Atanu Ghosh is a National Film Awards winner, who hails from West Bengal. He was awarded the National Awards for his sixth film ‘Mayurakshi‘. Mayurakshi also received four Filmfare Awards, and successfully clinched the prestigious Chitra Bharathi for the Best Indian Cinema Award of 2018
Q. How did filmmaking happen to you?
Filmmaking happened to me quite by chance. I started off as a journalist and then I suddenly developed some interest in cinema. I went to FTII for a film appreciation course. I then came back and was hooked onto films, I returned to FTII for a certificate course in film editing. Then, I started making documentaries and a few telefilms, and then ultimately feature films.
Q. What drives you to make films?
I think the primary source of inspiration comes from the achievement. Whatever you do, you create a world and none other than God can create a world, which is inhabited by characters, which revolves around events. I think that is the main source of inspiration. Another thing is that after a point of time, you get hooked to filmmaking. Whenever one film ends, you try for the next, and then try for the resources, the finances and all that. As it is said, once you are hooked onto filmmaking, you tend to stay there. So, that is what happens, literally.
Q. What is Mayurakshi all about?
Actually, Mayurakshi is about a journey, a metaphysical journey which is undergone by a middle-aged man who stays abroad, who comes to India after hearing about some strange behaviour of his octogenarian father. And when he comes and meets him, he realizes that his father is living in the past.
Mayurakshi is actually a character from the past. So, this old man who is suffering from dementia, what he does is he picks up characters from the past and plants it into the present, and makes his son revolve around it. So, it becomes very difficult for a person to come to terms with it because all that happened with Mayurakshi or around Mayurakshi was about 25 years back. Now he has to revisit that past and come to terms with it. It’s a peculiar kind of interaction which happens when a person who is suffering from dementia tends to get detached from the present and lives in the past.
Q. Why the subject of dementia?
Actually, it has got some personal connotation. My father was suffering from dementia during the last phase of his life. And I realized that suddenly the man I knew for so many years, he was getting changed. His psyche, his temperament, his way of looking at the world, that was changing and it’s a moment of very deep sorrow for the son, as he watches his father get entirely changed over a period of time and the man he knew is suddenly no more. So, that was when I decided that I should make a film on this but it is entirely fictional. It has got nothing to do with my own life, my own experience but the aspect of dementia and how it affects the old man, and in turn how it affects everybody around that person, that came to me through my own experience.
Q. Who all acted in your film?
Mayurakshi boasts of a very impressive cast. It has got Soumitra Chatterjee, who is now 84 years old. He is playing an 84-year-old man and as we all know that he had collaborated with Satyajit Ray in 14 of his films and is regarded as one of the living legends of the industry. And together with him, there is Prosenjit Chatterjee who has been the most important star of Bengali cinema for quite a long period of time, and curiously, these two people were never brought together. I mean, they have worked in some films, but they were quite inconsequential films. The remaining cast is mostly National Awardees, Indrani Haldar and Sudipta Chakarabarty, they are National awardees. But actually, what I wanted to make, I wanted to cast people who were very much close to these characters. So that is the kind of feedback I got from the audience. Mostly they say that they fit in the character so much that they are not recognized by their names; they become the characters. So that is why these people were called.
Q. Key aspects of your films?
I have been interested in human behaviour right from the beginning. The complexities, the kind of environment that people live in, the changing priorities of life in contemporary society and particularly the conflict with certain aspects like technology, between tradition and modernity, and certain human behaviour which very little has been done on. I mean, just like this film, we have very little work on dementia but no less than 60 to 70 per cent of people above 70 suffer from dementia. So, we have to get more people, we have to inform the people about these ailments. That is also one of my prime interest.
Q. Where has the film screened?
It was released in December. It ran for 100 days. Then it has been going around. I was looking forward to this festival because this is one of the most prestigious festivals in our country and so after Bangalore and Chennai, I was looking forward to a screening here and that is how it has come about.
Q. Virtues of film festivals?
You see, what happens before your film gets screened before an enlightened and discerning audience which is happening right here at Habitat, you tend to get very interesting feedback. At the same time, this news about the film goes from one person to another. So it circulates, and that way, the film is watched by more number of people. So that is one thing. Another thing is that there is an interaction between the filmmakers. You tend to interact with people who are making independent films in other parts of India, and that way you get connected because independent filmmakers ought to get connected some way or another. Curiously, most of the films that are being shown here, most of the directors, I have been through film festivals. So this platform of interaction is also very important for independent filmmakers.
