How Director Raj Chakraborty Went From Making Masala Entertainers To A Children’s Film, Film Companion
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Bengali cinema has a rich tradition of films for children or with the child as the protagonist in films for adults. Unlike many child protagonists in a number of Hindi films, the children in Bengali films come across as natural, with quirks relatable for their age. This goes back to not only masters like Satyajit Ray (the Felu-da films, Pikoo’s Diary) but also other mainstream films.

After a long lull in the 1980s and 1990s, films for young audiences have made a comeback of sorts in the last decade or so and SVF Entertainment’s Adventures of Jojo is the latest in that line. What makes one sit up though is the choice of Raj Chakraborty as the director. For those who know their Bengali cinema, Raj, who debuted with Chirodini … Tumi Je Amar in 2008, is one of the most commercially successful film-makers in the industry, but his oeuvre is characterized by mainstream entertainers (a number of them remakes of south Indian films) like ChallengeJoddha or mainstream love stories like Prem Amar and Bojhena Se Bojhena.

The director is quite unapologetic about his masala antecedents: “For me, the box office is most important – there is no value in making a film unless it scores at the box office.” Yet, he adds, “As a film-maker I want to try out different genres. After my success with love stories, action films and comedies, I wanted to do something different.”

The film has been described as a heart-warming, thrilling story for children which also presents the Bengali audience with its first child adventure aero: Jojo. Raj has long wanted to gift children with a film that they could cherish.

“I have carried the idea of making a children’s film for ten years now,” Raj says. “I had the rights to a Leela Majumdar’s story, but it lapsed. It wasn’t easy to make a film for children at the time. It was then that my writer Padmanabha Dasgupta and I sat down to develop a story involving children, wildlife, adventure.”

With the success of adventure heroes like Shankar (Chander PaharAmazon Obhijaan), Kakababu (Mishwar RahasyaYeti Obhijaan), Sona Da (Guptodhoner Sondhane) in the last few years, the time was just right for Jojo.

The most challenging part entailed shooting in the dense forests of Arunachal Pradesh and north Bengal. It also involved the two child characters and who needed to travel and shoot in these conditions. However, under the supervision of the director and an efficient and experienced production team that had previously worked in the dense forests of Amazon and Africa, the entire schedule went quite smoothly. At the same time, the film also boasts of state-of-the-art SFX work, something that Bengali cinema has started investing in big-time.

The stakes are high for both the producers and the director. The year has proved to be a big one for SVF, and not surprisingly they would like to sign off on a high. 

The director is all praise for his child protagonists. ‘The advantage of working with a child actor is that he listens to the director without giving his own views. And Jashojeet is very sensitive. In fact, he is so knowledgeable for his age that I feel afraid of him. He knows the names of all hundred of Dhritarashtra’s children, has read the Mahabharata four times, knows the name of presidents of all the countries. At the same time he is very lazy, I had to make him run for the first three. Samiul Alam, who has worked in Sahaj Pather Goppo before, was also a joy to work with. He is literally a cinemar poka – crazy about films.’

The film’s title number – “Jojo’s song”, written by Srijato and sung by Arijit Singh – has already taken social media by storm. Composer Indradeep Dasgupta, a long-time collaborator with Raj whose films have always been known for their music, says, “The instrumentation keeps in mind the pristine quality of nature and a child’s worldview. It’s a mix of Western classical and blue grass through which I have also tried to convey the elements of danger and adventure at the core of the film.”

The stakes are high for both the producers and the director. The year has proved to be a big one for SVF, and not surprisingly they would like to sign off on a high. Towards this end, they came up with a unique promotional concept, gathering 400 children from various schools and NGOs in Kolkata to participate in creating the logo of Adventures of Jojo, the biggest mosaic Bengal has ever witnessed in the form of a human logo. Drones were flown to capture the magnificence of the event highlighting the perfectly formed logo.

For Raj the stakes are even higher: he has big boots to fill given the tradition of children’s films in Bengali he has to live up to.

(With inputs from Soujannya Das)

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