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A War, A Murder, And A Detective: Dibakar Banerjee On The Making Of His Latest

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By Kanika Katyal for Youth Ki Awaaz:

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As the much awaited film, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy gets ready for release next month, Youth Ki Awaaz gets talking with the director, Dibakar Banerjee about the movie, it’s making, Dibakar’s interesting equation with Anurag Kashyap and more.

Kanika Katyal (KK): “Detective kuch chalta nahin hai, aur jasoos thoda purana sa lagta hai, isliye maine apna upnam Satya Anveshi rakh lia hai.” Why did our dear Bengali sleuth say that?

Dibakar Banerjee (DB): Byomkesh did not like being called a Detective and called himself Satya Anveshi. But his dear friend, and Watson for all of us, Ajit, himself said and he was the guy who knew Byomkesh the best; nobody knew Byomkesh the way Ajit did. And Ajit said very specifically, “Byomkesh, chahe upar se jitn abhi Satya Anveshi batata ho apne aapko, wo mann hi mann jaanta tha ki wo ek private detective hai.” So there was a conflict inside Byomkesh. He was slightly embarrassed of the word detective. But at the same time, he wanted to investigate. That conflict, is in fact what makes Byomkesh interesting for me.

KK: So how close or far is the cinematic representation of Byomkesh Bakshy going to be from its literary persona?

DB: A film is a film and a book is a book. When you are reading a book, if you do not understand something on page 16, you can always go back to the previous pages and reread it. But while watching a movie, that doesn’t happen. Even if you are watching it at home on a computer, even then, rewinding an episode and watching it is not the same. So a cinematic medium is essentially a medium which is non-rewindable. A cinematic medium is controlled by time, 90 minutes, 100 minutes, 120 minutes is what you have to finish your story. A book, you can pick up today, and you can start reading it. If it is absolutely gripping you can finish it in 10 minutes. If it is gripping but you’ve got somewhere to go to, you can leave it, you can think about it, you can come back to it and pick it up again. A film is a continuous experience. When these two elements are combined, there essentially has to be a change and what works in a book does not always work in a film. So the core of the translation is to take the spirit of the book and give it the flesh of cinema, and that’s how it changes.

KK: When the television series was first telecast, there was no visual reference for the character. Now that we have seen Byomkesh Bakshy, the loyalists will compare. How fair do you think the comparison is?

DB: I think that comparison is always unfair, because you cannot compare! If you talk about the look of Rajit Kapur compared to Sushant, if you’ve seen the teaser or the poster, the two are totally different. So I don’t think anyone will be able to compare them even if they tried to.

KK: You have emphasised that the film will have its indigenous essence. But as the trailer shows, there is a contrast of aesthetics. Like the background score is English rock, but the movie is a period drama. Tells us a little about creating the ambience for the film.

DB: We look at a period drama imagining that in 1943, people talked like, “Kahan ho tum Nath?” But people didn’t talk like this. People in the films of 1943 talked like this because of the theatrical traditions and the technology of that time. Also, they had to shout. They couldn’t whisper because the mic wouldn’t catch it. (Points to the ceiling) The director would say, “Zor se bolo!” and they would say, “Main tumse pyaar karta hun!” There is no reason for me to adhere to that technical and cultural constrain. So, the aesthetic of our film is that through time-travel, me, my cameraman, my whole film crew has transformed itself to 1943, and we are shooting it just the way we would shoot a film today. It is a film set in 1943, shot and told like a film in 2015, and when you are watching it, I hope you will feel that you are in 1943. Because it’s speaking in your language; it will be as if you, today, are transported to 1943.

KK: Whenever you pick a city or a locale, you make it your own. Your films have always been marked by an acute attention to local details which intensify the drama, be it Mumbai in Shanghai or Delhi in Khosla ka Ghosla. What are the memories or associations with Kolkata and Bengal that you’ve endowed Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! with?

