Nayak revisited

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By AUTOGRAPH IS A PROMISING DIRECTORIAL DEBUT, SAYS BARUN CHANDA
  • Published 15.10.10
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Starring: Prosenjit, Nandana Sen, Indraneil Sengupta, Pijush Ganguly, Sohini Paul, Dhroov Mookerjee

Directed by: Srijit Mukherjee

It’s almost customary for today’s directors to pay homage to Ray in their films. Some actually go to the extent of believing they are reincarnations of Ray. While there are others who think up of urban Apus, devise memory games a la Aranyer Din Ratri, or revisit Kanchanjungha for inspiration. Srijit’s Autograph goes beyond all this by openly acknowledging the fact that it has been inspired by Ray’s Nayak. Well, nothing wrong with that.

Only problem, it leads, perhaps inevitably, to comparisons between the original and the ‘inspired’. And, if you go to watch Autograph with this express intent, you’re bound to be disappointed. To that extent, all the pre-launch hoopla about the film’s Nayak connection could only have done it harm.

Yes, there are obvious references to Ray’s Nayak in Autograph. The film-within-the-film in Autograph is titled Ajker Nayak. As the shooting of Ajker Nayak commences, we find more similarities cropping up. The encounter between Sharmila Tagore, the reporter, and Uttam Kumar, the nayak, on Rajdhani Express has been location-wise updated and now takes place in an aeroplane. So, we have Nandana Sen acting as Srinandita (Srin in short), the reporter, and Prosenjit in the role of Arun Chatterjee, Bengali cinema’s superstar.

Nandana’s first lines asking for an autograph from Prosenjit is straight from Nayak. Nandana even wears black-framed spectacles a la Sharmila. Dialogues in the film-within-the-film are strikingly reminiscent of Nayak.

There are similarities, I’m sure deliberate, in the plot as well. In Autograph, Arun is surrounded by a bunch of sycophants, masquerading as friends. Here, too, there’s the well-meaning, if stern, stage director exhorting Arun not to join films, very much like Shankarda in Nayak. Here, too, there’s a siren of a budding actress, landing at the door of Arun in the middle of the night to display her numerous talents.

But Autograph is not just the film-within-the-film. The main story revolves around Shubhobrata Mitra, a budding director, and his live-in girlfriend Srin on one side and Arun, the undisputed star of Bengali cinema, and his coterie of friends on the other. At the beginning of the film, we find the two worlds meeting as Arun, out of sheer whimsicality, agrees to meet up with the budding director. What follows is beyond Shubho’s dreams as Arun not only agrees to act in Ajker Nayak but also produce it. The problem of selecting the leading female cast is resolved by having Srin to do the role. From the very first day, Arun likes what he sees in Srin. Gradually, a relationship between these two ensues, nothing immoral mind you. But it unfolds before us, the audience, which the director cannot see but only grasp at.

So, in many ways, Autograph actually takes off where Nayak’s storyline ends. And what evolves between the two and its impact on the director, all this makes for rather interesting viewing. Specially in the second half of the movie. Ray’s Nayak had ended with the protagonist and the heroine parting ways at the Delhi railway platform, realising that the gulf between the worlds of the two was too vast to try and bridge. Autograph suggests what if the two were to meet again and, perhaps, regularly. What would happen then? A very interesting thought.

Autograph is definitely a good first attempt with promise of better things to come. Sure, there are flaws. The overt physical intimacy between Shubho and Srin looks forced. The parallel couple, Dhruv and Sohini, are not intrinsic to the film, except perhaps as a contrast. The part of the budding actress in Nayak, so powerfully portrayed by Sumita Sanyal, has been rather sketchily handled in Autograph.

Still, it’s an interesting movie to watch. With a bloody good twist in the tail.
Now, to the other aspects. Acting is of a very high order all through the film. And it is not limited to the trio of Prosenjit, Nandana and Indraneil. Special mention should also be made of Rudraprasad, Dilip Roy (perhaps his last film) and Pijush, who are all genuinely good.

