making of the film
| camera | production
design | genre and style
Scripting the novel was a challenge.
Tagore tells the story from Sribilash's point of view.
However, to give the whole thing a cinematic expression,
I decided to forgo that. There was to be no voice-overs
explaining all the psychological nuances. That had to be
conveyed through visuals and sound. Damini or Nanibala's
muted desires for instance had to be conveyed through
movements across spaces, looks, framings, or even
landscapes and elements.
Secondly, I decided to impart a
spiraling, fragmentary structure to the fourth 'chapter'
of the film, the segment entitled 'Sribilash'. I did
that to express Sachish's confusion and heightened
passions at that point.
A third task was to lay out a wider
cultural milieu for the story. Hence the reference to
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay's famous minutes on
colonial education, or the invocations of Bankim
Chatterjee, the so called "Walter Scott of
Bengal" and Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the so called
"Milton of Bengal". Tagore himself has a
strong presence in the cinematic milieu I have
constructed, through his two poems and the song sung by
Lilananda Swami in the wilderness.
I wanted to shoot the film in a
classical way. The story and the subject demanded that.
There is thus only one hand held shot in the entire
film, and no Dutch angles. The frames and lenses go from
narrow to wide as the film progresses. I wanted this to
be a stylistic accompaniment to the movement of the
characters from the city of Calcutta to the open
landscapes of the countryside. Close ups also become
lesser as the film progresses, as the focus shifts from
individuals to larger conflicts.
There is a lot of hide and seek in
the film. Characters, due to various social pressures,
cannot voice their own desires. They repress their own
authentic selves, and someone like Sachish is unable to
accept his human frailties. I have often depicted that
through a visual scheme of accidental or intentional
voyeurism. The young widow Damini looks at the Guru and
his disciples through opera glasses. The idealist
Sachish sees his brother's mistress Nanibala change her
clothes. Later Sachish cannot stop himself from prying
into Damini's room when Sribilash is inside. The
exchanges of looks, seen and unseen, build the human
drama over and beyond uttered dialogue.
I wanted the settings to have a lived
look. It was important to recreate the period, but we
were careful in not packing frames with so much material
that they end up looking like museum interiors. Props
were thus sparingly used, despite the fact that the
beginning of the film is set in a pretty affluent
Bengali household. Jagadish's books are expensive,
numerous, but scattered - much in line with his
character. When he listens to Beethoven on the
gramophone, the props and the framing develop a theme
and elaborate a persona. They do not create a 'heritage
effect' like in many 'Bollywood' films or the British
heritage cinema of the eighties. In order to achieve
this overall effect, we did our historical research and
also worked very hard indeed to find real locations
suitable for our purposes. I desperately wanted to avoid
that synthetic studio look.
The costumes also told a story.
Damini wears a bangle and a toe ring despite being a
widow. She is defiantly dressed in slightly golden
saris. We spent a lot of time working on Sachish's get
up and costumes. His look changes dramatically in the
two halves of the film. The floppy hair and the round,
scholarly spectacles in the first part prepare the
ground for the second, when the searing intensity of his
eyes become much more visible when the hair is cropped
short, and the spectacles are gone.
genre and style
Chaturanga is of course a drama. I
would even be bold enough to say that it is a melodrama
in the good sense of the term. In other words, melos or
music in this film creates a soundscape to accompany the
drama of human relations. Music expresses longings and
desires that are either repressed or culturally and
politically forbidden. I am an admirer of the works of
Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, although
stylistically of course, Chaturanga is much different
from their cinema.
It was a pleasure to work with the
cast. Dhritiman Chatterjee was an obvious choice for
this role, not only because of his suave, urbane
presence, but also because of his iconic 'young radical'
roles in Satyajit Ray's Pratidwandhi and Mrinal Sen's
Padatik. I think he bridged several historical time
zones: the turn of the century rationalism in Bengal
depicted in Chaturanga, the turbulent sixties, and the
present. His nuanced performance compliments those
Despite the fact that she is already
a National Award winning actress, I think Rituparna will
surprise everyone with her performance as Damini. Ritu
has been a major box office star of Bengali cinema for
well over a decade now. For her, it becomes a challenge
to break a certain mould whenever she has to do a role
like Damini. The mannerisms, body languages and natural
movements of stars are so familiar to audiences that it
is often difficult for them to bring in an element of
surprise. But I think Ritu has managed to do that.
Damini is a feisty role, which is precisely why there is
a danger of formatting it according to a readily
available 'angry young woman' prototype. However, Ritu
brings fire, as well as a poignant vulnerability to the
Subrata has a wild eyed intensity
that makes him a natural choice for Sachish. We worked
together to tone that down a bit in the first half. In
the second half, his 'possessed' nature comes to the
fore. This change is expressed through subtle things:
his movements become abrupt; the pace of his walk
becomes slightly more frenetic; his general disposition
seems to have a haunted character. I think Subrata
managed all that beautifully. As a director I am always
fascinated by faces and voices that remind you of hidden
demons in the human mind in a nice way. That is, they
remind you of these things without resorting to
Joy, on the other hand has a very
noble face and bearing. It is also an intelligent face.
His interpretation of Sribilash went beyond my
expectations. His Sribilash is the perfect
non-judgmental witness to the play of extreme passions
and ideas around him. He is also supportive, patient,
and loyal. The key to Joy's marvelous performance is the
effortless manner in which he has blended deep empathy
with profound irony.