Q. Importance of film awards.
Yeah, awards are certainly a big source of inspiration. Another thing which awards do, they generate enthusiasm about the film. So, more and more people are interested to watch the film, which is very important for a filmmaker. As we all know that now the screening of films is not restricted to the big screen alone. After the film is no longer there in the theatres, they can be seen on the websites and online streaming platforms and quite a few other places. So, if the enthusiasm is there, then people can watch it. The awards generate the enthusiasm regarding the film. That is, I think the most important aspect, apart from the obvious good feeling that it generates among the team. It’s sort of a reward for all the toil, all the effort that we put in for making a film.
Q. Good content, less promotion. Why?
This is a very important aspect, this promotion of films. This is where we lag behind, in terms of regional filmmakers from India. Actually, you see, in social media there is a lot of enthusiasm going on but there is a clutter. So, many people voicing and they are advertising their films. So people do not know which films are important, which films are good. So that is one aspect. Another thing is that the kind of festivals such as this, they generate enthusiasm all over India because here you get a proper introduction to the film, you get to know about the director. You meet the director and that is how people get to know about it. So in social media, there is a scope for promotion, but there is a clutter too. But these festivals have the special quality of highlighting the salient features of the film, as well as the director.
Q. Cross-cultural cinema viewing experience.
I think that interaction is very important and more streaming platforms because after all, festivals are few and festivals have literally one or two shows. So you can’t accommodate a large number of people. And that way, I think that if the streaming platforms are more enthusiastic about regional independent cinema, which they are becoming, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, most of them are laying emphasis on regional Indian cinema and that is where we get to see a wide variety of films from different languages, from different cultures. And we also tend to get acquainted with the kind of work that is being done in other parts of the country. So, streaming is one place which I think is very important for this kind of interaction.
Q. Are your films available online?
In Netflix, both my films are available, and this one will be available soon. Actually, Netflix is doing a good job. There’s Amazon, there’s Google Play. I think this platform is the future. This is the future because more and more people are watching films online. This is something that the filmmakers may not like because they have made something which is for the big screen and they want the audience to watch it on the big screen, when the fact is, more and more people are watching at home.
Q. Movie streaming changing the landscape of filmmaking.
It has got two aspects. One is that more and more independent productions are coming up, and since film is a costly medium, it’s not as cheap as pen and ink, there would be more masterpieces that way. I think this online streaming is leading to something. The producers are getting back their money to some extent. It is only the beginning and time would tell whether this would consolidate to be a good platform. Besides, there is this crowdfunding which has come up and crowdfunding is also something which aids the producers and the filmmakers to a large extent because they can get funds from a number of people from the crowd and not rely on one particular producer or one particular production house. So, that has also come because of streaming.
Q. Upcoming Projects.
I have been working on a project over the last few months. I take a lot of time before starting a project, so it’s in the script stage basically. It’s a very striking, different kind of a concept. But not even the first draft is complete as yet, so hopefully next year.
Q. Venturing further into the regional industry.
Not exactly, but I would like to make a film which has a number of languages. I would love to do that where there are different regional languages, there are people from different regions. They speak their own mother tongue. The film does not have a single language. I am looking forward to such a production. Let’s see.
Q. What is cinema according to you?
Cinema, to me, is a form of art where you tend to express your innermost feelings. The issues that affect you, the issues that motivate you, the issues that you are agitated about, the issues that you are aspiring for, and I think it is a reflection of the time and the society that the filmmaker lives in but I also believe that a film does not necessarily send a message. There is no direct connotation involved in it. Only films with a good message, I don’t believe in that. But I do believe that films, after all, tend to give certain very interesting motivations to the audience. That I believe in. I don’t believe that film can change the world, but it can alter your way, your perception of the world.
Q. Message to aspiring filmmakers?
I think film-making is something really inspiring, really motivating. But at the same time, you must be ready to face the challenges. It’s not an easy path to tread, and of course, you must remember that you have to be truthful. You have to be honest about whatever you are showing to the world.
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