DB: I have no memories of Kolkata because I never grew up there. So Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a result of two years of intense research-visual and literary. We read up on what Calcutta was at that point. We interviewed probably 50 to 60 people who were in their eighties or nineties as to how Calcutta used to be like (in the 1940s) and we had a visual reference book of about 5000 pictures. We went there, we saw a lot of old Calcutta which even exists today and matched it to what it could be – which are the sounds of the ferrywalas, the details of the ghoda-ghaadi, the tram of 1943, the clothes of 1943, the films of the time, the magazines… all of this has been a part of the research and that will come across in the film.

KK: Rajit Kapur, when I interviewed him, told me that the USP of the Byomkesh series was its simplicity. But you are riding on the psychological complexity of Sharadindu’s work. Is it a postmodern thing?

DB: Psychological complexity can be told in a very simple and direct way, I think Rajit meant that. I think that simple and direct is always strong. But Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s books have a lot of psychological depth. And they have a lot of insights into the dark corners of the human mind and psychology.That’s probably also where I would like to take this film.

KK: Was Sushant the first actor that came to your mind for Byomkesh?

DB: He was one of the very few actors who I knew would be able to do this, because I needed a rising star. I needed someone who was on the verge of becoming a star but someone who was also becoming an enigma. And someone who was young, because I needed a young Byomkesh. And I also needed someone who looked vulnerable, because a young detective, who is making mistakes on his first case, has to have that quality of vulnerability. Nahin to hum detective ki story dekhte hain, wahan pe detective ko already sab pata hota hai. Wo humse aagey hota hai. Lekin ye detective humare saath hai. Usko dekh ke lagta hai ki hum bhi detective ban sakte hain. Lekin phir pata chalta hai ki ismein kuch qualities hain jo hum mein nahin hain. That is why I chose him.

KK: We have very little information from you on what the movie is all about, but grapevine has it that the main antagonist of the film will be German dictator Adolf Hitler. Can you throw some light on it?

DB: Why should I throw light on that? The good thing about a crime story is that it’s all dark. So try and see through the dark and you will see it. I won’t say anything (with a smirk).

KK: You’d said in an interview ‘‘My next film will be extremely romantic and lush.”

DB: (gets startled) Romantic and lush? (cools down instantly) Oh yes! Okay.

KK: The trailer already has the rumour mill buzzing with the kiss, so can we hope to see a romantic angle between the hero and Swastika Mukherjee’s character?

DB: You see, I won’t reveal it, because a mystery should remain a mystery till you’ve encountered it. The whole thing is that Sharadindu’s Byomkesh is the only famous detective whom I’ve ever read, who openly falls in love. And if he wrote about it, I can definitely make a film about it! The romance of my Byomkesh Bakshy will not only be the romance between a man and woman, it will also be the romance with old Calcutta, the Calcutta of 1943… so that’s also there.

KK: Your movie trajectory has been so varied. One can never know what Dibakar is going to come up with next, which makes it so hard for the critics to bracket you in one genre. So what drives you to constantly keep exploring new genres?

DB: Mistakes! Every film that I do is so full of mistakes that I definitely want to walk away from it and then try and do something else, so I can actually really redeem myself. That’s why I keep walking away from what I’ve done because I get bored of it. A film takes two years to get made and by the time you finish, you’ve already outgrown the film. And it is a terribly torturous process for me to live with something that is so full of inconsistencies for my own consumption. So I generally try to forget it and move on to something else. It’s just running away from my mistakes.

KK: Your work is possibly the only one which receives its share of critical acclaim, and is able to retain its independence even when it is backed by big production houses. How have you managed to do that, enjoy commercial success while maintaining the art house cinema essence?

DB: (smiles) By needing less money. You see, if I need less money, then I can take less money for a film; and if I take less money for a film, then that film can be made for lesser money. The lesser money I make a film for, the more independent I would be. And the lesser money the film is made for, the more the chances are for the film being a commercial success. Because films don’t flop, budgets flop. Any film has a relative size of audience which will come and see it. If you make a film for a little less than that relative budget, then you stand to make some money. So I’m trying to do this, because I know that the kind of films I make will never have an audience huge enough that it can be everything to everybody. Nor do I want to have that huge audience! Because then I won’t be able to think the very personal and the very intense things that I want to say. So I need to keep it small and I need to keep it cheap. I live a cheaper life than many directors and that’s how I want to continue .