Debojyoti Mishra’s music only reconfirms the fact that he is undoubtedly Bengal’s no. 1 music director today. There’s a very interesting song towards the end of the movie, Amake amar moton, written, composed and sung by Anupam Roy.

Camerawork is efficient, without fuss. One particular top shot of the city with the evening lights on and with Prosenjit standing on the open terrace in the foreground has been very deftly handled.

Sound recording, again, is professional, specially the scene of a jet quietly passing in the background in an otherwise utterly silent scene. All in all, a watchable movie.

t2 puts Srijit Mukherjee under the spotlight about Autograph

What feedback are you getting for your directorial debut?

It’s been quite overwhelming and positive. Some have remarked that the script was very refreshing, while some have liked the music and performances. So I am quite euphoric!

How much of Autograph is autobiographical? How much of Shubho (Indraneil) is you?

Yes, there is a bit of Shubho in me in the initial set-up of the film. He too is a first-time director without a background in the industry and his approaching a superstar with a script that is slightly non-mainstream. Shubho was probably a little more fortunate than me since he found the actor and producer in the same man. But not just Shubho, there’s a little bit of Arun and Sreenandita in me too.... Arun’s sense of humour and ethical streak, and Sreenandita’s love for theatre and spirited disposition. There are streaks of me in the supporting cast.

Was Arun Chatterjee modelled after Prosenjit the star?

Not really. Arun Chatterjee is the prototype of the entire legion of superstars that India has seen. He could be Shah Rukh Khan, ?Mammooty or Amitabh Bachchan. I had to depend on many sources. It was stuff I’d read about Uttam Kumar, Dilip Kumar and also people I had met. Since I was dealing with Tollywood, Bumbada (Prosenjit) was the nearest reference.

Don’t you think the party and dhaba scenes are not enough to establish the superstar status of Arun Chatterjee?

I don’t think so. Bumbada and I have had several discussions on the degree of superstardom that we should portray. We studied the lifestyle of various superstars and concluded that the outward manifestation of superstars has changed over the years. It’s become more muted in terms of the way they conduct themselves, speak or don’t speak to people, their attitude and communicative aspects. I wanted a stylised reality that would have suffered if I had overplayed it. I wanted to strike the right balance between their superstardom and their real life in keeping with the times.

The purpose behind Arun-Sreenandita’s late-night outings seems a little vague...

It was necessary to depict Arun and Sreenandita’s growing friendship. When people spend time on the floors, they make friends with their co-actors and often spend time bonding outside, which may not necessarily be romantic. I think the chemistry was just right and apt for their background. Arun is senior to Sreenandita, so there was bound to be a bit of incompatibility as backslapping buddies.

What would you say to those who found the jerky camera movements disturbing. Too many close-ups and for too long...

If you notice, the camera movements quieten as the story moves forward. I’ve tried to make the shot-making and edit patterns dynamic and in line with the progression of the story and the characters. The jerky movements and sharp cuts are meant to go with the youthful energy between Nandana and Indraneil in the beginning, but that style changes as the story evolves and the characters turn serious. I did not want to use a standard homogenous style.

The music has caught on. How did it come about?

It was a conscious creative decision to avoid lip-synced songs. I wanted to use music in the background along with various montage shots as well as a versatile pattern. Therefore we have numbers ranging from raw operatic renditions to folk. The song Amake amar moto is written, composed and sung by Anupam Roy. He was part of my band in Bangalore, he made me hear it more than a year ago and I found a situation in my story where it fit in so well. I’m so happy that the song has become such a rage.

Mohua Das
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THE STAR CROWD AT THE TUESDAY PREMIERE OF AUTOGRAPH IN INOX FORUM

Nandana and Prosenjit strike a pose
Dev is all smiles
Koel Mullick goes snow white
Prosenjit’s Autograph co-star Pijush Ganguly
Rupam
Parambrata slipped out of his shoot for Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani
Le Chakka composer Indradip Das Gupta catches up with Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
Indraneil chats with actress wife Barkha Bisht
Debojyoti Mishra, Aparna Sen, Srijit Mukherjee and Anjan Dutt before the screening