In a freewheeling conversation, filmmaker Ranjan Ghosh and actress-producer Rituparna Sengupta talk about their latest film and their love for food. This is the second and final part of the interview.
This content will stay on in people’s hearts: Rituparna Sengupta on Ahaa Re
New Delhi - 16 Jun 2019 9:00 IST
Ranjan Ghosh’s Ahaa Re (2019), an exploration of relationships and all their complexities, was received with thunderous applause by an adoring audience at the 14th Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi when it was screened last month.
The film traces the journey of a Muslim chef from Bangladesh, Farhaz Choudhury (Arifin Shuvoo), who comes to Kolkata nursing a wounded heart and meets Basundhara Ganguly (Rituparna Sengupta), a home cook par excellence, and falls for her. But the quiet, self-assured Basundhara, whose placid exterior hides a tumult of emotions within, spurns his advances. This triggers a process of introspection for both characters as they seek to address certain questions within themselves.
After the screening, director Ranjan Ghosh and actress-producer Rituparna Sengupta discussed, in an extended conversation with Cinestaan.com, the making of the mature romance and the issues it deals with. Excerpts from the second and final part of the interview:
Do you [Sengupta] think being a producer allows you greater control and to explore certain characters because you have financial control?
Rituparna Sengupta: Yes, of course.
So, do you see yourself taking on the role of producer more often?
RS: Well, you know what, it’s not about me. Film has always been a huge passion. It’s not about just me acting. I also want to provide a roof for others who can make content which people need today. Cinema should be fed with new content every day. So I am going to be a producer who can actually produce content which will be of use to society. If I feel that if I produce something it will make a difference, why not? And to keep control, we can keep control over the IP so that we can go places with it. You know, some producers they lock and shut the film somewhere.
Ranjan Ghosh: Yeah, absolutely.
RS: So as a producer, I feel it’s much more open, I can actually dress up my baby as I want, rather than just giving it to somebody. Film has to be cultivated. If you don’t cultivate movies, if you don’t actually spread the word around it, it will always remain cooped up. But when we are reacting to it and trying to make sense out of the film, those kind of reactions I need. It’s not only about the money, though of course money is important. Because for me, you know, someday we will all go and money will not be seen anywhere, but the film will remain in people’s hearts.
You [Ghosh] had mentioned that featuring a Muslim man and Hindu woman created some trouble with the previous producers. I thought it was a bold statement to make in today’s times. How important was religious identity for you in this film though not much is made of it in the plot.
RG: In terms of the story it was absolutely important for me to have this religious angle because I wanted to stress on it and show that in today’s day and age, when man is striving to reach the moon or Mars, organized religion should not play a significant role in our lives. I am Hindu, I believe in my gods, you are Muslim you believe in your Allah, someone is a Christian and believes in his Christ, all that is fine, but religious divisiveness has no role in our lives.
There are other more inspiring stories in our lives, about our lives. Religion should be on the back burner and that is what I was trying to explore, that these two people have enough problems in their lives. That is important. This external factor imposed by society, you know, this age bar, or religion, I thought this should not be given importance.
RS: I want to express a woman in cinema, beyond her age, sexual, gender bias or whatever you want to call it. I want to make woman a sort of concept.
Even in the film, Basundhara is the one who provides for the family. She has taken on the reins of the business.
RG: Absolutely, she is actually playing the role of the son of the family.
But the film is also about the man’s journey as much as it is Basundhara’s. He has got to realize aspects of his own family.
RS: And the culmination comes how? And what will you give my daughter-in-law? A future? Security? And the man says, ‘Can’t I be the son?' So that also speaks about that man’s solidarity. That speaks about his genuineness.
And his yearning, because he was a certain person when he came to Kolkata and fell in love with this woman, but he realizes he cannot have her and yearns for his family.
RS: And that’s a very sensitive part where he realizes this.
It is a poignant part of the story.
RS: That how her mother needed that man…
RG: Where he actually realizes and empathizes with his stepfather and finds himself in the shoes of his stepfather. Then he says sorry. He does not say I love you yet. He does not reach that point. He means it, but he can only get to the point where he says I am sorry, I am really very sorry. So it’s very good to know that it moved you, because that was a very important point in his journey.
The film received a fantastic reception in Kolkata and we have seen an enthusiastic crowd at the India Habitat Centre as well. As the director, how do you feel about this reception?
RG: It is always a very satisfying experience when the audience or reviewers are able to understand what we want to do, what we are trying to explore. And for that, to properly read a film, one has to be an informed audience or reviewer. So, we have got a very positive response from informed audiences and reviewers. We are very thankful, specially for the love from the audience. Because janata janardan [the public is our god]. It is gratifying, the fact that people are spotting such nuances that even you have pointed out. Even [Baaram (2019, Tamil) director] Priya Krishnaswamy, Priyaji, her film is being screened now, she loved the film and said it is well-written, good cinematography, good performance, Ranjan, what have you done. So this is so good.
And Rituparna, as an artiste and more so as a producer, how do you feel?
RS: I cannot relate to myself as a producer. As an actor I am still too much embedded and can’t remove that tag. I have seen this film completely from an actor’s point of view and found it absolutely fabulous to perform such a beautiful character. When I heard it from Ranjan, I felt every inch within me was very content listening to a role like this. So that’s one very beautiful thing. As I said, actors are always greedy. And this role has some kind of a feel-good factor and a beauty of being very genuine.
As producer, when I decided that this movie will be owned by us, that gave me a very beautiful feeling as well. It’s not only about the commerce but when you know you do a satisfying job or a satisfying film which gives you contentment, you feel good.
Of course we are still to realize the money, but at the end of the day I feel that the love from the audience or the kind of reviews we are getting and the kind of critical acclaim... also what Ranjan said is right, the movie is being watched by people with a lot of love and affection. That is what is important. As I said we will go, everything will be gone, but....
RG: The film will stay.
RS: The content will stay in people’s hearts and generations to come will remember we made a film like this.
Food is such an integral part of the film and you are in the food capital of the country, I have to ask you, what is your soul food?
RG: I like to eat anything that walks.
Hopefully after it has stopped walking! So you are a hardcore carnivore?
RG: (Laughs) Yes, but my favourite is mutton biryani with chicken rezala and bacon and sausages.
RS: I am both a herbivore and a carnivore. I am very fond of fish.
RG: I think she is very fond of hilsa.
RS: Hilsa, prawns, I'm quite fond of seafood and kebabs also. Galauti kebab.
The platter is becoming bigger!
RS: In general, I like to try new cuisines.