The place: Mrs Magpie, the popular light-bite hangout address in Keyatala
The players: Goutam Ghose (maker of Shunyo Awnko), Konkona Sensharma (Raka), Priyanshu Chatterjee (Agni) and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury (special appearance for the t2 adda!)
The time: Saturday morning
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: Something that I found interesting, and we should develop on, is the dignity of life, why an outsider cannot come and disturb life’s natural cycle....
Goutam Ghose: If you read Gandhiji now you’ll find he had great plans for new India. He was very keen on agrarian industry, cottage industry, he also said ‘follow Japan’, where most of the giants, like Sony, started out as cottage industries.
Konkona Sensharma: Sony started as a cottage industry?!
GG: Yes and then they became global corporates.... But Nehru got into the trap of the Soviet Union. He was an intelligent scholar, a great leader but not a great politician. He built big dams, big factories but we must realise that India has a matrix where people-development is also important. You can’t have people surviving on less than a dollar a day or living with pigeons. People are on the brink. Anything and they would slip off. If I’m a corporate I have to see how do I prevent this.
ARC: Yes, a social responsibility. There are good films and there are bad films, but this I think is an important film. Shunyo Awnko deals with many issues in its own unique way. While there’s a political background, the foreground has many other elements.
GG: Politics is part of your life. Whether it’s subdued or overt, we have to raise the issue. What is happening in Bengal is an important subject.... I am a very severe critic of my own. Now that I’m seeing this film again, there are so many things I’m not liking.... That song montage in the film is beautiful looking, people have liked it, but I do not. Then there are many scenes in Manali that were probably not necessary but people are loving...
ARC: While the film has a political angle, it also has a certain romanticism, a concern between two individuals who aren’t really in a romantic relation yet have something unspoken and I love that ambiguity which I find in your films. Just like entertainment is important, the thoughts are also important.
GG: I think this comes with age. Greats like Tagore or Manikda (Satyajit Ray) after a certain age have wanted to say something more. Look at Tagore’s later novels or Manikda’s last few films... it’s not that you’ll die tomorrow but you try to express your feelings more. Sometimes I wonder about my own films…ektu ki beshi preachy hoye gelo... George Seferis had said... ‘It’s time to say our few words because tomorrow our soul sets sail’.
KS: Egulo toh morbid kotha barta….
GG: No, it’s true. Read some of Tagore’s later novels. There’s a need to communicate a few things.
Priyanshu Chatterjee: I think it’s true of regular, normal people too. My father is 75 and talks so much that we get tired and go “Baba…!” But he feels he hasn’t spoken enough.
GG: That’s lovely…
ARC: In the role that Priyanka (Bose) plays as Jhilik, there is a certain melancholy, why is she a little helpless most of the time or why do we find a certain void in her?
GG: It’s quite normal. My wife is extremely free. I have never imposed anything on her but somewhere I’ve seen a certain void. I think that void exists because of our patriarchy.
KS: And I think it’s more with Indian women. When Jhilik tells her husband (Agni, played by Priyanshu), ‘Tumi amar dana ketey diyechho’ (You’ve clipped my wings)… kintu ami tomake dana ta kaat-tey diyechhi bolei toh tumi ketechho (But you could clip my wings because I allowed you to). You have that choice, whether you’re aware of it or not.
GG: Girls indulge their husbands. It’s a woman’s instinct.
KS: And also I think a lot of women think it’s the smartest thing to do. It’s also convenient.
PC: During the workshops we had thought of many things for those abstract moments but we left it open.
ARC: At no point in the film did Priyanshu come across as stubborn or intrusive. We get to see a certain compassion in him throughout.
KS: But there are also glimpses of that time when there’s marital rape. It’s so great that something like this is there in the film.
GG: We never try to show what is going on in Priyanka and Priyanshu’s everyday life. But the counterpoint is very interesting, which is Raka (Konkona). The things that Raka tells Agni are things he’s never been told or heard from anyone, which shakes him.
KS: I really liked the morning fight between husband and wife. She apologises for screaming out for a man from atop a tank because it’s public humiliation. But then he behaves like a beast and since its embarrassment in private, it’s acceptable.
