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Ahead of His Time

Bengali film director and writer, Kaushik Ganguly, is no stranger to awards like the Unesco Fellini Award and the Silver Peacock. He recently won a National Award for his film Bishorjan. Ganguly is known for taking up bold subjects and has explored issues like sexuality in his films Ushnatar Janye and Arekti Premer Golpo. In conversation with Sayali Parab, Ganguly speaks about his journey from television to films and discusses the success of his latest film Bishorjan

At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to be a director? And which was that one film that motivated you to take the plunge?

I cannot pinpoint exactly when that was but I was a writer in the beginning. I used to write for television. After writing for so many years, I realised that whatever I wrote was being translated onscreen in a way that was different from the way I had written it.

That was quite natural when someone else is directing a film. I was discussing this with my family and my father-in-law suggested that I should direct my own stories. I was into theatre at the time but decided to direct. It is not easy to direct a film but, by then, I had already given two to three hits on television. So I already had a reputation and people were willing to take a chance on me.

I started making telefilms, films for television, and that’s how I became a ‘filmmaker’. Abroad, directors who direct telefilms call them full-fledged feature films while we call them telefilms. I made 17 to 18 telefilms, which were game-changers. At the time, the Bengali industry was going through a dull period. There were a lot of award-winning movies but no box-office successes. Since it was television, we did not have the pressure of selling tickets. So we went all out and started choosing interesting subjects.

Today, filmmakers all over India are experimenting with subjects but, back then, we worked on subjects like homosexuality, progeria and dementia. We started directing telefilms and they worked. Producers began to show confidence in us and these telefilms were our show reels.

At this point, I must mention that I took a misstep in the beginning. I wanted to play to the gallery and the kind of arrogance I had shown on television, something I was known for, was missing in my first film. I played safe and I ruined my first film. I was attempting to please the audience and it was not the kind of stuff producers were wanting. In my second film, I was a little aggressive and it worked. After that, I went slow and I took time to grow. It took me at least four to
five films to understand the breadth
of cinema.

You have explored bold subjects that have dealt with lesbian relationships, transgender identity etc., subjects that are still considered taboo. How did you decide to go ahead even though you knew that people might not accept these subjects?

I did feel a little tentative but I was so angry with myself for playing safe with my first film that I decided to take up subjects that deserved to be showcased. I made a film titled Ushnatar Janye. After that, I remade and crafted that script and made Just Another Love Story, a true story, a biopic. I received the Silver Peacock award for that film. It was really amazing.

In Bengal, people are very
open-minded and apparently not orthodox . The film Paa was made 10 years after I made my film Aatithi, which was on progeria. Producers should encourage new filmmakers to showcase new ideas or else we will keep on playing safe. The audience is very tricky; as soon as they are unhappy, they will quit and it will take another five years to bring them back.

 Most of your films have reached out to an international audience through film festivals. How does it feel to be responsible for introducing the current kind of Bengali cinema to an international audience?

My films have gone to many film festivals like the Berlin film festival and I have also received prestigious awards like the Silver Peacock. I am also the first Indian to receive the Unesco Fellini Award. Three curators from Paris arrived and handed me the medal. Taking my films abroad… Mumbai taking their films abroad is a different ball game together. It’s like taking Hindi film to NRIs, taking Hindi film to non-Bengali audience it’s not that it’s becoming global. Their exhibition system is increasing and it’s not that their films are becoming international films.

If you take a Shah Rukh Khan film overseas, it will garner great footfalls because there are many Indians and Pakistani living there. But there are very few Bengalis staying there, so you can’t expect the same kind of response.

We depend on film festivals, where the curator will choose our films. I think the best way for us to send our films overseas is through Film Bazaar and maybe through festivals. But the problem is that the producers are not getting anything. The director gets a chance to be at the festival and stay there for three nights, listen to Q&A sessions, two screenings and to take pictures to post on his or her Facebook wall.

The problem is that, in my case, I can say that when I am making a film, I cannot think about festivals only. If I can’t run my film in the domestic market, no producer will back me. So it is important to first screen it on home ground. I have been to many film festivals and the emotions they want are very dry and real. This will not work in the domestic market. The difficult part is, if we design films for the international market, it will suffer in the domestic market.

 Your last film Bishorjan fetched you a National Film Award. Did you see it coming? How does it feel to be honoured by the most prestigious film award of our country?

Whenever I submit my films, I have expectations. I was especially disappointed when my other two films, Apur Panchaliand Cinemawala, did not get National Awards. This time, I am happy. This is my fourth or fifth National Award but the biggest award is when you see a ‘housefull’ sign hanging outside cinemas. My film Bishorjan is running very well and it took a very good box-office opening. On Saturdays and Sundays, we visit cinemas and interact with the audience. People are crying and expressing their emotions, that’s a different kind of feeling.

 Do you want to get into Bollywood?

If a producer is interested in the subjects that I make, I would be happy to make a Hindi film. I don’t want to struggle.

 What’s next for you?

Chaya O Chobi, it’s a feature film, a film within a film. It’s a simple narrative, a love story. We have finished shooting it. Right now, we are revelling in the success of Bishorjan.

 What are your thoughts about SVF Entertainment?

SVF Entertainment is a bad habit for all directors. All you have to do is make a film and then forget about it. They handle the post-production really well and we see the film directly in the showroom. They handle the poster designing, networking etc.

While working with Mahendra Soni and Shrikant Mohta, I just can’t make another film with them. They have a legacy of hundred films and I cannot just make another film with them. I need to have that kind of subject.

So whenever I get a good subject, I think of SVF. I discuss the idea and they say it’s lovely, move ahead. The kind of freedom I get from them is the best. Once the script reading is over and the casting is locked, they don’t disturb you till the film is ready. They only want to see the final cut.  It’s great working with them.

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