Buddhadeb Dasgupta is one of the brightest names in Bengali cinema today. Winner of multiple national and international awards for films like “Bagh Bahadur”, “Tahader Kotha”, “Charachar”, “Uttara” and “Kalpurush”, he is also a highly-regarded poet. The director spoke to The Daily Star during a recent visit to Dhaka.
What do you think has been the biggest setback for Bangla cinema?
Buddhadeb: The problem, I think has been that Bengali cinema, from both India and Bangladesh, has not had a ‘brand’. Whatever branding is there is individual name-based; like Satyajit Ray, and to some extent Ritwik Ghatak. I cannot recall in recent years a Bangla film that has gone to a major film festival like Cannes, Venice or Berlin. And in terms of the consumer market, the idea is simple; you have to supply according to demand. If a kitchen market sells rotten potatoes and rotten fish, nobody will go there. Ultimately, a film is a product. It has to be good enough for sellers to be convinced that people will come and see it. And it has to be done with raw materials from here. For instance, I made “Uttara” (nominated for Golden Lion and winner of Special Director’s Award at Venice Film Festival 2000), the story cannot be found anywhere else. If you take “Bagh Bahadur”, you cannot find this ‘tiger-dance’ in any other part of the world. The other important thing is language. Cinema has a language of its own. If you use expensive equipment, famous artistes, you will have a good production, but it will not necessarily be a good film, unless you learn the language of films. Like I was watching “Television” (by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki) recently; it’s not a high-budget film, and I did not find highly technical components. But the language of the film is what makes it so wonderful. A film must be about a subject and in a language that can communicate with the audience.
Aside from being a filmmaker, you’re a noted poet-littérateur. What do you feel is the connection of film and literature?
Buddhadeb: Films are films and literature is literature. I don’t believe cinema has to depend on literature, per se. I think films can actually take a lot more from poetry, from paintings, from music. Whenever I have adapted any literary work into film, I have exercised complete freedom of adaptation. I don’t believe in just picturising the script, rather the impact it has on me, the emotions and feelings it trigger, I want to portray that.
Tell us a little about your latest feature venture.
Buddhadeb: “Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa”, the one I just finished, is about a small-time detective; I don’t know if there are many of them here in Dhaka, but in Kolkata it’s very common. Private investigators take on various personal assignments, like gathering information about a potential marriage candidate, or checking in on a husband whose wife is suspicious that he’s having an affair. Anwar is such a detective, who one day realises that he has followed and gathered information about others, but he does not know himself. So he starts ‘following’ himself. It’s an interesting story; I love to put in elements of magic realism in my films, and there’s plenty of it here too. Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, “The Lunchbox”) has played the central role. I could not find anyone in Kolkata suitable to do this, and I saw a work of his that I was very impressed with, so I decided to sign him and do the film in Hindi.
What is the most satisfying thing about being a filmmaker?
Buddhadeb: For a filmmaker, any point of satisfaction will bring ultimate demise (laughs), because it kills the hunger and drive. It’s true for any artiste, to be honest. There must be an everlasting urge to do more, do better and do new things. But yes, sometimes completing a good shot in itself can be very satisfying, if that’s what you mean.
If you could work with any artiste in film history, who would you pick?
Buddhadeb: Names like Chhobi Biswas, Pahari Sanyal and Nripati Chattapadhyay come to mind. Since I make films in Bengali, that is. There are many actors I greatly admire, but because I don’t make films in English, I cannot think of working with them. Of the films I saw lately, I was mesmerised by the work of the actor who played the chairman in “Television” (Shahir Huda Rumi), and I immediately felt like I want to work with him. He was brilliant!
This interview was originally published on June 27, 2014.