ARC: And it was a very controlled fight. Not over-the-top drama. It’s not like Priyanshu doesn’t love his wife, he does and yet he develops a soft corner for Raka.
KS: It’s so ambiguous, the whole thing… How conveniently he straddles both worlds.
PC: For me Agni is very real. His background, the way he treats his wife, our conditioning and patriarchal mindset which no matter how cosmopolitan or cool we become, that is truly us.
ARC: I find Konkona to be a prodigy. Flawless acting. Any director’s delight...
KS: Thank you! I’m usually never 100 per cent satisfied. I don’t think anybody ever is, but I don’t find it difficult to watch my films. I’m not terribly self-conscious.... I’m very happy to have played a very heroic character in Shunyo Awnko. I personally feel that our lives are ordinary and extraordinary in their ordinariness. We live ordinary lives and try to find or create extraordinary moments in that. But Raka’s experiences for me at least are out of the realm of the ordinary....
GG: And it’s interesting because she’s a celebration of journalism. That spirit to know, to write a story from living in the moment and willing to risk anything to not let go of the chance of a lifetime. Again an example of ‘you cannot destroy human spirit’.
ARC: And I thought Agni’s character was very well enacted.
GG: You can’t etch out a corporate character in black and white. He is after all not a villain. He is doing what he thinks might lead to some good from a corporate responsibility.
PC: I was an internal auditor for a lot of companies. And I have seen the inner workings and callousness involved in various dealings. So that inclusive approach is missing. Growth has to be overall, not for one person. I have witnessed that first hand. When I heard the narration from Sir, it was a story that I found very intriguing and I didn’t know it was going to be developed into different acts. I was literally choked with the impact of watching the 10 acts unfold over two hours and 17 minutes. I was moved by what happens to Raka and Agni. I was stunned into silence as I walked out of the hall. A realisation to stop and think about what you’re running after and when you get it, will you be happy with it? Will the people around you be happy with it? Do you after all want it? Reminds me of lines from a U2 song... We stoop so low, to reach so high. I was filled with these realisations at a personal level and as a member of the community we belong to.
ARC: It’s a narrative film yet you’ve structured it in a non-narrative way using parallel edits and shots that have come in as motifs.
GG: Actually I liked the link between a Chhattisgarh and a Manali and I like the fact that in cinema you can really combine linear and cyclic time.
KS: That is probably why you described it as picaresque and episodic… And you can keep going backwards also, jeta amar khub interesting lagey.
PC: The contrast between locations is also in connection with the duality within us and outside.
KS: Yeah, because we’re capable of so much. There are so many bad things and good things that the same person is capable of.
ARC: I think this is the first time you’ve gone digital....
GG: The first time I used this medium was for a video film made for television in 10 parts and then I upgraded that to cinema. I didn’t like it at first but many filmmakers have asked if it’s shot on film, when it wasn’t. It wasn’t looking right to me, but the audience did not mind.
KS: I’ve done three Bengali films last year and all three were digital.
GG: The reason for me going digital in this is because firstly, you need to update yourself, secondly you need to have your budget in mind. The shoot in Manali was completely on 5D just to expand the canvas and 12 days of shoot were compressed into seven. Onek shahosh kore korte hoy. Indoor, I’ve used Alexa because the entire bungalow was a set and I had to match the lights outside with the lights inside and this camera captures low light beautifully. We’ve used Arri Alexa, Canon 5D and Red Epic seamlessly blended together.
GG: Talking of the cyber world, one would have thought it would help people learn more about people but I think it’s becoming more of an age of intolerance.
KS: Instead of concentrating on integrating, always there is this thing of separating in terms of caste, gender, religion...
ARC: A lack of happiness because of so many contradictions. We don’t know what we want.
GG: It’s the condition. You have to find your happiness within that little realm.
KS: You have to be open to finding happiness in unexpected quarters.
PC: There is a sequence when Priyanka starts dancing to Fly Me To The Moon; I was waiting for Sir to give me a cue to go into the frame. Suddenly, I see Sir dancing with Priyanka, holding the camera, dancing to the music!
KS: A very underrated moment in the film. So light, so blurred and lovely....