Belaseshe, a 2015 film about an elderly couple on the verge of silver separation, brought together Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta 31 years after Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire (1984). It released in 70 theatres and ran for 250 days. On May 20, Belashuru — which sees the Belaseshe family coming together once again — released in 106 theatres across Bengal, and by May 25, it had made more than Rs 2 crore at the box office. Directors Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukhopadhyay talk about the journey with The Telegraph.
Nanditadi, do you follow the figures closely?
Nandita: The box-office records, the numbers, all this is great... but I don’t follow the figures. I just ask Shibu about the figures occasionally. And if I visit a theatre, I get excited about the journey.
Shiboprosad: Maybe she’ll have a fish fry or a mochar chop there. She finds that exciting.
Nandita: And if Shibu asks me to address the audience in the theatre, I go quiet. And invariably Shibu hands me the mic!
Did you show an interest in the figures when your first film Ichhe had come out?
Nandita: I remember asking him whether the number of theatres has increased. That’s it. I just got to know the Belashuru figures here, during this chat.
But do you feel these figures would encourage you to select a story or make films on a larger scale in the future? Maybe direct a science-fiction or a film set abroad?
Shiboprosad: After the success of Belaseshe, we did Praktan, which was huge. Same for Posto. Haami was a smaller film in comparison but the effect was huge. It is the content that drives the film. We feel that we can always try for a different subject after the success of every film.
Nandita: Apart from this, we get the money to produce films made by others also... for young film-makers. That is essential.
So the volume of films coming out from Windows can increase?
Shiboprosad: And if we feel a story deserves to be shot abroad, we will do it.
Do you still get the Friday jitters?
Nandita: We were confident. And I feel we have progressed from Belaseshe. Belashuru is a tougher subject... more intense, more profound. I felt most of the people will connect with Belashuru.
Shiboprosad: Didi always tells me: ‘The film must reach everyone.’ That’s my responsibility. Also, people have more options now. Apart from film releases, we see many web shows or web films dropping on Friday. It is great to see people watching Belashuru in huge numbers in the theatres. The numbers are unbelievable. Belashuru is a huge success at the box-office. Bengali films are going through a good phase, and Belashuru has also benefited from that. But Belashuru has also brought back a certain section of the audience who were not coming to the theatres for a while. People are coming with their family members to watch Belashuru. A couple told me that they were celebrating their wedding anniversary for 11 years in May by watching our films.
Nandita: The elderly are coming to watch the film.... 80-plus people, bent over, entering the theatre with their walking sticks. Some had come in their wheelchairs. This audience was not seen before. People have this amazing trust in us, in our films.
At a special screening for non-Bengalis, a woman stood up and said, ‘We should give you a standing ovation for giving us such beautiful films over the years.’ Everyone stood up and clapped. It was such a humbling experience.
The germ of the story came from a newspaper article on Pabitra Chitta Nandi remarrying his wife — who was suffering from Alzheimer’s — to bring back her memory. But why did you decide to go ahead with the story?
Nandita: It moved me and I started thinking... then I started writing in 2018.
Did you do your own research?
Nandita: I listen to it all from Shibu. He does all the research. Shibu had met him but I did not. My story is different from his (Pabitra). I create my own story.
Shiboprosad: I recorded the whole interview with him.
Nandita: But I have not watched that interview. I did not want to be influenced by that. The process has been the same for all our films. And as Shibu meets the people for his research, he starts thinking of the dialogues that he will write.
Shiboprosad: That’s how I get to know how each person talks. The more I meet the people, the more I get close to the characters and their dialogues. This whole thing surrounding Alzheimer’s is very emotional. The biggest challenge for Didi was to bring in the element of humour and entertainment through the other characters. To weave it all together is a storyteller’s vision.
How long did it take you to write the story?
Nandita: It took me two days to write the story. I went to Santiniketan to write the story. Then Shibu took two months to write the dialogues.
Shiboprosad: We followed the same process for Belaseshe also. Didi also gives leads in the screenplay. That’s a huge help. And we locked the dates of Soumitrada and Swatidi and then started writing in Santiniketan.
Did you start shooting the heavy emotional scenes first?
Shiboprosad: Usually, we start with the light scenes. The artistes get into the groove... their confidence builds up.
Nandita: We create a warm atmosphere and make them comfortable in the beginning. They get into the comfort zone. We keep the light scenes for the first two days.
How different was their style of acting? How did they approach a scene?
Nandita: Both are from theatre, so they have the discipline. The script was sent to them much before we started shooting. We also gave Swatidi notebooks from our research which had all the medical details. Soumitrada was very comfortable, he was a thespian. And Swatidi used to keep to herself. She would stay in her room and go over the scenes over and over again. Swatidi had to get into the mood of her character since she was playing an Alzheimer’s patient. Whereas Soumitrada would be talking about cricket or something else before a take, and then immediately would get into his character when the cameras started rolling. His entire demeanour changed.
How do the two of you direct a film? Who looks after which department?
Nandita: Shibu gives the floor direction while I stay behind the monitor. If an extra input is required, I give that.
Shiboprosad: Soumitrada would always ask, ‘Nandita, are you satisfied with the scene?’
Nandita: Yes... also I had a deep friendship with Swatidi.
We had heard that Soumitrada would shoot for four hours in a day. Was it the same for this film?
Shiboprosad: With us, it was different. He would happily give us more hours. He enjoyed the shooting process in Bolpur. We would shoot two scenes with him in the morning and then ask him to take rest. Then we would call him again in the evening for a few scenes. That way we got more hours from him.
Nandita: He loved to work.
Shiboprosad: We worked like a family with the entire team... it was a reunion of the family and we all have beautiful memories. Everyone would be on time to the shoot... since Soumitrada was there.
The menu was a talking point. Soumitrada enjoyed his food. He loved to have fish. Dishes with lotey machh was one of the main attractions. There would be many kinds of bharta and everyone really enjoyed it.