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Interview Bengali

Antardhaan is a performance-orientated film, says director Arindam Bhattacharya

With the film lined up for release, the director speaks of how the story was conceived and developed and recalls the excitement and experience of shooting on location in a picturesque state like Himachal Pradesh.

Roushni Sarkar

Arindam Bhattacharya’s film Antardhaan (2021), starring Parambrata Chatterjee, Tanushree Chakraborty and Mohar Chowdhury, is slated to hit cinema screens on 10 December.

The story of a girl who goes missing in the serene locations of Himachal Pradesh, Antardhaan also features Rajatava Dutta, Sujan Mukhopadhyay, Harsh Chhaya and Mamata Shankar in crucial roles.

Ahead of its release, the director spoke of the inspiration behind the thriller and the thought that went into the casting decisions. He also shared how shooting in Himachal Pradesh became quite a memorable experience. Excerpts:

How is Antardhaan different from the thrillers you have made before?

This is not an out-and-out thriller. The story is rather close to heart. It is more about what happens when a young family member goes missing. The film delves into the feeling of insecurity and other psychological consequences of a family that has lost its daughter, with an element of thriller.

I have deviated this time from a typical crime plot. Since thrillers get a more mysterious feel in hill stations and such remote locations, I chose to shoot the film in Himachal Pradesh.

What was the inspiration for telling this story?

When I was promoting my film Flat 609 (2018), I came across a donation box for missing children at a coffee shop. I found it quite interesting as I had come across initiatives to collect donations for sick or underprivileged children, but never for missing children. Then I did a little research on the missing children in our country and what their fates are. I was quite shocked by the numbers, which triggered me to write a story on the topic.

The trailer suggests that the film also highlights certain issues regarding the security system of our country.

Actually, in our country when someone begins investigation of these cases, he or she has to go through multiple bureaucratic steps of approval. I have tried to depict that for the Indian bureaucratic system, the emotional factors associated with such cases of missing children don’t matter at all. The obstacles that many have to face in investigating the cases come from the complications in the bureaucratic procedure. In the film, Rajatava Dutta’s character goes out of the systematic way of investigation and hence the conflicts arise.

Can you tell us about the casting process?

When I conceived the idea of Antardhaan, I first shared my thoughts with Tanushree while working on Flat 609. She liked the story. Since I had already worked with Abir [Chatterjee], I wanted to cast someone else for the male lead, someone with an intellectual look. In the film, Zinia’s father is a professor at a university in Himachal Pradesh. I could only think of Parambrata for the look of the character.

Rony-da's (Rajatava Dutta's) character, on the other hand, is a little frustrated, an insomniac and has many other shades. I could not think of any other actor from that particular age group who could pull off so many shades effortlessly. People perceive Rony-da in a stereotypical manner as he mostly portrays negative characters or comic roles, but he is a natural actor. Before Antardhaan, I worked with him on the short film Aparichito, which is currently streaming on Addatimes, and saw to what height he took his performance. I made up my mind to cast him then itself.

Momo-di’s [Mamata Shankar's] character has been created separately for her. I always love to experiment with her in all my films. She also looks for variations in terms of characters. Hence, I incorporated the character of a neighbour who has an interest in witchcraft and tantra. She became quite excited with the characterization as she has never appeared in such a role before.

How was the experience of shooting the film in such a beautiful location?

It was quite enjoyable. There is a lot of difference between shooting a film in Kolkata and outside. I think what inspires me the most in an outdoor shoot is that the process takes place much more efficiently and effectively. Nobody has the rush to return to their homes, they only need to return to the hotel from the location. Shooting in winter also makes the cast and crew quite energetic. Almost everyone enjoys the process more when the filming takes place in a scenic location. Performances depend on the mood a lot and when the environment is beautiful, it helps invest in the performance more. Everyone has delivered amazing performances and I would call Antardhaan a performance-oriented film.

Also, one of the biggest take-aways of the film was the adda [conversation] sessions. Those sessions at night after shooting were a massive attraction for us. Though I often used to miss the sessions because I had to look after a lot of technical aspects. Rony-da, Neel [Sujan Mukhopadhyay], Param and I used to sit together for hours and talk till 2 or 3 in the morning and then we would wake up early and start shooting the next day. No one would be lethargic during the shooting process. Those intimate adda sessions were quite enriching and they strengthened our bond too.

What can the audience expect from the film?

I have full faith in my audience, and I know they would frequent the theatres for good films only. I don’t expect the audience to watch the film just for the sake of Bengali cinema. I agree that Bengali cinema is going through a difficult phase because of the decline in quality of content. Quality films are always appreciated here. During the time of COVID, a low-budget film like Cheeni (2020) also did well at the box office because of the subject and good performances. I am confident that the audience won’t ignore such a good thriller shot in a beautiful location.