menubar

a film by suman mukhopadhyay

making of the film

script | camera | production design | genre and style | actors  

script

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.

camera

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.

production design

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.

actors

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 memories.

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 part.

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 caricature.

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.

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