The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Come, celebrate love in Calcutta

An intense emotional saga of star-crossed lovers unfolding in the quiet ambience of a suburban jute mill, the old-worldly Calcutta Club, the hustle of Howrah or a fusty plywood shop in central Calcutta… The Berlin Film Festival audience will get a glimpse of “the real atmosphere and natural feel of Calcutta” when German film-maker Florian Gallenberger’s Bengali venture, Shadows of Time (working title), premiers at the early 2004 event, if things go as planned.

The all-Indian cast speaks Bengali in the roughly 120-minute film that sweeps the mid-Forties to 2003, capturing the lead pair in three crucial phases of their lives. “We wanted to retain the authenticity of the story, its characters and the place, and so chose Bengali as the language. That’s also why we avoided shooting in studios and went for sync-sound in the film. We have a dialogue coach who communicates with us in Bengali and English,” says producer Norbert Preuss, who is camping in the city for a few months along with a 100-member crew, of whom 10 are from Germany.

Gallenberger — whose I want to be… fetched him an Oscar in the best short film category in 2001 — wrote the original script in German, had it translated into English and then into Bengali by Shyamal Sengupta, dean of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute. The film will have a German title and subtitles in both German and English.

Chennai-based Prashant Narayanan, of Chhal fame, who will play Ravi — the male protagonist in the grown-up stage — is making an earnest effort to mouth his lines in Bengali. After exhaustive casting sessions in Calcutta, Delhi and Mumbai, the team zeroed in on Prashant and National School of Drama pass-out Tannistha Chatterjee for the female lead, Masha.

“We had contacted Vivek Oberoi and Tabu for these roles and screen-tested more than 300 artistes for three months, but then we decided to choose only those who seemed ideal for the story,” explains Preuss, a veteran who had earlier been associated with films like Das Experiment and Anatomy. The elderly lead pair will be played by Soumitra Chatterjee and Sova Sen, while Sikandar Agarwal and Tumpa Das, both residents of Calcutta, will feature as the teenaged lovers. “Florian selected Sikandar and Tumpa from 7,000 children. The kids have really done a wonderful job,” Preuss gushed.

Gallenberger’s technical team comprises costume designer Mala Dey from Mumbai, production designer Amardeep Behl from Delhi and a make-up artiste from Germany, who will be assisted by a local expert to give a natural look to the ageing Ravi and Masha. The camera and sound equipment have been flown in from Germany. Presently, the team is shooting 10 hours a day at an undisclosed location on the city’s fringes. After canning a few shots of the barren landscape in Birbhum, the crew will hit the city hub in early March and wind up by end-April. All post-production work will be done in Germany.

Elaborating on the marketing strategy of the film, Preuss says: “Shadows of Time is being aimed at a special audience. The project has received a 50 per cent subsidy from the German government and finances from a few private firms. We intend the film to reach its desired audience through the festival circuit.” But a special screening will be held in Calcutta as well. “And local film distributors will be invited too,” he concludes.

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