Now in its 10th week in West Bengal, Belaseshe is still running house-full in cinemas in the state. The film, which has also created new records in West Bengal, released along with Hindi film, Gabbar Is Back, on May 1. The duo behind this successful film – Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy – are one of the finest names in the Bengali film industry and are known to make content-oriented films on a limited budget. They spoke to Soumita Sengupta about the success of the film and their journey while making it. Over to them:
Belaseshe is still enjoying a successful run in cinemas in West Bengal and Eros recently came on board to release it in other metro cities. To what do you attribute the film’s success?
Shiboprosad Mukherjee (SM): It feels great. Actually, Eros had approached us for our previous film Ramdhanu’s remake but we were busy with Belaseshe. After that, they were busy with their releases. But after the release of Belaseshe, they approached us again and decided to release the film in other metro cities and they were surprised at the response. Our film is a clean entertainer and people from every age group can relate to it, as we all have similar characters and relationships around us. It has motivated movie-goers to come to the cinema and watch a Bengali film after 25 years! So there’s a huge repeat audience. Our film released on May 1 and still it’s running house-full shows in West Bengal.
Usually, a corporate house comes on board initially, so it’s rare to be approached after your film turns out to be a success.
Nandita Ray (NR): Eros wants to enter the regional market and they wanted to remake our previous film in Hindi. But when they heard about how well Belaseshe was doing, they helped take our film to other cities. Our film is a human drama and its connect goes beyond the Bengali audience.
How did the film happen?
(NR): We had gone to watch a play with the same title. The play featured Swatilekha Sengupta, who plays the lead in our film too. Shibo (Shiboprosad Mukherjee) and I loved the play and that’s when we decided to make it as a feature film. We started brainstorming on the script. Then came casting. We thought it would be difficult to convince Soumitra Chatterjee but he came on board as soon as we narrated the script to him. The rest of the casting was done and we started rolling. Also, Soumitra and Swatilekha had earlier worked together in Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire, so they were working together after a very long time.
Is it difficult to adapt a play? And how different is your film from the play?
(SM): We adapted the story line and then gave it our touch and imagination. In the film, the play ends by intermission; post-intermission is entirely our story. Belaseshe is about this elderly couple who invite their kids to attend Durga Puja and all the kids unite thinking the father might announce his will. But on Vijya Dashami, he announces that he wants to divorce his wife. The children are shocked. After that, they go to Shantiniketan for a holiday and that’s where the couple recollects the memories of their past and what went wrong in their relationship. But while the parents are rediscovering themselves, their children are also looking into each of their relationships and working on them. So our Belaseshe is a family film and that’s whom we have made this film for. Someone is watching with it with friends, their husband, their parents. On its completion of 75 days, we are still running house-full shows.
When a film works, everyone talks about its success. But, initially, was it easy to make the film?
(NR): It wasn’t really a challenge. We had got dates for Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta and the rest of the star cast. Soumitrada had told us he could shoot for five hours only because of his ill health so we managed everything on time. Our film was made on a budget of `1 crore only and we finished shooting in just 17 days, which we managed because of our hard work on the pre-production. We rehearsed and we did intensive workshops so that when we were on ground, we didn’t waste any time.
You made Belaseshe with just Rs 1 crore? What’s the budget formula? What about marketing and promotions?
(NR): Yes, we made Belaseshe on a budget of Rs 1 crore. I couldn’t spend more than that, where is the market? People outside Bengal hardly watch Bengali films in cinemas because we don’t have that kind of reach. We released the film with 51 prints. Also, we enter the interiors later as we wait for word-of-mouth publicity. If we would have released over there in the first week, our film would have been out in the second week itself. Now word-of-mouth is strong and there’s demand, so releasing it in the third chain after a few weeks always makes sense. We earned around Rs 60,000 from a cinema hall in Maslandapur in a day but only because the word-of-mouth publicity was very strong. And, thankfully, Eros International came on board and decided to release it in other metro cities, where the word has reached.
You started with Ichche in 2011, which was also high on content. And, in 2015, you gave us Belaseshe. What have you learnt and unlearnt, as a filmmaker?
(SM): It’s not a very long journey but, sure, we have learnt on the job. We have always been true to ourselves. We try and make films we like; we don’t follow commercial success or remakes. We want to tell our stories, stories which the common man will relate to. Today, the industry has changed and it’s much more organised. Our first film taught us many things, from production to marketing to audience tastes. We also learnt to maintain the budget. So, if there’s one thing we have learnt over the years, it’s that a good story never fails to draw the audience to cinemas.
How do you two divide the work?
(SM): First, the punch line should convince both of us to say ‘yes’ to a film. Nandita writes the screenplay and I write the dialogue. Basically, we first develop the screenplay, which is the most important part of filmmaking, then the dialogue. Then we conduct workshops with the actors. I believe we are lucky to be there for each other. Nandita is my mentor, I am all that I am because of her. So when we work together, we stand by each other. There are arguments, heated arguments too, but it’s all geared towards making a good film. Another person who plays a very important role in our life is Rituparna Sengupta. She stood by us when we didn’t have any producer. Nobody believed in us but she did. She is our strength.