Roy, we have entered the heritage zone of Calcutta. The grand, gorgeous 300-year-old Calcutta, once the capital of the country, whispering tales in every corner. Many Calcuttans have never visited this part of the city where architecture still speaks of history, where almost every narrow lane gave birth to a phenomenal talent and economy boomed at every turn. Tall columns cast long shadows as the sun spreads itself generously over the central courtyard. The running balcony brakes at a corner, where a slanting shadow plays hide and seek. The arches of the Thakurdalan curve graciously and drop down, breaking into broad steps. Camera, crew, cast are busy exploring the grandeur and majestic appeal of the mansion. This house is an entity, a voiceover for generations, hiding secrets, provoking curiosity, embellishing tales. Memories of two-and-a-half centuries lie embedded in every brick.

Memories will be created for the next few days right here, to be captured by the lens, immortalised in cinema. While we completed a lot of the indoor shots at Bharat Lakshmi, here most of the shots initially will be outdoor ones. Daylight shots of characters belonging to the past, actors part of a family saga, with their fortunes swinging to and fro, of money matters and court cases, of cousins and relations chatting across boundaries, of the forbidden, of the experimental.

We have more actors now. Besides the core family, we have the poorer cousins from across the courtyard, along with a few others and huge groups to deal with. Every detail better be correct, in sync with the period. I’ve spent half an hour ensuring that no one is wearing nail polish, or anything else that might belie the times. All the characters are placed in their respective spots, actions explained, rehearsals repeated, and then the camera rolls.

So the camera pans across and settles on an antique bed, right in the centre of the uthon (courtyard) while women and children bend over to see what’s going on. Chandranath (Paran Bandopadhyay) is arguing with the moneylender, and his walking stick seems to be doing the talking. Somlata (Konkona), Bandana (Aparajita Adhya) and Annapurna (Manasi Sinha), too, are curious onlookers, as the drama unfolds. Multiple actors move about one area as Sohagdi (Sen) explains cues, making it look smooth, natural and spontaneous. Soumik (Halder, director of photography) is sitting on a crane and hanging out of the balcony precariously. Rinadi is at the monitor, detailing out the action till perfection is achieved.

The last shot for the day is a romantic one. It is a wet, dewy morning, and mist smudges bits of the frame. A thumri plays in the background and a soul-stirred Somlata runs down the steps of the dalan, across the lonely courtyard, towards an unknown appeal.

I was sleeping and being comforted
By a cool breeze, when suddenly a grey dove
From a thicket sang and sobbed
With longing,
And reminded me of my own passion.
I had been away from my own soul so long
So late sleeping, but that dove’s crying
Woke me and made me cry.
Praise to all early waking grievers!