Joseph D’Cruz – a man who once worked in the Tollygunge film industry, found his way in front of Ranjan Palit’s camera one night, as Palit was in the middle of shooting one of his short films. Little did D’Cruz know that he would become the subject of his next film, “D’Cruz And Me”.
“D’Cruz And Me” is a 56-minute film that takes us around the lanes of Kolkata and a short trip to Goa as we explore the life of Joseph D’Cruz.
On talking about how the film shaped into its current form, Palit said, “The film I wanted to make was very different. You cannot script a documentary unless you are making a film about a person who is not living, anymore. I wrote a script for PSBT and gave it, but I can’t script his life. I met him the way it was shown in the film and the rest of it just unfolded as I followed him around.”
A central theme to the film was alcohol and how its addiction affected D’Cruz and his entire family. In my conversation with Palit, he told me how even D’Cruz’s sons got into alcohol addiction and became completely different people when drunk.
On watching the film, the change that alcohol brought into their personality was quite clear. From being an entirely respectful human being to fighting so brashly with his mother that Palit had to intervene, the scary transformation in D’Cruz’s son’s personality because of alcohol showed what addiction could do to a person and his family.
While Palit believes that D’Cruz is a wonderful man and considers him his friend, he is also a tough guy to manage. Recounting an incident as they were filming in Goa, Palit told me about the time they shared a room together. D’Cruz had had too much to drink and threw up all over the bed. It became difficult to sleep there, so he made arrangements for himself in a cheap hotel nearby, then returned to D’Cruz the next morning.
The bond that D’Cruz and Ranjan Palit share is evident in the film as well. One can see the ease with which D’Cruz carries himself in front of the camera. The film doesn’t demean or look down upon D’Cruz or his family. He said, “I’m an outsider and I’m very clear that it’s them and us. We are privileged people who usually make films on those who are not so privileged. If I wanted to, I could have got a lot more, and I could have gone darker. But, I didn’t want to do that. You have to give people their dignity. Their lives are lives that we don’t lead and that we don’t really understand. It’s tough. You don’t really get it because you’re not in that situation.”
The film-making is so gentle and sensitive that not even a single time would one judge D’Cruz for his drinking habits. The film makes us empathise with him, yet as we see his world shatter, we think about how his life would have been if he wasn’t an alcoholic. But despite having some dark moments, the film’s tone is not dark at all. It shows us how loved D’Cruz is and we get to see that he’s quite a family man. When I asked Palit about how difficult was it to get D’Cruz and his family to talk about his addiction, he said, “They were happy to share. The thing is that this is a problem that they deal with on a day to day basis. They looked at me as a kind of a benefactor and I did help them as much as I could. They were happy to talk and it was pretty therapeutic for him. I thought that once the film is complete and when he won’t get the attention,from me that he got for over a year, it might affect him severely. But, no it didn’t affect him at all.”
What I couldn’t stop thinking about while watching this film as a viewer and as someone who has studied filmmaking, was about the filmmaker’s responsibility. Ranjan Palit was dealing with something sensitive and was helping the family in ways that he could. But till when? Is he responsible after the film is made too? While there are many opinions on this and no opinion is right or wrong, this is what Palit had to say about it, “You do get involved with the life of others. They can get dependent on you and it’s not okay. I make it clear to them that I’m making a film. I tell them that I will be there for them as a friend and that they’re always welcome in my house, but I won’t be able to be there for them every day. I prepare them in advance. They get attached and even I get attached. In fact, in 2011, I had a melt down and one of the reasons was, that I had been filming the lives of others for around 30 years, and over a hundred documentaries. For about three years, I didn’t work. Filming the lives of others got to me. The lives of others affect you, and takes its toll on you.”
I believe “D’Cruz And Me” is a film that needs to be watched by young people to know what life could turn into and how something we think that we can control ends up taking control of us instead.
Catch Ranjan Palit’s film “D’Cruz And Me” at 11 am on September 19 at India International Centre. To see the full Open Frames Festival programme, click here.