After being a successful actor, Churni Ganguly made her directorial debut with Nirbashito (2015), a film that drew on the life of Taslima Nasreen and went on to win the National Award for Best Film in Bengali and for its sound design. On the eve of the release of her new film, Tarikh, which she has written and directed, she tells us about the importance of social media, freedom of expression and directing husband and renowned filmmaker Kaushik Ganguly.
There’s an interesting ‘story’ behind how the concept of Tarikh germinated. Social media is all-pervasive, it rules our lives. Apart from the real space we inhabit, there’s a virtual space that has opened up for us, another world where we engage with people we don’t know, seeking validation from strangers, which provides us with a sense of belonging. And it goes beyond our lifetimes – it’s a portal to immortality.
I have always been pathetic with my social media engagements – it daunts me. I had not accessed Facebook for a long time. I did that a few days after my son’s birthday, to find my inbox overflowing. There were a number of a messages over a period of two years from someone who had been a junior at school, who had also sent me a friend request, and she was wondering if I had forgotten her – she also reminded me we had acted in a play together in school. It was hugely embarrassing, and I immediately accepted her request, apologized to her, mentioning how I rarely access FB. And then as I scrolled down her wall, I saw it was full of RIP messages – I realized with a shock that she had died a week ago. I had been too late. I had made a new friend but she was no more. But her friends and acquaintances had kept her alive on social media.
I read about a mother who kept her dead daughter ‘alive’ through regular posts on her FB page, a wife who shared songs from YouTube on her dead husband’s FB timeline. That is where Tarikh originated – I realized the importance of time and date, how on social media we continue to live on, how every date on the calendar is significant.
You mention the idealist, the realist and the conformist.
Those paradigms are a means of exploring how people use social media. I look at the conformist not so much in the ideological sense but as someone who will post photographs from his life, a visit to a restaurant over the weekend, a vacation, an outing with friends – basically sharing everyday experiences with the world around. The realist, on the other hand, probably looks at social media as a means of building networks for professional enhancement – a pragmatic who resorts to it probably to expand his business. The idealist perceives social media as a platform to usher in change. Tarikh is about that in many ways – using every day to make a difference, and how social media can enable that.
As for my choice of Raima (Sen), Ritwick (Chakraborty) and Saswata (Chatterjee), well, there are certain attributes as actors they have in common with the characters I had in mind. Raima because the character had to be a certain age and convey an element of vulnerability. I love to push my actors and that’s what I did with Saswata, go against his grain to play a more subdued self. Ritwick has a flamboyance, a charm that floors you and the character needed that.
On directing Kaushik Ganguly after having been an actor in his films
As an actor, Kaushik is absolutely brilliant. He is a natural, uninhibited in the way he approaches a character, howsoever complicated. I am sure there’s a lot that goes into it, but he makes it seem effortless. I am more subdued, low-key. I like to delve into what drives a character, it fascinates me to work on the character graph.
When it comes to directing, Kaushik has it all mapped out in his mind. He delegates a lot. He has a wonderful team, which takes care of all his pre-production requirements. Even when it comes to post-production, he will drop in on the edits and the sound, but also believes in leaving aspects to his team to address – that’s an essential quality for a leader. It makes him more relaxed as a director and maybe it comes with experience.
On the contrary, I am more hands-on – not as a control freak, but because I love every aspect of it. I am still new at it and fascinated by the entire process of developing an idea to a script, the dialogues – I need to hear and feel the dialogues at the scripting stage, how they will sound vis-à-vis the scene, the characters. I love to be closely involved every step of the way, the production design, deciding the colour palette, conduct workshops with actors, post-production, the sound design.
On Nirbashito and the freedom of expression – in the light of recent controversies in the Bengali film industry
Bhobishyoter Bhoot is not the first time a film has experienced this – and it won’t be the last. However, for me the bigger question here is, do you actually prevent people from reading a book or watching a film by banning it? Hasn’t Taslima found wider and wider readerships? Has it served any purpose by taking Bhobishyoter Bhoot off the theatres – now that it is back, aren’t more and more going to watch it?
Instead, why not answer a film with a film, a book with a book. I have my opinion, you have yours. I may not march in protest or raise slogans but I will make my statement through a film. And coming back to social media – there’s no way you can ban or burn that.
The state of cinema in Bengal today
As far as content goes, I think we are doing very well. It’s a good time to be in Bangla cinema. Some of the films we have seen in the last couple of years would not have been possible even a decade ago. And it is heartening to see more and more women in the fray – I believe Mukherjee Dar Bou has done phenomenally well and it’s given us a filmmaker like Pritha Chakraborty. There’s Nandita Roy and Sudeshna Roy. And of course, Aparna Sen continues to be an inspiration. Yes, it’s worrying that there aren’t too many producers. But that we have more and more filmmakers despite that and despite our budgetary and infrastructural constraints speaks volumes of our tenacity and gives me hope for the future of Bangla cinema.