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Bauddhayan Mukherji's Marichjhapi will focus on the element of love amidst pain

'Buddy' Mukherji has begun shortlisting artistes in Kolkata but is yet to confirm any of them. "I am looking for a particular body structure, a particular body language," he said.

Roushni Sarkar

Bauddhayan Mukherji, a leading ad filmmaker settled in Mumbai, is all set to direct his Bengali feature Marichjhapi. Last week, Mukherji launched a striking poster of the film but is yet to reveal the cast.

Fondly known among friends as Buddy, Mukherji is known for his direction of Bell Bajao, a campaign against domestic violence, as well as the feature films Teenkahon (2014, Bengali) and The Violin Player (2016, Hindi).

Marichjhapi is based on the little known incident of the forced eviction of Bangladeshi refugees from the island of Marichjhapi by the Left Front government of West Bengal in 1979. An estimated 1,000 people were killed in the process, falling to gunshots, starvation and disease.

Mukherji has a different take on the painful incident. According to him, “Marichjhapi is all about love. It was the love for Bengal’s mati, jol, hawa [earth, water and air] that led so many people to return and settle in Marichjhapi.”

Mukherji believes it is impossible to ignore the element of love amidst pain. Though there is also the more conventional narrative of love between man and woman, the filmmaker said, “It is classified and part of the screenplay. It would be premature to talk about it now."

Asked why he chose such a unique and sensitive subject for his latest cinematic venture, Mukherji replied, “I got introduced to Marichjhapi in college in the mid-1990s. When I delved deeper, I realized not many people around me knew about it. Some hadn’t even heard of Marichjhapi. That very moment I decided to do a film on it.”

The director has been working on the screenplay for two years along with Abhinandan Banerjee. They have been going through an intense process of reading, meeting survivors, listening to eyewitness accounts and watching a series of documentaries. “The more we have read and learnt, the more we have been dumbfounded and have promised ourselves that the pain of Marichjhapi has to be shared with the world,” he said.

Mukherji has begun the process of shortlisting actors and actresses in Kolkata but is yet to confirm any of them. “Casting is about to begin," he said. "But it is not easy to find actors who would effortlessly slip into the shoes of Bengali Nomoshudro Dalit refugees. I am looking for a particular body structure, a particular body language. I am looking for fatigued souls.”

Mukherji said he is also planning to cast a few artistes from Mumbai and the look tests have been conducted.

To lend authenticity to the location, one of the important aspects of the film, Mukherji is looking for an island that retains its 1970s look.

Mukherji said Marichjhapi is about the pain of Bengalis and needs Bengali as the spoken language and hence he decided on making the film in Bengali.

"Filmmaking is a very personal exercise for me," he said. "If that means I need a couple of years to write a screenplay, so be it.” There are no short-cuts. He also made it clear that he doesn’t need to make feature films to run his household and therefore he can take the liberty of working on a project for long.

Mukherji’s films have so far been appreciated at various festivals. But he feels the process of getting films selected for festivals is tough. “If the film is not up to the mark then no festival would touch it with a barge pole. Hence, the sole aim in life now is to make the film well and the rest will follow,” he said.

Mukherji's Little Lamb Films Pvt Ltd is producing Marichjhapi. The director is also in talks to get a foreign producer on board.