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Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury talks about Dear Ma, his first Bengali film in 10 years

The film starring Jaya Ahsan, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Dhritiman Chatterjee and Saswata Chatterjee goes on the floor end of May

Chandreyee Chatterjee Calcutta Published 18.05.24, 05:07 PM
(L-R) Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and Jaya Ahsan.

(L-R) Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury and Jaya Ahsan. Instagram

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, the director of films like Anuranan, Antaheen, Pink and Kadak Singh, is returning to Bengali films after almost 10 years with his latest titled Dear Ma. It’s the story of a mother and a daughter, of love and self-discovery, and stars Jaya Ahsan (who worked with Roy Chowdhury in Kadak Singh), Chandan Roy Sanyal, Dhritiman Chatterjee and Saswata Chatterjee.

We sat down with the National Award-winning filmmaker – better known as Tony – in his Lake Gardens office just days before the film goes on the floor for a free-wheeling chat about Dear Ma, about relationships and the meaning of love, about wanting to swim in the ocean, and more.

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You are returning to Bengali films after 10 years. Why the hiatus?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: See, I make very few films, usually one in three or four years. I was waiting for the right opportunity, the urge to make another film in Bengali. I was doing films in Hindi (Lost and Kadak Singh released on ZEE 5 in close succession) and in fact, right now I am working on a Hindi production but I wanted to do this film, Dear Ma, so much that I took a break from that for a month-and-a-half to make this.

I want to make a film with a lot of love and affection. You know I like to be pregnant with an idea for at least 10 months before the delivery process starts! For Dear Ma, the pregnancy lasted for about one-and-a-half years. It needs that much time to marinate.

The other thing is I badly wanted a movie for the big screen. And I was willing to wait for it. Waiting is very important. It is my mantra, I wait for the right time, right call.

You are making a movie for the big screen after eight years. How does that make you feel?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: See, speaking from the creative angle, there is no difference between making a film for the OTT platform and for the big screen. A film is a film, and I always think of the big screen. Even in my ad films, even if it is a chamber drama, my lensing doesn’t change according to the platform. But it is slightly different when it comes to personal happiness. Personally I crave the big screen. You might swim in a swimming pool almost every day but still crave being in the sea.

If you ask me, are you unhappy with OTT? The answer is absolutely not. The number of people who have seen Lost and Kadak Singh, is incredible. I got calls from across the world. A filmmaker's soul is happy when people watch their films. A full-house feels so wonderful, it’s absolutely heavenly. But with OTT the whole world can watch your films with the click of a fingertip. At one point I was told that 22 million people had watched Lost! This is a huge gain, which was not there 20 years back.

But we started life watching films on a big screen and making films for a big screen, and I want to go swimming in the Pacific Ocean as well!

What made Dear Ma the film you come back to Bengali films with?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: I got the seed of the film from a friend of mine, and the story has strong connections with my life and the lives of close people around me. I identified with the story, and for an artist it is all about identification, whether you are a musician playing a raag or a painter painting a landscape or an author writing a book.

When I developed the story with Sakyajit Bhattacharya, it was an instant connection. The story took shape through conversations between us. There are so many personal moments from each of our lives that went into the story. I said no to a Hindi film offer that was 10 times the budget of Dear Ma, because sometimes you need a particular language to express your thoughts.

Also, Jaya [Ahsan] is a friend. I worked with her in Kadak Singh where she did an excellent job. She brought honesty to the way she played the role of Naina, which really touched me and I wanted to write a film for her. And this is that film. It was written with her in mind. Then other things fell into place. Chandan [Roy Sanyal] is also a friend and I have worked with him before [in Aparajita Tumi]. Apu [Saswata Chatterjee] is also a friend and I have always wanted to work with him.

Jaya Ahsan is playing the role of a mother for the first time. What made her the perfect fit for the role?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: Well, the moment I thought about this film, I thought about Jaya… I don’t know, she has a very subtle arrogance, she has a lot of dignity and she has a silence which makes you feel like there is something more to her. So she intrigued me. I guess it’s a director’s eye and gut feel. I called Jaya on her birthday last year and told her that I had thought of this story with her in mind. And she said yes as soon as she heard the story. There is nothing like having your actors, your whole team, believing in the film.

