He helped Aparna Sen co-author the Iti Mrinalini story and screenplay, and early this year got behind the camera to shoot his first feature film Hrid Majharey with Abir Chatterjee and Raima Sen. Ranjan Ghosh chatted with Aparna, his mentor, on books, music and, of course, movies, for t2...
How have you been, Rinadi (Aparna)?
Fine, Ranjan…. Thanks….
I know you’re a bookworm, so tell me what you’re reading right now, between films...
(Laughs) Mahabharater Bharat Yuddha Ebong Krishna by Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri. You too must read it if you haven’t already.
You had once mentioned you’re interested in the Mahabharata....
Yes, but more than the epic, I am interested in Krishna! I find him very fascinating.
Can you elaborate?
I find his life very compelling since it is so full of discrepancies. The cowherd who became a politician…. You know, between the Krishna of Vrindavan and Mathura, and the Krishna of Kurukshetra, the sweetness of his childhood… the romanticism of his youth… and eventually how he transforms into a politician… how he corrupts and becomes a strategist… calm and composed and calculating… almost cold-blooded… while he was hot-blooded in his youth… all these aspects of Krishna captivate me. But I have no religious belief....
Since when have you been reading up on Krishna?
Since childhood. I remember in school, when I was given this task of writing about my favourite character in literature, I had written about Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Krishna Charitra. That was when I was 14, I think.
You wrote about Krishna Charitra in school! Tell us how you got introduced to literature as a child...
My Baba-Ma were very intelligent in many ways, you know. As children we used to read only Enid Blyton. Baba (Chidananda Dasgupta) obviously didn’t want us to continue reading only that! But he was intelligent enough not to ask us to stop reading Blyton and switch to (Charles) Dickens! He knew that it wouldn’t happen overnight. What he did instead was that he gave me an Agatha Christie. Which was lighter and easier and hooked me. He had also arranged for me to learn Sanskrit, he used to read Sanskrit texts to me and I do remember some of those even to this day. Baba initiated me into English classics. He used to read Shakespeare to me. I remember we had read George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra together.
What about your mother (Supriya Dasgupta)? How has she influenced your reading habits?
I used to read Abanindranath Tagore’s Raaj-Kaahini and other children’s fare but was not into serious Bangla literature. Ma introduced me to that. I’ll tell you an incident. I was 14 or something... one afternoon, she started reading Bankim Chandra’s Durgesh Nandini to me. She stopped at that juncture where prince Jagatsingha and Tilottama see each other and fall in love. And she suddenly turned over and said, ‘Amaar ghum pachchhe (I am sleepy)’ and kept the book aside! Now I wanted to know what happened next, but she was like, ‘Na, kaalke shonabo (No, I’ll read it to you tomorrow)’. But I kept pestering her. Then she said, ‘Taholey tumi pore nao na nijey (Then you read it yourself)!’ And that was how I read what happened next, and read the rest of the novel as well! That was my entry into serious Bangla literature. After that I was hooked to Bankim Chandra.
I am sure a lot of parents are going to take a cue from this!
And not only that, she even forced me into reading Vidyasagar! Not many people do that these days, I think. So, gradually I read the works of Tagore, Vidyasagar… not so much Sarat Chandra… then Prabhat Mukhopadhyay.... I used to read a lot of Bangla periodicals, old periodicals and they were all there in my Dadu’s study.... When I was very young, you know, I came across something that read Projaapotider Jouno Jibon…
Oh! And how did you react to the word ‘jouno’ at that age?
I asked my Thakuma, ‘What does jouno mean?’ She said, ‘Boro hoye bujhbe’. And that was that.
So basically you didn’t leave anything out....
You’re quite right. I had to read up anything and everything that came in the form of printed word.
Is Aparna Sen today the same bookworm as she was back then?
Yes. But I must also admit that of late I have been a trifle irregular....
What about penning your own novel? You wanted to be an author....
I did, yes, at one point of time, but didn’t really pursue it. But I do write scripts. If that satisfies your criterion of being a lekhika (author), I am one! (Laughs)
You seem to have a classical bent of mind in your approach toward any art form. Does it extend to your reading habits as well?
