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Lubdhak Chatterjee’s Whispers of Fire & Water wows viewers at KIFF 2023 after Locarno

Kolkata-based writer-director Lubdhak Chatterjee’s debut feature film had its world premiere at the 2023 Locarno Film Festival

Agnivo Niyogi Calcutta Published 13.12.23, 01:24 PM
A scene from Whispers of Fire & Water.

A scene from Whispers of Fire & Water. IMDb

Whispers of Fire & Water, the feature debut of Kolkata-based writer-director Lubdhak Chatterjee, is an exploration of the exploitation of nature, displacement of rural population and environmental devastation with sound as a vehicle. The film had its world premiere at the 2023 Locarno Film Festival.

At the recent 29th Kolkata International Film Festival, Whispers of Fire & Water was screened to a packed auditorium in the Competition on Indian Language Films section. “To get four housefull screenings at a super prestigious festival like Locarno was surreal. Back home in Kolkata at our India premiere, screening happened in a packed house with people even standing at the gates and watching the full film. This gives us great confidence in our work’s potential,” Lubdhak said.

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The protagonist of Whispers of Fire & Water is Shiva (Sagnik Mukherjee), a Kolkata-based audio installation artist who visits the Jharia coal mines, where an underground fire has been burning for over a century, as part of a project work. As Shiva roams around a tribal village with a mine worker, Deepak (Amit Saha), he discovers the sharp divide between his urban sensibility and rustic simplicity. Having grown disillusioned with the deadline-chasing life he has led until now, Shiva begins to spend more time in nature, soaking up the sounds and hues of the jungle and the serenity of rural life.

“The magic of cinema can be only experienced on the big screen, especially for a film like Whispers of Fire & Water where visuals and sound play a major role in connecting with the central theme of the film,” Lubdhak said during a chat with The Telegraph Online. And we couldn’t agree more. In collaboration with cinematographer Kenneth Cyrus, music composer Rohen Bose and sound designer Sougata Banerjee, Lubdhak guides the audience to the heart of darkness of environmental devastation, using the elements of earth, water, fire and air as metaphors. Fire as a destructive force and water as a symbol of regeneration run through the film as a leitmotif, underlining the effects of our actions on nature.

Whispers of Fire & Water was shot on real locations — the coal mining region of Jharia and the second half in the dense forests of Palamu Tiger Reserve at Maromar. Shooting in these locations came with its own challenges, said Lubdhak.

“It's a near apocalyptic landscape which is quite tough to shoot in. We had emphasised on the recce for the entire team to get acquainted with the land and her people. The forests of Maromar had a bigger challenge — there was no phone connectivity for over an hour’s distance at times and hence communicating with team members became an issue. We faced massive rainfall at times which forced us to be more flexible. However there lies the fun of filmmaking too — to embrace the unknown and improvise,” he said.

Lubdhak is currently working on a non-fiction film, Dancing in the Fire, with a group of people he had met in Jharia during the production of Whispers of Fire & Water. “It’s also a learning phase for me to work with communities and develop a deeper connection with Jharia,” he said. His second fiction feature film will be about “the relationship between a father and his child in turbulent times”.

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