Interview Hindi

Naseeruddin Shah is very particular and prepared: Hope Aur Hum director Sudip Bandyopadhyay


Bandyopadhyay revealed how he got Shah on board the film and the challenges independent filmmakers like him face when it comes to releasing a film in theatres.

Suparna Thombare

Sudip Bandyopadhyay, who has been making ad films for many years now, makes his feature film debut with Hope Aur Hum, a story about the Srivastava family whose lives are affected by the seniormost member of the family, Nagesh's obsession with his traditional copying machine, called Mr Sonnecken.

The film depicts the transition between the old and new, explored through the journey of characters from three different generations.   

Hope Aur Hum features Naseeruddin Shah, Sonali Kulkarni, Naveen Kasturia, Aamir Bashir and Kabir Sajid in the lead roles. 

In an interview with us, Bandyopadhyay spoke about why he decided to make his debut with a simple family film, how veteran actor Shah came on board and the difficulties faced by independent filmmakers. 

Excerpts:

Why did you choose this subject of a simple and sweet family film as your directorial debut?

Because it is simple (laughs). As a debut filmmaker I felt I should choose something that is simple, light-hearted and close to my heart. This entire film has been picked from my real life experience. I have seen a few things, a few characters, incidents. I put some colour in it and made a film, which is simple and sweet. In terms of production also, we didn't have to go to some exotic place (to shoot). In today's scenario, a film like this is rare to see. I mean there are films, but mostly there are stories with big conflicts and issues. And those kind of films we keep seeing. So we have forgotten our day to day problems... a slice-of-life film. 

I like these kind of films, like Majid Majidi and his film Children of Heaven (1997) or Malgudi Days [serial], which used to come on TV or Taare Zameen Par (2007). Small daily issues can be a big story in itself. And I took that challenge. 

What is the significance of the title of the film?

Hope is a driving force. without hope you cannot survive. When you reach one horizon another horizon. Hope is very personal. I put together a family film where we show family bonding. In the family also people are individuals. So each individual has their own hope, own journey. So I took three journeys in this story. 

How did Naseeruddin Shah come on board the film? Did you know him before?

No. I got his phone number from one my friends. I didn't know him. I hadn't met him. While writing and envisioning the Nagesh character I felt that this should be Naseeruddin Shah. He was my first choice and I got him. 

His character in the film seems attached to an old photocopy machine in the film. What is the significance of that machine?

It is actually a copy machine which I have seen in art college. I used to use it to blow up the portraits that I made. It used to be run by an old fellow. I used to talk to him quite often. He was very proud of that machine. And that machine needs a lot of skill. You have to place the plate, focus, then the light will come on and it will expose the plate. Then you put ink in it. Then the paper goes in and then you take a printout. It is a tedious kind of process. The uncle who used to do that was very attached to the machine. So I got this idea from there. The attachment to that machine is like that to a family member.

It is an inanimate object, but we all get attached to things in our home. It could be a study table used by your grandpa or a sewing machine which your grandmom used. So it becomes a part of your family. For example, I remember when we used to get a new cycle, we used to name the cycle. In Bengali you generally have two names — one is a nickname and the other is a bhalo naam or a good name. So we used to give a nickname to the cycle. My cycle's name was James.

Did you then use an actual old copy machine in the film?

That old machine has been destroyed. I tried to find it in Chor Bazaar, but I couldn't get it. But I remembered it quite distinctly so I drew it and showed it to my art director. And both of us built it together. And we aged it in a way that it looks really old.  

What is Sonali Kulkarni's character like in the film?

In a family, there is generally one person who is connected to everything. She is the head of the family. She is the driving force. Sonali is the one who is trying to maintain the balance between everything. She is very realistic and a rational voice. It's not that she is not emotional, but she is very practical. There is this constant arguement that the copy machine is occupying a major part of the house, which is basically Nagesh's shop which is part of the house. There is a constant discussion that if the machine goes, the space can be used as a room. Her character also has hope that the kids will get another room. Also, she feels that pappa is doing so much work or is obsessed with the copy machine. 

As a first time director, how was your experience working with an experienced actor like Naseeruddin Shah?

Great experience. I remember the first day when I met Mr Naseeruddin Shah. We went into his house and gave him the script. He said 'okay, I'll read it'. So several days we didn't get a call from him. So he called Sameera [Bandyopadhyay, producer] one day and said I want to meet the director. Then I met him. I remember that while I was talking to him I was feeling like I was in some scene. His voice is so cinematic. Before that I had only seen him on the screen. So I felt like somebody in some corner is filming this and I am his co-actor and a part of a scene.

It was a great learning (experience). He is very particular about things. He used to prepare himself and come. And if for some reason, which happened one day, we are unable to take his shot or reschedule, he used to get very upset. So he is that kind of an actor and person. It was such a great decision to cast him in Nagesh's character. It helped me a lot. I didn't have to do anything. I used to just direct him as to how I am seeing it and the movements he has to do. And things used to just happen. How he used to carry himself as Nagesh used to be my reference point for what I should do next. 

Do you think that with other platforms apart from a theatrical release, like online streaming, it has become easier to sell a film?

Producing a film is the easy part, exhibition is difficult. If you say that content is king, I say distribution is god. Exhibiting a film is tough even though we have so many options. Theatrical release is a very scary area. When you make a film, especially an independent film. Getting theatrical release is almost impossible. You have to put so much money and so many other things you need to do that indpendent filmmakers don't get that.

I think the theatre ticket is also very costly. That's why it is also difficult to release a small film. In Chennai, they have flat rates. That's why people there watch more films, which become more successful than our Hindi ones. There is a lot of Math and several theories to this. But I think if you want to make a film... if anybody wants to make a film, you must forget all these things and make a film, make a good film.