Classical bent of mind, yes, but then I have also read a lot of other stuff! Been a huge fan of science fiction! I used to love reading Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Also, the bizarre and interesting works of Roald Dahl! Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Family Moskat is an all-time favourite! Then there is Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Among modern classics, the works of Naguib Mahfouz, Tahir Kutsi Makal... also Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Been a fan of adventure and detective novels, have extensively read Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot! My childhood was full of books....
Any compulsive childhood habit?
I used to take a book to my bed. I still do that. I have to read some book or the other at bedtime. I can’t sleep unless I read. Or listen to some music. That’s a childhood habit.
What kind of music are you hooked on to these days?
Mozart. I can listen to him all the time. See, we had a great exposure to both Indian and western classical music. Baba was a great admirer of Mozart. We grew up listening to Mozart playing in our house. I can identify the Horn Concerto just by listening to a few seconds of it. Not that I am a great connoisseur of music, but you tend to remember good music when you are brought up listening to it. Kalyan (Ray, husband) has a wonderful musical memory as you know. He can identify a composition in a matter of seconds!
I can vouch for that! What about music from your childhood?
During the pre-teen years, it was Pat Boone and other pop music. Elvis Presley took over as we grew up. I still listen to Elvis a lot. Don’t relate to Pat Boone anymore but Elvis has stayed on. Also, I listen to a lot of country rock and country folk. Love listening to Pete Seeger! Then Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel, these are all favourites....
What about Indian classical music?
I listen to a lot of instrumental music. Hugely admire sitarist Nikhil Bandopadhyay. One of my favourite singers was Ustad Amir Khan. But that was long ago.... I admire the late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, then Ustad Rashid Khan. And, of course, Rabindrasangeet, since childhood.... I have also liked a lot of operas. Some I have listened to, others I have watched on DVDs. I loved The Magic Flute a lot! Kalyan brings home a lot of music CDs. I like Greek music a lot… very soothing to the ear…
You said you like Rabindrasangeet. Just wondering why you have used it so sparingly in your films....
I really don’t know why.... Only in Iti Mrinalini, to some extent.... And a bit more in Paromitar Ekdin… there were actually three songs. There was hardly any in Yugant, except for Roopa’s (Ganguly) humming.
Also, a little bit in 36 Chowringhee Lane?
Yes, right, just a little bit…
A lot of experimentation is happening with Rabindrasangeet in films. How do you find them?
See, I haven’t liked the experimentations so far. But experiments must go on irrespective of the end result. I am a great supporter of experiments. If an art form is confined and not allowed to change and grow and evolve and modify itself, it is bound to dry up. That should not happen. Maybe some day we’ll get something good!
Why haven’t you experimented with it then? You have always stuck to its classical form.
I didn’t feel like, so far… maybe I will some day, who knows….
Any recent film that you particularly liked?
I recently watched The Virgin Suicides by Sofia Coppola. What a film! Liked it immensely! Then there are the films by Alfonso Cuaron. An all-time favourite is Y Tu Mama Tambien. I am a great admirer of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s films, particularly Babel, also the films of Guillermo del Toro. Then there is Fatih Akin. Immensely loved The Edge of Heaven and Soul Kitchen.
These belong to world cinema. What about regional cinema?
Kamaleswar’s (Mukherjee) Meghe Dhaka Tara was quite good.
What do you think about the films being made now?
I am very happy that films like Shabdo are being attempted, people are trying to experiment with the narrative structure. And the content. Like Kaushik (Ganguly) did. Like Kamaleswar did. I feel very encouraged by these works.
You are one of India’s first women directors to have made such a lasting contribution. How have the generations of women after you been able to carry the baton forward?
In Calcutta, Aditi (Roy, director of Abosheshey) has promise. I also liked Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat very much. I hope they keep making more films.
On a cheeky note, you had labelled Goynar Baksho as your ‘swapner chhobi’. What’s up next?
Aaro swapno (more dreams), I think. I just hope that I keep getting to make more films.