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An unusual take

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By Director Ashoke Viswanathan explores diverse and intriguing themes to make movies with a difference, says Nandini Guha Pic by Victor Banerjee and Simone Singh star in Viswanathan’s first Hindi film, Gumshuda Pic by
  • Published 13.09.09

It’s been a busy season for filmmaker Ashoke Viswanathan. He has four movies scheduled for release — all on very different subjects —and they’ll all be coming out one after another in the next few months.

Most interestingly, there’s Gumshuda, based on a Sherlock Holmes mystery but before that there’s Sesh Sanghat starring Jayaprada. Says Viswanathan: “The subjects that I’m now dealing with concern the politically volatile times that we live in.”

Gumshuda, scheduled to release later this year, is a crime thriller based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story. Viswanathan is breaking with the past in more ways than one in Gumshuda. He’s also making a bow to commercial cinema by getting a star cast that includes Rajit Kapur (of The Making of the Mahatma fame), Simone Singh and Victor Banerjee. Viswanathan has taken great pains with the music as well. The score is composed by percussionist Bickram Ghosh and the film has five songs sung by Sunidhi Chauhan, Sonu Nigam, Rupankar and June Banerjee. The background score has a local Northeast feel to it.

Sonu Nigam does a qawwali number with a rock sound in the film — the tune evokes “an inner search that goes beyond the physical search for the treasure”. The lyrics are by Rakesh Tripathi, who also translated the script into Hindi.

Viswanathan has always had a reputation as an ‘intellectual’ director whose movies do exceedingly well in the art house circuit. Now he’s reaching out further with Gumshuda, which is produced by Unilux Films and targeted at both multiplex as well as single theatre audiences across India. Says filmmaker Goutam Ghose: “I feel with Gumshuda, he is all set to impress a larger film-going audience without losing his own, individual style of filmmaking.”

Also, as in his earlier Bengali films like Sunya Theke Suru and Kichu Sanglap Kichu Pralap, Viswanathan explores contemporary themes like violence and terrorism, albeit in a subtle manner. Gumshuda unfolds against a backdrop of political violence (the blasts that took place in Ganeshguri, Assam, last November).

In another new film Sesh Sanghat, scheduled to release in late October, the director picks up the theme of land agitation and the Maoist movement in Bengal, telling it from a woman’s point of view. The film — starring Jayaprada and Ashish Vidyarthi — has references to the recent Lalgarh strife. The protagonist is village belle Jayaprada, who is exploited by the canny local landlord and driven to become a Maoist.

Jayaprada plays a Maoist leader in Viswanathan’s yet-to-be released movie, Shesh Sanghat
Dilip Das

But the plots in Viswanathan’s films are never just black and white and even as a Maoist she is exploited (her image as a woman is used) and after a tough encounter with the paramilitary forces all her comrades are killed. The film is being produced by Rainbow Jayaprada Entertainments.

Then, there’s Andhakarer Shabdo, made in 2007, which Viswanathan says he will release early next year. The movie deals with the subject of eve teasing and stars Rituparna Sengupta and Jisshu Sengupta. It’s a movie within a movie, with actor Tota Roy Chowdhury playing a filmmaker who tries to treat the subject of eve teasing with objectivity but fails to do so.

The director is also looking forward to the release of a political thriller, Swapner Sandhane, made in 2001, but only released on the festival circuit at the time (he says he was waiting to get the right distributor for the movie). Here, a city-bred youth, a dreamer at heart, becomes a witness to a gruesome political murder. And all hell breaks after cops start hunting him down.

The cast includes Sabyasachi Chakraborty, who plays the politician who’s murdered, and Dhritiman Chatterjee, who plays the cop. The youth is played by Badshah Moitra and Nandita Das plays a journalist. Says director Prabhat Roy: “Viswanathan is an intelligent filmmaker. But he needs to keep the mainstream audience in mind for his upcoming films.”

A fan of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and G. Aravindan, Viswanathan has also dealt with the sensitive issue of Gulf wives in a recent documentary for the PSBT (Public Service Broadcasting Trust). The documentary, Are They Potted Plants?, on the plight of young married women in Kerala who end up pregnant when they are barely 14/15 years old was difficult to shoot. “Premature pregnancy is a health hazard as well as a societal concern. Also, the women are looked upon with suspicion, which is a pity,” says Viswanathan who shot the film in Malappuram, Kozhikode, Cochin and Trivandrum.

Dilip Das

A Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, graduate, the 49-year-old director has always dealt with serious subjects. Even in his first movie, Sunya Theke Suru, he tried to depict the impact of the Naxalite struggle on the Indian psyche. He attempted a complex juxtaposition of the Naxalite struggle of the early ’70s against the consumerism of the ’90s.

Viswanathan also likes to make occasional onscreen appearances. He has acted in his own films like Sunya Theke Suru and Kichu Sanglap Kichu Pralap and also in T. V. Chandran’s Malayalam film, Kathavasheshan. The filmmaker is currently a visiting professor at FTII, Pune, and also at the Department of Cinema and Theatre, Tufts University, Boston.

When he is not acting, directing or teaching films, the filmmaker likes to relax at home with his pets — a few cats and dogs — who try to hog every minute of his time at home (his wife is also a big canine fan and spends a lot of time looking after street dogs). He also spends time writing poetry, both in English and Bengali — and that’s when he’s not trying to create poetry on screen.