A small-budget Bengali film made by a debutant director with a lead cast of rookies is set to reach a global audience.
Dostojee, which won hearts on its release in West Bengal last November, will have a theatrical release on March 17 in 75 cities of 26 states across the US. On the same day, it will also release in theatres in 17 cities in Canada, 10 cities in Australia and Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ajman in the United Arab Emirates.
Dostojee, in the Rajshahi dialect of Bangladesh, is how an intimate friend is addressed in the border area. The film 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, staying next door to each other, 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 the film is about.
Dostojee will be eligible for consideration in the general/main category of the 96th Academy Awards in 2024 because of the scale of its theatrical release.
“The film has really taken off,” said actor-producer Prosenjit Chatterjee, known for his astute grasp of the Bengali film industry, who had agreed to present Dostojee after a private screening.
“Punjabi films,” he pointed out to The Telegraph, “are going for global release. We fail to reach even 20 per cent Bengalis across the world.”
The first international theatrical release for a Bengali film, he recalled, had happened with Rituparno Ghosh’s Utsab, which was shown in “11-12 cities in the US”.
In recent times, Anik Dutta’s Aparajito, inspired by the story of Satyajit Ray’s making of Pather Panchali, got a viewership abroad. The Dev-Mithun Chakraborty starrer Prajapoti is also reaching halls.
“But what is significant about the way Dostojee is releasing is that it is not just targeted at the Bengali diaspora, like our other films are. It is meant for an international audience. This is an even more significant feat when one considers that the film has neither a star billing nor the backing of a big studio. Nor does the subject involve a brand like Satyajit Ray. It has no brand except the content. This is a great sign for good cinema,” he said.
Dostojee has travelled to 26 countries in 32 International festivals and won eight international Awards.
Channel 4, the British free-to-air public broadcast television network, has acquired the UK and Ireland screening rights. Amitabh Bachchan had described it as unique in a tweet.
Director Prasun Chatterjee, a Dum Dum resident, still feels “the shivers” thinking how far his debut film, scripted in 2015 and halted once by lack of funds, has travelled. Now, his biggest worry is getting a visa appointment to make it to the New York premiere in March.
“The sponsorship letter has just arrived. It will get a bigger release in the US than it got back home. I am happy not just for myself but what this means for our industry,” he said.