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“South remakes are a safe bet”

Tomake Chai is the 12th Bengali film by director Rajib Kumar, a filmmaker with a penchant for remaking South films. Here’s Kumar, a firm believer in commercial cinema, in a tête-à-tête with Rohini Nag Madnani

What is it about South remakes that intrigues you so much? Also, do you think remakes of South films are a safe bet?

The one big advantage is that these films are a tried-and-tested formula at the box office. They are definitely a safe bet but the thing is that our Bengali cinema lacks commercial writers. No doubt, we are one of the most content-rich cinema industries but the kind of films I make are commercial. I think in the next few years, we will have many good commercial writers and we will also have original, entertaining mass films to make. Ours is a film industry that is rich in literature-based cinema but I want to make films that are commercially strong.

What is the selection process you follow? How do you decide which South film to remake and which to pass?

We have limited actors in our industry. We have two commercial heroes and two heroes who do more serious, content-oriented films. So, first, it depends on which actor has given us dates and we accordingly decide which film or what genre to make, to suit the actor. Or, a producer might give us an actor’s name and ask us to get a film for him.

Second, with the popularity of South films on satellite, it is hard to choose films as the audience is already aware of the story. This is one reason we don’t remake Telugu films as often as we used to. Telugu films are the most widely premiered on television. Now the trend to remake films in other South languages like Malayalam or Kannada is picking up.

Do you change the story of a film to cater to the Bengali audience?

We do change the story to match the sensibilities of our Bengali film audience. Also, we make changes to suit the different culture and style of living. Films are universal and have the ability to appeal to the audience because they mirror emotions in our lives. So, for instance, there is no difference in the way someone from South India experiences happiness vis-à-vis a Bengali character. The only difference is the way they choose to celebrate. Similarly, the concept of the story remains the same while making a remake; only the approach differs when portraying it on the big screen.

You have made 12 films in eight years, most of which have been with Shree Venkatesh Films. What has your association with the banner been like?

Everyone in our region wants to work with Shree Venkatesh Films. Since they are the number one player here, they have worked with almost everyone in the Bengali industry. I believe this is the only banner that knows how to blend quality cinema with quantity. They not only know the art of filmmaking but also the aftermath. Of the 300 cinemas in Bengal, they have 200 with them, so they know how to reach the audience and how to market their films. And we all know that it is much easier to make a film than it is to sell one.

I am blessed to have worked with them in most of my films. Also, they don’t discriminate when it comes to directors; they give equal importance to new directors as they do to established ones. They work equally hard on a commercial film as they do on an art film or a literature-oriented film.

Shrikant Mohta and Mahendra Soni are two of the most successful producers and distributors in the Bengali industry. What are they like as producers?

Together, Shrikant sir and Mahendra sir are a dream team. They know how to get the job done. Shrikant sir is involved to the fullest in creative aspects like pre-production and scripting. He supports your vision and is your rock. Shrikant sir worked with me to decide which film to make and how to go about it. While filming, they give you the space you need and don’t interfere with the making of the film.

Mahendra sir takes care of marketing, distribution and all aspects besides filmmaking. He is a master of his craft. The best part about them is that they don’t blame the director if a film fails at the box office and when a film succeeds, they give credit to the team and director equally. I have never seen producers who work like that. They have quality manpower and the latest technology and equipment, so most of the work is taken care of in-house. Their team is skilled enough to support a director’s vision.

What is Tomake Chai about?

The film is a pure love story set in a small hill station. The simplicity of small-town love is very different from a new-age couple living in a big city. My film is based on one such story where the protagonists fall in love and the innocence of their relationship is intact. How they face the world and the harsh realities of life is what Tomake Chai is all about.

Will we see you direct a Hindi film?

It is my dream to make a Hindi film. Actually, I was in Mumbai before I came to Kolkata, back to 1994. I worked as an assistant to Partho Ghosh in Mumbai and came with him to Kolkata. I assisted him till 1999. I have always wanted to direct a Hindi film but nothing has worked out for me. After that, in the year 2000, I met Rituparno Ghosh and started assisting him but his films were very different from my sensibilities as I have always been drawn to commercial films. After that, I worked in television and got my break as a director in 2008. Coming back to your question… I really want to direct a Hindi film.  

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