Srijit Mukherji’s latest and 12th film Uma released earlier last week.

Srijit is a National Film Awards winning director, actor and screenwriter who hails from Bengal and predominantly works in Bengali cinema. He started his directorial career in 2010 with Autograph. By 2019 he will be completing four more movies, which will take his tally to 16 movies in just 9 years. In such a short span of time Srijit has churned out film at a rapid pace. His films are both commercially succesful as well as critically acclaimed, which is a rarity in Indian cinema. Last year, under Vishesh Films Srijit made his Bollywood with Vidya Balan starrer Begum Jaan. Begum Jaan was a remake of Srijit’s Bengali hit Rajkahini.

Interview Highlights:

Video Transcription:

What is the idea behind Uma?
Uma is actually inspired by this true incident which happened in St. George, a small town in Canada, where Ivan Lewisich was a terminally ill boy who wanted to see Christmas but the doctor said that he will not be able to survive till December. So, the people of St. George organised a false Christmas for Ivan in October itself. This astonishing act of humanity left me in tears and I thought that this is a story which should reach out to a bigger audience. What I adapted is, we have this thing called ‘okaalbodon’ in Bengal, which means the untimely invocation of the deity of Goddess Durga. Legend has it that Lord Rama was worshipping her to seek blessings for his battle with Ravana. Instead of the usual time of March, he did the Puja in October. So that is how Durga Puja started happening in October instead of March. That’s called untimely invocation. So I found it lent itself beautifully to the Ivan incident because that’s also untimely celebration of a festival. This was for a different cause and that was for a humanitarian cause. I thought we could bunch them both, and hence I changed the Durga Puja, and made Ivan as ‘Uma’. Uma means Goddess Durga and made her come to Kolkata to watch the Durga Puja before October, around March. That’s how the crux of the film unfolds, how a group of people, led by Uma’s father kind of go to any extent to make her bucket list come true.

What were the challenges while filming Uma?
Uma was a film which went through a lot of obstacles. First of all, it’s shot in Switzerland, so we had to patch that shoot with another film’s shoot so that we could save up, because we have very little budgets to go by. We patched those four or five days of shoot with ‘Yethi Obhijaan’ shoot. Then, obviously we couldn’t recreate the puja actually, so we had to shoot during the pujas, which was the second schedule of the film and then there was a third schedule. In the third schedule, my lead actress, Sara Sengupta, she contracted dengue. That was another obstacle. Overall it was a very bumpy ride but we pulled through because of a fantastic team, because of the undying spirit. I also get sometimes that the blessings of Ivan are also there with the film.

Cocktail of politics and art
Babul Supriyo, much before he became a BJP member, he was a singer and an actor. He’s from the entertainment industry. So, people who drafted into politics, I think the question applies to them and not to us. He was first an entertainment person and then a politician. So whether politics should be mixed with entertainment or not, that is something I can’t answer because he was an entertainment guy all along. As far as the negative bit is concerned, we don’t know that. We’ve not watched the film, we don’t know what kind of character he’s playing. But I can say this much that he’s one of the most committed and hardworking actors I’ve worked with and this zeal of his will take him a very long distance if he seriously pursues his acting career.

Virtue of film festivals
Festivals are important for any Indian film because it gives you a) recognition; b) it is an acknowledgement of your hard work; and c) it also helps spread awareness across the world. So you are not limiting your audience to your particular region.

What’s the status of Tollywood at present?
Bengali film industry, in terms of money is far, far behind, and the main reason for that is the capacity. While there are 1000 plus theatres in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and even Maharashtra, we have around 150+, which is almost 10 percent. So it’s absolutely understandable and absolutely expected that the revenue generated shall also be of that proportion. But yes, efforts are going on to increase the volume and capacity by building new infrastructure, building new halls. Hopefully within the next five or six years, we shall see some change.

Srijit’s Bollywood debut, ‘Begum Jaan’.
Definitely ‘Begum Jaan’ or ‘Rajkahini’ is not a film which can be universally liked. It’s a very strong film in terms of its content. It’s very dramatic, according to some, melodramatic. But any film which is based on partition, I think if you do it subtly, you will be betraying the cause. So, it’s a very polarising film, it’s a very disturbing and depressing film. So, I was quite confident and I knew it that it will not be all pleasing, it will not be the universally pleasant movie experience for everyone across the board, which is really required if you want the film to work at an all India level. I had no illusions about that. On the other hand, I was quite surprised to see that the vernacular media, especially of northern India, praise the film so much and give such great reviews. It did not go down too well with the English speaking media, which is absolutely fine. I personally think that I had two objectives with ‘Begum Jaan’, a) had to give back the producers it’s money, which it did, and it just about broke even, and b) it needed to establish my voice as a director, which also it did. So, like it or hate it, you could not ignore ‘Begum Jaan’, which was basically the purpose of the film.

Upcoming projects.
I’m doing two Hindi films, not three, and two Bangla films. All of them are in the anvil, and I am in the process of signing. So it’s going to be starting very soon, I mean the pre-production.

Upcoming web series.
I am doing two Hindi web series right now. I think web series are the future and we should absolutely celebrate the fact that we have a medium where you don’t have to depend on the censor. You can actually tell the story exactly the way you want to say.

Promoting cross cultural cinema.
By having more festivals, having greater leverage for films of various regions of India, to be shown or screened across other cities. So, we should have leverage for Tamil and Telugu films in Bengal, Bengali films in Maharashtra. That is the only way we can reach out to each other across linguistic barriers.

Cinema according to you.
Yes, cinema is a fraud but it’s the most beautiful fraud in the world, so goes the saying and I totally agree. I think it’s a very powerful medium, it can change lives. It’s one of the most foremost artistic expressions that one can have.

Ira Dubey
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Sanjay Mishra Elena Kazan

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