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My directorial venture has been a learning experience for me: Riddhi Sen

The young actor-turned-director speaks about his animated short Thikana and filmmaking aspirations for the future.

File photo

Roushni Sarkar

While the lockdown brought many reasons for worry for filmmakers, and actors had little work, the youngest National award-winning actor Riddhi Sen made the best use of the phase by making his debut as a director.

His first directorial venture Thikana, an animated short film, was released by Windows Production House. Sen, along with his group of friends, actors Rwitobroto Mukherjee, Rajarshi Nag, and his girlfriend, actress and vocalist, Surangana Bandopadhyay, set up Oddventures Production House that aims at presenting more directorial ventures in future.

Though Thikana was first released by Windows Production House, Oddventures’ first work Coldfire, produced by Samiran Das from Kaleidoscope, was Sen’s first directorial venture. The short film, featuring Kaushik Sen and Somak Ghosh in the leads, is post-production and Sen is looking forward to an apt platform to release the film, close to his heart.

In a candid conversation with Cinestaan.com, Sen shared how his aspirations as a director pushed him before and during the lockdown.


Riddhi with cinematographer Tiyash Sen

Before the lockdown, Riddhi Sen was only known as an actor, and now you have come up with a new artistic expression as a director. How do you feel about it?

Honestly, I haven’t yet thought of this new ‘identity’ and I don’t think we do any kind of work solely for getting a tag. Acting in a single film doesn’t make someone an actor overnight, it takes certain amount of experience. I am a professional actor because that’s what I have been doing since my childhood. Just directing two short films doesn’t necessarily lend me the tag of a filmmaker. Yes, I wanted to tell stories and I have been able to do so based on my experience on the sets as well as with the help of a fantastic crew.

I would like to consider it more of a learning experience as I got to know both my strong points as well as the ones I need to invest more into. I am happy that besides Thikana, Coldfire has also been appreciated by the people I have shown to so far, but I am not yet giving thoughts on pursuing filmmaking as a career. Yes, I wanted to attend a film school and learn about camerawork but since that did not happen due to the pandemic, I could learn working on the sets and I think there is nothing like learning through experience.

So did Coldfire, Oddventures and Thikana happen at the same time?

Thikana was conceptualised during the lockdown and the pandemic gave reasons for making it. While we have had problems in our professional area, the pandemic revealed the economic crisis of the country, the unfortunate state of the migrant workers, and the sad state of healthcare system in a more prominent way.

Since we had the privilege of boredom, we decided to look into the fact that at any kind of crisis, whether it’s a war, natural disaster or a pandemic, kids suffer the most. This idea pushed us to come up with Thikana, though we are very much aware that the work is never going to reach the people it is about, but we would be happy if it brings some kind of awareness. On the other hand, Coldfire and Oddventures kind of happened at the same time.

In 2015, when I read Nabarun Bhattacharya’s short story Coldfire for the first time, it really struck me hard and since then I was willing to tell the story on my own way, without being sure of the medium. In 2017, I could kind of sense that the story had stayed with me. The same year, I lost my grandfather and went to a burning ghat for the first time. Watching someone close going inside the funeral pyre had a tremendous effect on me and made a lot of notions on life clearer to me, making me more determined to tell the story.

By the time, I had already started developing interest behind the camera and had also gathered experience, working in different production units of an American film, Hindi films as well as Bengali films. I began sensing that camera doesn’t come up with a limit when you want to tell a story through it; people are willingly ready to get fooled by convincing storytelling.

Then I started studying more about the technical aspects and got the advice that I will be honing my skills gradually once I start getting experience. Eventually, in 2018, when I met with a bad accident while shooting and was stuck at home, I decided to write the script and collaborated with Aniruddha Dasgupta. During the pre-production, we came up with Oddventures production unit, as we did 90% of the production ourselves for the sake of our creative liberty.

Why did you choose the medium of animation for Thikana?

I love animation films and have watched a lot of them since my childhood. During the lockdown, we did not have the choice to shoot a film and [since] the film is based on a kid’s imagination and hence, I felt there could be no better medium than animation. The animation has a form of unfinished scribbles and it also has the childhood fantasies of painting a river yellow in the form a crescent at the top of a temple or experiencing snow in the middle of Egypt in the film. This is also the first work of Rajarshi as an animator, who is studying animation as well.

Coldfire is an ambitious project as a futuristic short film and is made in a large canvas. How did you achieve that in your first directorial attempt?

I think the process becomes complicated when the aim is to depict a futuristic story. There was always the risk of telling story on a dystopian future within budget constraints and 80% of the film would not have happened without our cinematographer Tiyash Sen. We could not afford exceptional art direction neither we could entirely depend on CGI [computer-generated imagery] within the budget we had and hence, we had to entirely depend on the locations and we were lucky to get some incredible locations, where I can guarantee no films have been shot before.

I am very grateful to Tiyash for bringing out the large canvas look out of almost nothing. Also, I was quite determined to work with new people in the team. Apart from my father and music director Prabuddha Banerjee, almost all the other members who made the film are new in their fields, including production designer Riddhie Basak and the sound designers.

On the other hand, I am immensely grateful to Prabuddha uncle, because he has done an exceptional job. If I am not sure how the film would be accepted by the audience, I an assure that his work will surprise the audience, as he is able to turn the background score into a character in a film.

Since the film is based on a dystopian future and the people, by and large, are living in such a scenario in the current pandemic, how are you planning to launch the film so that it can be widely accepted by the audience?

Honestly, I feel the current scenario is dystopian and that’s why we get disturbed to watch works like Black Mirror series. I am yet to discuss how we are going to release the film. Nabarun Bhattacharya had written the short story more than twenty years ago. When I first read the story, I wondered how he could foresee such a scenario in his time.

I think the most important quality of an artistic work or a piece of literature is that it stays relevant for years. Similarly, I think Coldfire will remain relevant in many years to come. The story was futuristic in his time, is till futuristic and will remain so forever. In a way, futuristic contents show where the present scenario is heading to.

What are your upcoming projects?

Currently, the post-production of Indraadip Dasgupta’s Bismillah is going on. I will soon be shooting a film by Kamaleswar Mukherjee in London, England adjusting with the ‘new normal’. I am not sure about more directorial ventures yet as I believe I need more grasp in the craft, especially in an era where camera and technology are continuously evolving.

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Indian cinema