The Telegraph
| Sunday, June 30, 2013 |


Straight Talk

Published on 30 June 2013

  • Kamaleshwar Mukherjee

Revisiting Ritwik

Physician-turned-filmmaker Dr Kamaleshwar Mukherjee is just out with his third film, Meghe Dhaka Tara. The film is seriously close to the 43-year-old Mukherjee's heart as it's based on his idol, director Ritwik Ghatak's life and works. The film also focuses in a big way on what was perhaps the darkest period of Ghatak's life when he was admitted to a mental asylum fighting alcohol addiction.

A doctor by profession, Mukherjee entered the world of Bengali cinema only in 2009, though he'd made a switch from medicine to advertising in 2005. He began by writing the script for Natobar Notout that released to moderate success the following year. He'd always wanted to direct a film and did just that as soon as he found a producer — Manu Malhotra. In 2011, Mukherjee's directorial debut, Uro Chithi, starring actors Indraneil Sengupta, Sreelekha Mitra and Rudranil Ghosh, was released to considerable appreciation.

Mukherjee is not taking a break after the success of his third venture. He's already on to his next project, Chander Pahar — a film based on Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's novel of the same name — which stars Tollywood heartthrob Dev. In a chat, he speaks about his film and entering Ghatak's mind…

Q: What made you write and direct Meghe Dhaka Tara ?

Kamaleshwar Mukherjee: I watched many Ritwik Ghatak films as a youngster and was very inspired by his works. They helped shape me as a filmmaker and it wasn't long before I decided to make a film based on his life and works. What attracted me to Ghatak was that he preached what he believed in through theatre and cinema. For him, this medium was a weapon of social change and he never strayed from his path despite many adversities.

His ideas were leftist and radical, which made him a nonconformist. His films were pathbreaking in the context of Indian cinema in the way they were shot and edited. Nobody made films like that before him. Though I consider Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali the first neo-realist film in India, actually Ghatak's Nagarik was made before it. Unfortunately, the film wasn't released during his lifetime, or else Ghatak too would also been considered a pioneer of neo-realist films in the country.

Q: Meghe Dhaka Tara is set in that period when Ghatak was in a mental asylum. What made you choose that period to base your story?

KM: Several phases and events in Ghatak's life struck me when I went through his biography. But I felt that a wonderful storyline could emerge if I based the film in 1969 when Ghatak was admitted to a mental asylum for alcohol addiction. He was on serious medication that had many side effects on his brain. He was also put through electric shock therapy. But despite all that he went through in that asylum, it has been documented that he continued to consume alcohol in secret at the institution. It can thus be assumed that his mental state was bizarre at the time. But what is shocking is that he actually wrote a play, Sei Meye, at this time and staged it with the other inmates. I found this amazing because I believe that only a genius could have achieved something like this.

Q. But the film's protagonist isn't called Ritwik….

KM: Ghatak directed an autobiographical film called Jukti Takko Aar Gappo in which he played the protagonist called Nilkantha Bagchi. We took a cue from that when we decided to make this film. Also, there are certain portions in the movie, which are fictionalised accounts. So, from both the aesthetic and operative point of view, we decided that it would be better to call the character Nilkantha.

Q.Why did you decide on a black-and-white film?

KM: Since we were depicting a period, we felt that shooting it in black-and-white would immediately transfer the audience to that era. Importantly, all of Ghatak's films were in black-and-white. So this format relates to them.