Interview Bengali Hindi

Current Bengali cinema has mostly loud, simplistic scripts: Arijit Biswas


The writer of Andhadhun (2018), who makes his directorial debut with Surjo Prithibir Charidike Ghore, points out a crucial difference between Hindi and Bengali cinema.

Roushni Sarkar

Arijit Biswas’s directorial debut Surjo Prithibir Charidike Ghore won him the Best Director award at last year's Kolkata International Film Festival.

The film is now slated for release on 29 November. Based on the life of KC Pal, who believed the sun goes round the earth and stuck posters around Kolkata and peddled books stating his theory, the film features Meghnad Bhattacharya as TC Pal, a fictionalized version of KC Pal.

Chiranjeet Chakraborty, Anjan Dutt, Sreela Majumdar and Pallavi Chatterjee also have crucial roles in the film.

Though Surjo Prithibir Charidike Ghore is based on KC Pal’s life, it is not merely a biopic. According to the director and the artistes, the film has strong political undertones as well.

At an event to launch the film's poster and trailer last month, Biswas, who has also written mainstream films like Andhadhun (2018, Hindi), elaborated on the pros and cons of making a political film, highlighted the differences in work culture in Mumbai and Kolkata and explained how the economic structure affects the artistic endeavours in both film industries.

Biswas believes every human being is political. “Every human being, having the power to think, has a certain political perspective," the director said. "Whether he or she chooses to express it is a different matter."

According to Biswas, Surjo Prithibir Charidike Ghore allowed him to express his political ideology while Andhadhun did not. “The question whether making a political film is safe comes from the intention of making money out of it," he said. "In the case of this film, I went for crowdfunding and then got the support of Pawanji [Kanodia, producer], who has a different approach to film financing. Another producer might have asked for a thriller without a political angle. I would not mind writing such scripts, but the noir genre also has a political undertone.”

Surjo Prithibir Charidike Ghore explores the rise and fall of leftist ideology in Bengal through the struggles of TC Pal.

On a different note, Biswas said the current scenario of Bengali thrillers is quite sad. “The stories are extremely simplified," he said. "A murder takes place and the detective ferrets out the criminal, that’s all! If you look at international thrillers or noir films, you will find political connotations in them. Even if I choose to intricately associate politics with my stories, I can make mainstream films out of them. It is not necessary that there should be a separate category for films with political messages. Apocalypse Now (1979) or Full Metal Jacket (1987) are full-fledged war films with political connotations. When I first watched these films, I did not understand the layers and perceived them as war films. When I grew up and watched them again, I could gradually trace the layers.”

According to Paromita Munshi, the film's writer, it took almost four years to complete Surjo Prithibir Charidike Ghore. She had first approached Biswas with the story in 2014. Biswas agreed the process was long and slow. “From Paromita’s story, I only took the character of TC Pal and made a script out of it, which I sent to NFDC [the National Film Development Corporation]. It got selected and went through international mentoring. Then we figured out that the story has a certain potential and we could raise funds for it.”

The team worked to raise funds for the film in 2016 and began shooting in 2017. “The shooting ended in 2018. Yes, the process was long. We required Rs1.25 crore to make the film. It was not easy for us to raise so much money. Also, those who wanted to invest had certain expectations. Hence, we needed a whole year to collect the entire amount,” explained the director.

Biswas, who has worked in Mumbai as a screenwriter, said he wishes to work one day in the country's cinema capital as a director and write scripts for Bengali cinema as well.

Talking about the difference in work culture, he said. “In Mumbai, certain minimum criteria are required of scriptwriters, which is not the case in Kolkata. We are seriously lacking in the basics of scriptwriting here. Stories are told with an oversimplified and loud approach. I am not talking about commercial films, I am talking about those that try to follow a middle path. There is a lack of subtlety and the layering of characters is not done properly,” he said.

Biswas believes scriptwriters in Kolkata are not paid adequately, with the result that they cannot give enough attention to a single script. “Maybe they need to work on six or seven scripts at once," he said. "If that is the case, it is quite natural that they cannot invest their best in individual scripts.”

He said the minimum rate fixed by the Screen Writers’ Association in Mumbai is Rs15 lakh per film. “If a scriptwriter gets Rs15 lakh for a film, the director can also insist that he put in four to five months to get it right. But if the writer is being paid just Rs2 lakh, the director cannot demand that he give so much time to a single script. There is a huge difference between an investment of 15 days and four months in a script,” the director said.

Despite the shortcomings, Biswas is keen to work in Kolkata. “I probably need to make two or three mainstream films to make my position strong," he said. "Frankly, it is difficult to survive here with just experimental films. It is better to make intelligent mainstream films. And I actually belong to the mainstream.”