‘Feluda Meets Indiana Jones’ In Bengali Cinema’s First Treasure Hunt Franchise
Dhrubo Banerjee's maiden feature Guptodhoner Sandhane not only became one of 2018's biggest successes, it also gave Bengali cinema a new blockbuster franchise. In the latest film Durgeshgorer Guptodhon, its three lovable characters Sona-da (Abir Chatterjee), his nephew Abir (Arjun Chakrabarty) and the spirited Jhinuk (Isha Saha) return.
Dhrubo, how did the idea for the series originate?
Dhrubo: I have lived the idea from my childhood. You know how it is with Bengalis – Felu-da, Kakababu, Byomkesh … they are a rite of passage. Later, I got acquainted with Indiana Jones and National Treasure. Somehow, I always felt that these Hollywood adventures were extensions of the Felu-das and Kakababus. I believe people seek to find onscreen what they cannot in life. I love fantasy. The series allows me to explore that love for fantasy.
Was having a professor of history (Sona-da) as the hero inspired by Indiana Jones?
Dhrubo: No, not consciously so. I love history, it was my favourite subject in school. In fact, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Over the years I also realized that despite the rich history and heritage Bengal has to offer, and despite all the film franchises that have come up in recent times, we have none dealing with a treasure hunt. I think there's enough treasure in Bengal's history for us to sustain the franchise – I wanted to create a treasure hunt magnum opus without leaving Bengal.
Tell us something about casting for the film – why Abir as Sona-da?
Dhrubo: Can you imagine anyone else? He fits the character to a T – to the extent that I would say it does not require him to 'act' – he is so natural for the role he does not have to do anything.
Abir, if it does not require you to do anything, what attracted you to the character and the film?
Abir (Laughs): Sometimes the challenge lies in doing nothing. We have a tradition that often equates being dramatic, larger-than-life with 'good' acting. I believe it's much tougher to play the regular guy. To translate that 'doing nothing' to the screen is what made Sona-da work so well for me. Then there was the aspects of history and geography – subjects that I dreaded in school – so beautifully interwoven into the narrative that offered the thrills of a treasure hunt with trivia and information about our heritage without sounding preachy.
There's the essence of Bangaliana that permeates the situations, the characters in the franchise. The way Abir says about Sona-da, 'Amaar samparke kaka, kintu dada boli (He is my uncle, but I call him elder brother)', it's a quintessentially Bengali thing. Be it our love for food – I say we Bengalis are born with antacids – or for travel, this franchise takes into account everything Bengalis love. And does that with a great sense of fun.
Arjun, how much of Topshe or Santu do you see in your character?
Arjun: Abir is nothing like Topshe or Santu, in fact he is unlike anything I have done so far. The script brought together so many aspects – Bengal's history, treasure hunt, action, adventure. Like Sona-da, I had total freedom to interpret the essence of my character. There's a certain goofiness to him that I found very appealing – be it in the way he is trying to woo Jhinuk, almost to no avail, in the way he is scared of ghosts.
Abir: The thing with Arjun's character is that he has to be funny, cute, attributes that the audience of his age group likes without becoming comical – and he walks the fine line with aplomb. He is not a sidekick.
Dhrubo: That's where this franchise is different from others – there are no sidekicks. Arjun is as much the hero in the energy he brings to the screen. This is a franchise of a trio. Jhinuk is equally a protagonist.
Ishaa (Jhinuk): In many ways Guptodhoner Sandhane was my breakthrough film, though I had acted in Projapoti Biskut which was niche. I love the way the equation between her and Sona-da, between her and Arjun, has evolved, the subtle change in the way she responds to Arjun. Jhinuk is close to my heart. I relate to her because I find her very much like me, fiercely independent, extremely opinionated, and yet very much the girl-next-door, which is what I think appealed to Dhrubo-da while casting me.
I believe it's much tougher to play the regular guy. To translate that 'doing nothing' to the screen is what made Sona-da work so well for me – Abir Chatterjee
It's rare for a film's background score to catch on like it did in the first film. And what's with the 'history rap'?
Bickram Ghosh (composer): The theme music for the Guptodhon series is one of a kind, it has caught on and is now recognizable instantly. Dhrubo wanted a signature style different from all my other work, yet retaining its breadth and core. I've used chants as a psychological thrill element throughout. I did a 'history rap' in the first film which went viral and I've done another one for the new one, crazier and more energetic. I'm using a rabab this time round. I can't remember when a rabab was last used in a film. There's some heavy-duty drumming too. The dhaak has been used interestingly to create suspense.
After the success of the first film how scary are the expectations the second time round?
Dhrubo: I would be scared if I were repeating myself. But I am not – and in any case, we did not make the second film because the first was successful. The series was planned as a three-film project right at the outset.
Abir: Expectations are high. In the first film, we were introducing the characters, we had to win over the audience. It's like a student having scored well in Class 10 is expected to repeat that in Class 12. Now that the equations have been established, it's about making it bigger, not just in scale, but in the intrigue, the way relationships evolve, say, between Jhinuk and Abir, the new equations that are established…
Does that include a romantic interest for Sona-da?
Dhrubo and Abir: We are not giving anything away – let the audience find out for itself…