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Anirban Bhattacharya on being a director and directing 'Ballabhpurer Roopkotha'

‘This serious image of mine has taken shape over time. But I am a mixture of everything. I have this humour in me. Ballabhpurer Roopkotha is a natural expression of that’

Arindam Chatterjee Published 25.10.22, 12:38 AM
A moment from Ballabhpurer Roopkotha, directed by Anirban Bhattacharya, which releases today in theatres

A moment from Ballabhpurer Roopkotha, directed by Anirban Bhattacharya, which releases today in theatres

A spontaneous burst of emotion and acclaim has greeted the film Ballabhpurer Roopkotha, directed by Anirban Bhattacharya, after a preview screening for its cast, crew and people from the industry that took place last week. “It feels really nice,” smiles Anirban.

Ripples of laughter and applause broke out in the theatre as the horror comedy Ballabhpurer Roopkotha told the story of two men living in an almost crumbling Rajbari. Bhupati Ray is overburdened with heavy debts until one day he gets a proposal to sell off the property. A businessman arrives with his family to check out the place but things take a turn when a ghost residing there turns it into a place of chaos. A t2 chat with Anirban on Ballabhpurer Roopkotha (starring Satyam Bhattacharya, Surangana Bandopadhyay, Shyamal Chakraborty, Debraj Bhattacharya and more), which releases today in theatres.


With people from the industry going gaga over Ballabhpurer Roopkotha, when are you directing your next film or web series?

I have figured out something. In the last two years, I directed Mandaar (Hoichoi web series) and the film Ballabhpurer Roopkotha, and it took me one year for each one. I realised that I need a year to come up with a film or a web series. Now, if I start directing one film after another, then I won’t be able to act anymore. I’ll be consumed by those films as a director. I really want to focus on my acting career. Maybe, I’ll direct again after two years, which will again take me another year!

Did you have ambitions of becoming a film director? Were you harbouring thoughts of directing a film or a web series in, say, 2019?

Not at all. This happened during the pandemic when I got an offer to direct a web series. I was very happy with theatre direction, and had never thought of directing a film in 2019. Things changed during the pandemic, and work on Mandaar started in 2020.

How did Ballabhpurer Roopkotha happen to you?

I got an offer to direct a feature film after Mandaar. I suggested a dialogue drama and the ball started rolling from there. I got immense support from SVF.

Though it is based on a play by Badal Sircar, and is a dialogue drama, the visual language of the film is so rich. We saw a zoom out and a zoom in, in a film after a long time. The camera is always moving, and one sees everything from tracking shots to aerial shots to using the Jimmy Jib. Why did you make these choices?

Yes! The zoom brings a sense of drama, and I really, really like it. The zoom is also a very theatrical lens. The use of zoom gradually went away in cinematography since cinema became very realistic with the passage of time.

The zoom is not a natural optical approach. We wanted various elements of the story to seamlessly unfold with the use of this visual language.

Anirban Bhattacharya

Anirban Bhattacharya

After the success of Mandaar, and the acclaim for Ballabhpurer Roopkotha, do you see some of your director colleagues getting a bit insecure or jealous?

I have experienced a lot of warmth from my colleagues. Many have helped me a lot in my journey. No one is getting insecure or jealous. I have directed one film and a web series. The time frame and the number of productions matter in our industry. When someone makes 10 or 15 films over a period of time, it is not necessary or possible that all the films will turn out great. It is impractical. First, I have to build a filmography like them as a director. We can talk about this after I have directed 10 films.

You have this very serious image in the public sphere... maybe this has developed because of your choice of roles or the content of your interviews. Ballabhpurer Roopkotha sees you in a new light as a writer-director. This is such an entertaining film, with a great sense of humour. Was this a conscious decision to undergo a change of image or did the story lend itself to this?

See, I am like this only. I have not worn a different kind of shirt. The way I speak, my diction, the way I look.... my observations on society and politics in my interviews.... because of all this, maybe this serious image has taken shape over time. This is a perception.... but I am a mixture of everything. I have this humour in me. Ballabhpurer Roopkotha is a natural expression of that.

How did you and your co-writer Prateek Dutta work on the dialogues? Where did you make a departure from the text?

It is all about the dialogues from the play. We have edited it, and we have added exterior scenes... that’s how the dialogues come in... but we have done that by taking leads from the play itself.

The film has the structure of a play. But through the cinematography, lighting, sound design and editing, you have infused a sense of cinematic vitality.

We have explored that space, the interior, to its fullest. We have tried out all possible angles. Cinematographer Soumik Halder has done an amazing job. And if there were 100 shots, we tried to take 100 different kinds of angles.

Did it take a lot of time?

Yes, we had done the shot division but angle selection can only be done at the location. We shot this in Karimpur. We had done extensive acting rehearsals multiple times before going to the floor since this is a dialogue drama. For casting, we did auditions and screen tests.

Why did you not act in this film?

I did not want to act in Mandaar either. I would not like to act when I am directing.

How did it feel to be working with some of your friends? What are the pros and cons?

It is a huge advantage. No cons at all. We shot for 17 hours in a day. It went up to 22 hours also. And it happened twice.

How did you motivate your team then? How did they keep up the energy?

Your professional instincts take over. Everyone was really tired on those days... on such occasions, the director has to stay alert and not fall asleep! If they see that the director is alert, that is motivation enough. Our technicians are amazing. Only our technicians can pull off this huge bulk of work within such a short span of time. No other industry can do this.

Do you take inputs from your cast and the crew?

That is the form of cinema. It is a collaborative art form. The Mandaar experience helped our team.

The way Sandip Bhattacharya plays B.P. Halder, the eccentric businessman who arrives in Ballabhpur... did it remind you of Utpal Dutt?

(Laughs) Now that you mention it... when I look at his scenes now, yes it does. This was not planned... but I had given the actors references of a few Bengali films like Golpo Holeo Shotti, Sharey Chuattor, Dhonni Meye. For Surangana’s character, I had given her two names — Aparna Sen and Sharmila Tagore. We wanted to capture the essence of how people spoke Bengali during that time.

Do you have questions for Anirban on Ballabhpurer Roopkotha? Tell

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