If you ask me if there is a grammar to it, I don’t follow grammar. For me it is not about if I cast so-and-so I will make more money. I go purely by instinct.

I didn’t know any of Radhika’s [Apte] qualities before casting her in Antaheen. I met her at a small Italian joint and she was eating spaghetti, oblivious to the world. I liked that image so much, I knew I had found my Brinda.

Jaya was really good with the young daughter of Kadak Singh in the film [played by Sanjana Sanghi] and she brought a lot of dignity and grace to that role. Did that play a part in your choice for Dear Ma?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: I never thought of that, but I guess it was there in my subconscious and did play a role, because this film is also about a mother-daughter relationship.

Does the language then have to play a role in the subject of your films? Most of your Bengali films deal with different aspects of love and intricacies of relationship.

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: See, Bunohaans wasn’t a relationship film. On the other hand, Kadak Singh and Lost both delve into different kinds of relationships. Similarly there is a mystery in Antaheen and a thrill in Anuranan. So all my films are an amalgamation. And I don’t think language is really a factor. But I felt that the expression of Dear Ma would work better in Bengali, because I dreamt of this film in Bengali.

Life is all about relationships and the thrill comes from those relationships. I have met so many different kinds of people in my life — old, young, children, peers, people of the LGBTQIA+ community, musicians, dancers, even criminals — and with whom I've had different kinds of relationships. I value the friendships I have. Human beings are social, they like being part of a society and I want that resonance in my films. Which is why I like making films that reflect this rich tapestry of relationships.

See, I have always loved watching films by [Francois] Truffaut. I remember asking a friend to get me the entire DVD collection of his films from America, which I still have at home. If relationships have been of central focus in my Bengali films, it wasn’t a conscious decision. I don’t know why it happens, but it does. I guess you are true to your language.

Dear Ma is a story of a mother and her complicated relationship with the concept of motherhood. Can you elaborate on this for us?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: Without giving too much away, I can only say that we usually believe blood is thicker than water, but love is even thicker than blood.

See, human beings are very territorial, just like animals. We are possessive. But like Buddhism says, we are actually custodians. We are just passing through, we don’t possess anything. When we die we can’t carry anything with us, but we are caught up in this possessiveness.

The other thing is that we are very self-centred. We only think about ourselves but after a point you need to start thinking about others. The world would be a different place if we actually thought about others. Our perspective is from ‘my’ angle but we need to see it from other angles as well, just like if you place a camera from an angle you might look happy, but from another angle you look empty. Dear Ma is about all of this.

Also, we have forgotten how to learn, it has become about how much we already know. This film is also about learning and evolving. The elders are learning from children, just like children are learning from the elders and elders are learning from each other. If we stop learning it becomes still, stale water that breeds mosquitoes that cause malaria.

You are also working with two child artistes this time. How did you zero in on them?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: A friend of mine showed me a picture of his wife and child. She was around four years old and there was just something in her eyes that appealed to me. I asked him if I could work with her. There is something in her eyes and you can camouflage everything but not the eyes. For the other child actor, I asked a friend of mine who is a teacher in a school and she said she did have someone in mind and that’s how we got her.

I don’t know what will happen but we are workshopping for the film now and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Any kind of artform is an experiment. I am doing what I want to, and I don't know whether it will work or not. But we are enjoying the process. And I would rather put in the extra effort and get something real.

Are workshops a very important part of your filmmaking process?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: All my films have a clause about workshops in the contract. It is a must, because I also need to learn. It is a process and it is fun. It is where I discover my actors and where I discover myself. It is all about exploration.

Your films are known to depict various Kolkatas. Will Dear Ma be shot entirely in Kolkata? What kind of Kolkata will we see this time?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: Yes, it will be shot in Kolkata. It will be the Kolkata that we experience. The middle and upper-middle class Kolkata of today. These are successful professionals, and this film delves into what construes success and how success in one aspect doesn’t always mean success in another.

What can the audience expect from the film?

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury: To discover that love is not about blood or about ownership, it is far more transcendental. I don’t make films to prove something. When you find the right collaborators people can expect a very interesting mise-en-scene that we will create. We are discussing sets, framing and other things with Avik Mukhopadhyay, my DoP. I am collaborating with Bickram Ghosh for the first time for this film and it has come out of three years of friendship. Something will come out of each of these collaborations. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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