Over the years Mainak Bhaumik’s films have explored the nuances of relationships and the various shades and emotions of people. His film Cheeni had focused on the ever-changing dynamics between a mother and her daughter. The bittersweet moments between the mother and daughter in the film came in for a lot of praise and the film completed a run of 100 days in theatres during the pandemic. Mainak’s film Ekannoborti told the story of a family which “used to function as one at some point of time but got disintegrated into isolated units over the course of time”.
Mainak’s new film Mini (which releases today), starring Mimi Chakraborty, is about the celebration of parenting and its difficulties. The Telegraph chats with Mainak....
What is the genesis of the film Mini? How did the idea come to you?
I think over the years as I’ve gotten older, a lot of my friends and cousins who’ve gotten married have had kids and I’ve been hearing a lot about how my generation is dealing with the idea of being parents and handling it. So a part of me wanted to do a story about parenting and I’ve always loved kids and I really get along with them so I wanted to make a film about parenting and have a cute kid in my film.
Did you keep Mimi in mind while writing the screenplay?
When I started writing the film I think I was about eight-nine pages in and I could start seeing my protagonist Titli as a very no-nonsense dude-ish (for the lack of a better term) girl who’s independent, has a husky voice, a girl who’s pretty but not overtly feminine in the way she looks or behaves and I pretty much realised the character I’m writing can only be played by someone like Mimi. So before finishing the script I called her up and told her about the story and if she would be interested in this kind of a film and I had told her and myself that if she were not okay with doing such a film, I wouldn’t write the rest of the script and waste my time.
Thankfully she liked the idea and as we started chatting... with Mimi and I becoming friends, I started stealing bits and pieces of who she is into the character. I wanted the character to sound like her and the audience would get to see a Mimi (fictionally disguised) close to the real one that I was chatting with.
What is the storyline of the film and the themes that you explore here?
Mini is about the celebration of parenting and its difficulties. I think being a parent is one of the toughest and most thankless jobs. And it’s also a story about friendship. Just it happens to be between a girl in her late 20s and her seven-year-old niece. But sometimes we do become close to the oddest people in the world. Though it is a story about a mashi and bonjhi (aunt and niece) and their friendship, the secondary layer is deeply rooted in how to be a mother.
You directed Mimi for the first time. Why did it take you so long to get to work with her?
Perhaps every actor is special and as a writer-director you don’t want to just go to someone just because you haven’t worked with them. The character was screaming to be played by Mimi and I didn’t have much of a choice. Though interestingly, I had worked with her as a writer twice in the past — in Crisscross and I had written a few scenes for Gaaner Oparey for Rituda (Rituparno Ghosh) when I barely knew her.
What are her strengths as an actor?
First and foremost she is a skilled actor. And Mimi is very transparent, wears-her-heart-on-her-sleeves kind of a person and that honesty just shows on camera and that’s a gift. You can’t ask an actor to bring that honesty to a character. They either have it or they don’t. Mimi... when she’s sad, even if she doesn’t show it... you can see it. There’s just something irreplaceable about that in Mimi.
The comfortable, casual clothes worn by Titli in Mini reminded us of Labanya’s look in your film Ghare And Baire. Is there a connection?
Well, could be but it wouldn’t be conscious. I wanted her to be in bright clothes and she and I were sort of going along with it. I do remember that when I went to her house to give her the script she was in her home casual clothes and I was like this is what I would like Titli to look like.
How was your experience shooting with Mimi?
A lot of fun. She’s very hardworking, she’s technically sound and creates a really nice chemistry with her co-actors and submits herself completely to the character. She’s always thinking about how to make the character more interesting and I love nothing more than an actor doing a bit of my job. Mimi does it. So it’s always great.
What’s her vibe on set? Is she a spontaneous actress or does she follow a method?
As I said, she comes with a skill. She’s been working for a while now. But she still has a spontaneous energy to her. We never or rather barely discussed scenes the night before. I remember we had read a few scenes with her and Mini (Ayanna) so I could see the chemistry since it’s about their friendship and from there on it was during the scene how she and I felt is how we went with it.
Your film Cheeni focused on the ever-changing dynamics between a mother (Aparajita Adhya) and her daughter (Madhumita Sarcar). Mini is the story of young Mini and her aunt Titli. Does Mini take the story forward from Cheeni or explore different facets of a relationship?
Perhaps I’m in that space in my life where I’m thinking about parenting and hearing about it seeing the struggles of being a good mom or dad. Unfortunately, unlike a lot of other professions, how to be a good parent doesn’t come with a lot of manuals. It’s one of the toughest jobs and it comes without a salary and a hell of a lot of opinions and judgement.
Titli is the name of a famous Rituparno Ghosh film. Are you paying a tribute in any way?
Not at all. See, my interest in Bengali cinema began with Rituparno Ghosh so I guess if I get a chance I’ll sneak something in. I had seen Titli a dozen times so I guess the name stuck. And I couldn’t not use it.
How was it like directing little Ayanna?
It was wonderful. She’s such a good girl, such a well-brought-up child. She’s extremely intelligent, well behaved and is a born actor. When we think about child actors there’s always this fear that they won’t know what to do but Ayanna is a very prepared little girl, came on set ready with the entire script memorised... and she just gets instructions so well. She was a delight. It was a delight to work with her.