KK: So what do you think about this Robin Hood syndrome of big production houses? I mean that Yashraj for instance, will make all their crores from, say a Dhoom 3 and then they will invest that in interesting cinema. How do you think that is benefitting cinema?

DB: That’s great! Actually that is the best thing that has happened in the last 10-15 years, because with the growing number of audience in cinema and films becoming more profiting, all the studios are willing to experiment a bit with different kinds of cinema, and that really is good for filmmakers like us. If there were no Dhoom, there would be no Byomkesh Bakshy.

KK: There is this new wave of films from India which are increasingly gaining prominence in international festivals. You’ve been quoted saying that we need to distinguish Indian films, which may or may not be Bollywood films. Why do you say that?

DB: Because in the international arena, Bollywood is a freak show. It’s a sub genre. If you really want to cross barriers of culture and say something which is universal, then you will have to go a bit away from the regular tropes of Bollywood and try and make something that connects to the real India that we see ourselves in. Bollywood is basically an entertainment delivery machine to an audience which wants to escape. If the international audience wants to find that escape, they’ll see Batman, or Twilight. So when they want to see Indian cinema, they want to see what’s happening inside of India’s skin. They will need stories and narratives which are not escapist. So that’s where we separate.

KK: Anurag Kashyap recently called you the best filmmaker in India on Twitter. You’ve also been quoted saying that Anurag is the only guy who ‘prevents me from being complacent’. What is this interesting equation that you share with him?

DB: You see Anurag basically is a very restless soul and I can sometimes be very complacent. I wouldn’t have thought of LSD the way I did, if I wasn’t encouraged by the response to Anurag’s DevD. Anurag himself said that his wish to make DevD got amplified when I took Abhay for Khosla Ka Ghosla. We were almost making it together. So we kind of feed off each other. There are certain things that Anurag has that I don’t have. I can’t go out and face so many odds and be as vocal and upbeat as Anurag is. So because he’s there, the scene is so interesting. And because he’s there, and I never know what he’ll do tomorrow, you’re always on your feet and that’s good. Because I’m deeply dissatisfied with my work and I use Anurag as a tool to be even more dissatisfied, and try and do something else.

KK: An attack on freedom of expression is something an artist fears the most. What do you think of this self-appointed moral police?

DB: Moral policing is there in every country and every society. I think what has happened is that over the last five or six years, people who want easy and quick fame have seen that it is easier to get fame if you become the moral police and try and raise a controversy over a film just before its release or just after, because it gets into the newspapers. So if newspapers and media stop writing about the moral police, then moral policing will go away; it is more or less a campaign for publicity for their own party line or for their own agenda.

This interview was conducted during the HT Crime Writers Festival earlier this year.

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Quickies !

What does your work space look like?

It’s like me. It’s casual but concentrated and focussed on work.

If not a director, you’d be?

Children’s Illustrator.

A character from your own creation/films you have fallen for?

Shalini’s character in Shanghai.

A movie’s ending you wish you could change (not yours).

Actually… a movie’s ending that I wish I could change would not be a movie worth changing an ending for.

What do you have that none of your contemporaries have?

I have a life outside of my films- a deep, deep engaging life outside of my films. I’m very proud of that.

In one sentence what do you think about:
a) Critics in India

It takes all kinds.

b) Film awards in India.

Television shows.

c) On the journey of 100 years of Indian Cinema

The journey of 100 years of Cinema is that in the 100th year of cinema nobody could do anything to commemorate 100 years of cinema.

But you did Bombay Talkies!

I did but that it was a private enterprise. So I would say- mixed bag.

The one director you’d be happy to swap lives with?

Kubrick

A film that you thought was overrated?

Won’t tell you because there will be many.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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