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Prasun Chatterjee’s debut film 'Dostojee' invited for world premiere

The feature film programme at the festival is organised by strands 'to encourage discovery and to open up the festival to new audiences'

Sudeshna Banerjee | Published 10.09.21, 06:41 AM
A still from 'Dostojee', which will be screened as Two Friends in London.

A still from 'Dostojee', which will be screened as Two Friends in London.

The Telegraph

It will be a flight of fantasy turned to reality that Prasun Chatterjee will take when the 35-year-old film-maker boards the aircraft in end-September for London. His debut feature film has got invited for screening by the British Film Institute at the London Film Festival.

Prasun’s Dostojee will make its world premiere at the 65th BFI London Film Festival. “The event is at Southbank on October 12 but I will have to serve out a quarantine period before that,” he told The Telegraph hours after the official announcement was made in London on Tuesday.

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The feature film programme at the festival is organised by strands “to encourage discovery and to open up the festival to new audiences”, according to the festival website. The strands are Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Create, Experimenta, Family and Treasures. Dostojee is one of the films showcased under Love and is in august company, with the winner of the Fipresci Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, Alexandre Koberidze’s feature What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?, a winner of Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and Juho Kuosmanen’s Cannes Grand Prix-winning Compartment No. 6, among others.

The making

Dostojee is set in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and the Bombay blasts, circa 1992-93, which creates ripples of discord even in a remote village adjacent to the India-Bangladesh border. “It is a story of friendship between two eight-year-old boys belonging to two warring religious communities. Palash’s father is a Hindu Brahmin while Safikul’s is a Muslim weaver. The friendship that thrives in the lap of nature suffers a jolt due to impending separation because of circumstances. How the boys face the farewell is what my film is about,” he says.

While Prasun is excited, for the two young protagonists of his film, Arif Sheikh and Asik Sheikh, the news makes little difference as the world outside their village is alien to them. So is it for most of the cast. “Most of the actors are local villagers. Of the two boys, one’s father is a migrant labourer and another’s works in a brick kiln. Oder kachhe Kolkata-i ba ki, London-i ba ki!” In fact, both took their first train ride to reach the city for the dubbing.

Prasun stayed in the village for a year in 2013 and wrote the script. “I needed to imbibe the dialect, essence and gesture of rural Bengali Muslim families.” The term, dostojee, he says, is how an intimate friend is addressed there, instead of by each other’s name. The cast had to be from that area as they would have to speak in that Rajshahi dialect, he said.

London calling: Prasun Chatterjee.

London calling: Prasun Chatterjee.

The Telegraph

He and his team scanned schools in the neighbouring subdivisions but found only Asik, who would play Palash. “One day, I was about to return to Calcutta when a very angry lad banged on my door. “Ekhane cinemar jonyo polapander lewa hoy? Amay liye lyan. Dev er moto obhinoy kore debo (Are you taking kids for films? Take me. I will act like Dev),” he told Prasun. This was Asik’s friend Arif Sheikh, who was subsequently cast as Safikul. “Both are first-generation learners and had trouble reading the script but I was amazed at their confidence.”

Prasun set up base in the village intermittently for a year-and-half from end-2016 to train 130-odd locals to act. “It took me a year to get the kids accustomed to me.” Then followed 60 days of outdoor shoot across seasons over 2018-19.

Global linkages

The first breakthrough for Dostojee was selection as a work-in-progress project in the Film Bazaar Recommends section of NFDC Film Bazaar 2019, the largest film market of South Asia.

That got it a passport to Cannes. The NFDC Film Bazaar entered into a partnership with Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market), the biggest international market, in its first online edition in 2020 and five work-in-progress films from NFDC Film Bazaar 2019 were pitched to international festival programmers, distributors and sales representatives as part of the Goes to Cannes programme.

The next milestone was making it to the Hong Kong — Asia Film Financing Forum Work-in-Progress Lab 2020, which aims to help film-makers secure post-production funds, sales agents and film festival support.

While Prasun had applied for selection to both, the London call was a boon as it is purely by invitation. “They track work-in-progress films through the year. Five months ago, I got a mail asking me to send a screener as they wanted to consider it.” A week ago, word reached that Dostojee had indeed been picked.

What makes the Dum Dum resident feel proud is the thought that Satyajit Ray too had the international premiere of Apur Sansar at the festival (and won the Sutherland Award for Best Original and Imaginative Film).

Last updated on 10.09.21, 11:43 AM
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