The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
Filmi foothold for first-timers

A girl sits on the Metro Rail steps, intently studying a sheet. Her mother comes across every couple of minutes and dabs the daughter’s face with her anchal. A regular run-up to the exam hall, one would think. Only, it’s Sunday midnight and the girl is preparing for a test of different kind — a scene where she has to cross Ajay Devgan’s path and… walk on.

It is not everyday that Mumbai comes calling and opportunity knocks at the doors of wannabes. So what if it is the casting crumbs that come Calcutta’s way in Mani Ratnam’s yet-unnamed venture. Last Sunday, at Rabindra Sadan, for instance, a Metro crowd was created out of local “junior artistes”. Metro Rail motorman Bikashranjan Dutta Majumdar took in the “dazzling lights” and the “running around” in between pulling into and out of the platform.

“There was a sequence where Devgan and Simran would walk down the stairs. A crowd would move with them. That scene was shot seven times. So after every take, the others had to run back to their original positions up/down the stairs.” He remembers a woman in a synthetic sari all sweat and out of breath after the shot was canned. “Our uniforms were soaking in the blaze of the bulbs. I wonder how she managed.”

At the end of the day, acting is tough work, is Dutta Majumdar’s sum-up. “In a shot, Kareena was dropping a book which Devgan had to pick up. That shot was taken so many times that the book was torn,” he exclaims.

But most others who got a ‘legit’ break from books had a great time. Ashwina Daryanani, a 1st year student of Bhowanipur college, went to the Presidency College shoot, as a fan of the “cute” Vivek Oberoi, but by the end of the two-day stint had shifted loyalties to “stunning” Abhishek Bachchan. Tilottama Mitra, who played Simran’s friend, found the southern star “very friendly”.

There were some peeve points, too. Hours of wait, cancelled shoots, and star tantrums. Ishika Dutta, who got to share an umbrella with “snooty” Kareena Kapoor in front of Victoria Memorial during a shower, complains how the actress kept the shade firmly on herself.

Several post-teens in tank tops and hipsters, who had flocked to Presidency College on Sunday, describe in graphic detail how a hotel was created on the ground floor. “We belonged to Ajay’s gang and had to storm the hotel for a shot preceding, possibly, a fight sequence,” one of them says. The other shots, under the eagle eyes of Ratnam and Saathiya director Shaad Ali, were campus scenes — riding on a bike as Abhishek walked by and Ajay ran up the stairs.

Their second assignment was at Writers’ Buildings and Prinsep Ghat. “There was a fight between Ajay’s and Abhishek’s gangs in front of Writers’, where the crowd went berserk. We got into the act at the second location. The windscreen of a taxi was smashed and the stuntman put on ‘blood’. Ajay got involved in a streetfight. We were stuck in a traffic jam trying to figure out the jhamela, with Simran, Ajay’s girlfriend, with us,” recalls Tilottama, who steered the “stationery” bike on which Simran rode pillion.

“For the 50-60 people I provided to Madras Talkies, this was a great learning experience,” points out Jikesh Shah, the man who co-ordinated the models who made it to the shot. “They knew how to get the best out of them. Even if they did not get meaty roles, being part of a Mani Ratnam film will give them great mileage on home turf.”

— Sudeshna Banerjee

Film fare

Good cast, compact plots, smart camerawork, a respite from the daily dose of mushy soaps. Viewers are lapping up every bit of the telefilm fare on ETV, Alpha Bangla and Akash Bangla channels beamed every weekend night, or weekday evening. A package of 20 telefilms, from around 350 aired over the past three years on the three Bengali channels, will be screened at Nandan at the First Bangla Telefilm Festival, starting August 1. The 10-day festival, hosted by the Eastern Motion Pictures Artistes Forum in collaboration with Nandan, will be unveiled with Satyajit Ray’s Sadgati.

On view will be the works of Rituparno Ghosh, Anjan Dutta, Kaushik Ganguly, Partho Sen, Anindita Sarbadhicary, Sandip Ray, Shyamal Sengupta, Prabhat Roy and several others. Ensuring a great amount of transparency in the selection process, the 20 telefilms have been shortlisted from about 110, which got through a tough elimination round. “A 15-member panel sat through all the 110 films in one month and picked up 20 films after tabulating their scores. Films which notched up a percentage of 50 and more made it to the final round,” explains Forum secretary Rupa Ganguly.

An audience survey programme and interactive sessions have been planned to gauge popular response. The Forum is also trying to book a separate slot for a handful of telefilms at the Calcutta Film Festival, beginning November.

Artistes’ Forum secretary Rupa Ganguly and Nandan director Ansu Sur announce the first telefilm festival. Picture by Aranya Sen

Camera cause

Still with the shorts. Do not be misled by the brevity of the film, is the first message Korak Day conveys. His 30-minute short My Karma encapsulates the “experience” of a full-length feature, he insists. The select gathering that watched the film in early July seemed to agree. Even before a commercial release in the city, Korak’s film has travelled to western shores for a world premiere — at the New York International Film Festival, in Las Vegas, on July 25. And come September, Korak flies to the Los Angeles Film Festival with My Karma as an official entry.

Though Korak created a ripple in the city film circuit with his first short Kolkatar Kali, he prefers to remain less of a film-maker and more of a social worker. Over the past one year or more, Korak has been juggling film-making and social work — scripting My Karma while working for Amaar Nijer, a non-profit organisation he floated to help the underprivileged women and children of Metiabruz.

“For me, film is a medium — and by far the best — to reach people for, and with, whom I have been working all these years. The pain depicted by the actors in My Karma is a reflection of what I have seen while working with these people,” says the 32-year-old, whose skinny looks and frail frame belie his age and experience.

Korak’s character — a dying man — adds a curious twist in the lives of the lead pair (Arjun Chakraborty and Moon Moon Sen) in the film tracing the tale of a lamb sacrificed in the pursuit of a better life. Reborn a rich executive, Arjun finds himself enmeshed in the trappings of the material world. “I want to make commercially-viable films to generate funds for Amaar Nijer,” is the crux of Korak’s cause.

Thrill spill

It’s the most talked-about thriller written by an Indian author in recent times, and has sold 200 copies in two weeks in Calcutta. With orders for 200 more from the city bookstores with Penguin India, publishers of Bunker 13, “satisfactory sales” and rave reviews in the metros, the novel is making the six years Aniruddha Bahal (of fame) spent writing this first work of fiction well worth the while.

Fast and furious, the book is a page-turner in true thriller fashion. The man, at the British Council for a book-reading session, himself says he is “quite pleased” with the reception Bunker 13 has received. Although quick to deny any resemblance to real life personalities and events, apart from his personal experience at the frontline in Kashmir and in so far as the main character is a scribe, Bahal admits that “a journalist writing fiction is in a privileged position and has a special licence”.

But the proudest part, the current editor of says, is being compared to “all-time greats” like Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. And while the Tehelka scam hangover is “not really of any consequence” in the West, here “it is a deterrent to how the book is doing”, claims Bahal. “Tehelka was a part of my life and I don’t want to forget it, but it’s in the past.” While corruption in the army and in politics is the focus of Bunker 13, Bahal is reluctant to talk about the subject of his next book.

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