Director Kamleshwar Mukherjee has delivered one of the most noteworthy Bengali hit films in recent times, Chander Pahar. His film Meghe Dhaka Tara was also critically acclaimed. In conversation with Sayali Parab, Mukherjee talks about his next film, Amazon Obhijaan, a sequel to Chander Pahar, and also speaks about the challenges he faced while shooting this film in the Amazon rainforest
Let’s start from the very beginning… how did a medical student land up in the world of films?
That’s because I was associated with theatre for a long time, right from first year in college. When I was doing theatre, I was also planning to make films and I even made shorts films which I financed myself. Finally, one of my films was critically acclaimed. From there on, I started getting offers from production companies doing television commercials. I started doing television commercials and then shifted to films.
You are currently working on the sequel to ChanderPahar – Amazon Obhijaan. Can you give us some details about this project?
Chander Pahar was a very famous and much appreciated Bengali novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. Many people had tried to adapt this novel to film but, computer graphics were not what they are today and budgets were also very low. So it was not possible to do that. Finally, Shree Venkatesh Films (SVF) thought of making this movie. Naturally, we shot this film in Africa and it has a lot of computer graphics.
The film went on to become the highest-grosser film in the Bengali market. Everybody loved it including children because it’s specifically a children’s film. It’s about the adventure of a Bengali person, who was an explorer and went to Africa.
Since this film was a huge hit, we thought we could turn the character into a franchise and make a sequel to it. Now the destination is South America. This time, we shot in Brazil, particularly exploring the Amazon rainforest. While we were shooting in Africa, the main challenges were encountering animal tracks made by lions, elephants and snakes. But this time, when we shot in Brazil, in Amazonia, the movie characters, the animal characters, were mostly the jaguars, panthers and black caiman, who are very dangerous.
Apart from that, there were rattle snakes and finally the anaconda. These were the animals we dealt with in AmazonObhijaan or Adventure In Amazon. Other than that, there are tribes who have little or no contact with civilisation, especially the Yanomami tribe, which features in the film too.
Apart from the main character, Shankar, there are two more lead characters. Dev has played the character of Shankar in the previous film and he plays the lead in this film too. In this movie, Shankar associates with an Italian woman called Anaflorian, who is of his age. Her father, Marko Florian, an adventurer, is also with them. So, the story is about exploring Amazonia and to reach a destination, that is, Yanomami village, Yanomami land. This journey is the core of the film.
You mentioned that you dealt with animals while shooting the film. How challenging was that for you?
Yes, we faced a lot of challenges while shooting these films. When we went to Africa, snake bites and insect bites were a big problem. There was also a fire on the set. Then there was the debacle of our boat sinking but we survived!
Another debacle was when one of our associates… she was hurt because a huge tree fell on her. She was underneath the tree and she needed to be stabilised. Then there were problems regarding the stunts. The horses were rowdy and twice or three times threw off the riders.
We travelled in many difficult parts of the Amazon to give the film the right feel. But we encountered many challenges. Our DoP was seriously hurt when he was on a boat. Another boat collided with his boat, and he was struck on the back. That was a difficult situation for us.
There were problems when we tried to shoot while standing in water. Since the water was shallow and marshy, it was possible to stand on a river bank or even on a river bed and shoot. But these areas were also infested with crocodiles, especially caimans, as well as snakes.
Another major issue was the rain, afterall we were in the rain forest! It would rain without warning and we would have to scramble to cover the set we had built and our equipment. Mobilising a unit of more than 100 in those areas was a really difficult task.
Despite so many challenges, unpredictable rains and animal traps, how did you manage your shooting schedule?
Definitely, there was a time crunch. You lose a day’s work and it is very difficult to make that up. Still, we completed the schedule as planned. We were making an adventure film and my crew, senior crew, the actors and I knew we had to take certain risks or it wouldn’t be possible to get good shots.
Shooting this film was a risk to the lives of your crew and actors. How did you keep them motivated?
That’s because we had the same team in Africa and they did a good job in spite of all the suffering and problems. Besides, this is the adventure of a lifetime. Very seldom do Indians go to Latin America, and when they do, they usually visit Rio or São Paulo, rarely the Amazon. The places where we shot are near Colombia-Venezuela and the Brazilian border.
It is not possible to go very far, though, because people are still prospecting for gold in the swamps, and there are political problems too. Third, there are a lot of places in Amazonia which are yet unexplored. It is definitely the experience of a lifetime. It is also a long way from here and it costs a lot. Still, I hope to go back some day. It is so beautiful.
The first instalment of the film was a super hit. For Amazon Obhijaan, the expectations of the audience must have increased. Did that put additional pressure on you?
Of course, that always happens when a film’s first part is a hit and appreciated. While making the second part, there is more responsibility and stress.
You have delivered a really big-budget hit in Chander Pahar and you seem to have raised the bar for Bengali cinema. In what space is Bengali cinema right now?
It’s not just about me, it’s also about the producers, that’s SVF, particularly Shrikant Mohta. Only he can conceive such an adventurous project. It is very difficult for others to accept such films in the Bengali industry. Second, I would love to make more films based on adventure. There aren’t many films like these made in India. Of course, Bengali films… If we get the budgets to make films like these, then the industry will definitely excel.
You have written and directed your films. Are you free to direct films written by others too?
If someone else writes for me, I would have to make sure we are on the same wavelength. I am open to it even though I haven’t done it yet. I am always open to good scripts and have no problem working like that.
What are your plans about getting into Bollywood?
I definitely want to make Hindi films because they have a bigger reach. I am waiting for the opportunity.
What’s next for you?
I have already done a low-budget film on an experimental basis. I have actually done a film called Meghe Dhaka Tara, which was critically acclaimed. So sometimes I want to make films which are not only entertaining but also have something to say. Again, the film I have after Amazon Obhijaan is more than entertainment.
Finally, how would you define your association with SVF Entertainment?
My first film was not with SVF but I later did four films with them. We are looking forward to making other films in near future. The association is good; we not only make films together but we also chat and spend time together.