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Passion replay

The film version of Tagore’s novel Chaturanga releases on November 21, five years after Rituparno Ghosh gave us the passionate period piece Chokher Bali. Chaturanga director Suman Mukhopadhyay tells t2 about the challenges of adapting a complex Tagore tale for screen...

What attracted you to Tagore’s Chaturanga?

The subject of Chaturanga has intrigued me since my youth. I never took Chaturanga as a theatre piece. To me, it was always a celluloid piece. Just as I have always thought of Raktakarabi as a theatre piece. Chaturanga aroused a lot of curiosity in me. It raises several questions that transcend time.... About man-woman relationships, the position of women in society. These issues are still very relevant and still unanswered. I have kind of raised those issues again.

How far has your film travelled from Tagore’s novel?

Chaturanga isn’t really a popular novel. Certainly not as popular as Noukadubi or Chokher Bali, which a lot of people have read. Adapting Chaturanga was difficult as the characters are very complex. Sachis (Subrat Dutta) is a very modern man. That is what attracted me. I have modernised and altered the narrative pattern in the film to engage today’s audiences.... There are several contemporary elements, like the 16 songs. There’s sufi, baul, kirtan and various other genres of music. Chaturanga is about human relationships. It has love and sexuality. People should connect with the film.

Why is Rituparna Sengupta your leading lady?

I chose Rituparna as Damini because she is a very good actress. Besides, I also had her market value in mind; she is popular and will draw people to the halls. But that wasn’t the only purpose behind casting her. We had an audition where Rituparna and I discussed the script and her character. She agreed to do the role without make-up and somehow things fell into place. I feel this is one of her best roles ever. Subrat, I feel, is a very good actor but is still struggling to make a mark. I have always had faith in him. He was very passionate while shooting and would come up with useful suggestions. He is a very sensitive actor. So is Joy (Sengupta), who plays Sribilash. He is very good.

There’s Dhritiman Chaterji and Kabir Suman too...

Dhritimanda plays Jyathamoshai in the film. His is a difficult character, a radical with western education. His face was very apt for the character and he had also grown his hair long. Kabir Suman plays Lilananda Swami, Jyathamoshai’s alter-ego. For this role I wanted a strong personality. Kabir Suman’s voice and personality fitted the bill. The cast also has Sujan Mukherjee, Trina Nileena Banerjee and Biswajit Chakraborty, among others.... The process of choosing the cast was nightmarish. Even after we started shooting I was sceptical about whether I had got the right cast. But now I am happy with the kind of work they have put in.

Are there any intimate scenes?

No, not intimate scenes as such. There’s an underlying sexual tension running throughout the film. There’s the famous cave scene where Damini falls over Sachis and urges him to make love to her. But Sachis rejects her move. I have kept it very subtle. I haven’t dealt with physical sexuality.

Chaturanga has already travelled to several festivals...

Yes, Chaturanga had gone to the Montreal World Film Festival, where it was screened in the world competition section. Then we took it to Toronto, not to the festival but the local theatres. The response was very good. Next up is the Sau Paulo International Film Festival. We are also in talks with an international distribution company.

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