There was a time in my life when, saddled with a career I had no inclination for, all I could hear around me was sage advice on the necessity of 'settling down'. Neither my elders nor office colleagues and ex-classmates could fathom my propensity to leave jobs that I had studied hard for to get. No matter that I had never wanted to study hard in the first place and I definitely did not want the jobs my degrees gave me. Going by what Mainak Bhaumik says about his forthcoming film, Generation Ami, not much has changed in the twenty-five years since.
Mainak, who recently directed Happy Pill and wrote the screenplay for Birsa Dasgupta's Crisscross, says, "This is the first movie I wrote when I was all of seventeen and hoping to be a film-maker. I lived in New York and observed on my visits to Kolkata how strict my aunts and elders were with their children and even with me and my brother."
Generation Ami is the story of a seventeen-year-old who wants to live life on his terms but is hemmed in by his parents who have charted out his career path for him. On the evidence of his films – Aamra(2006), Maach Mishti and More (2013), Aami Aar Amaar Girlfriends (2013), Bibaho Diaries (2017) – this is Mainak's favourite territory. The coming-of-age saga, ensemble pieces on the travails of the young who seemingly have everything at their fingertips and yet are lost.
This is the first movie I wrote when I was all of seventeen and hoping to be a film-maker. I lived in New York and observed on my visits to Kolkata how strict my aunts and elders were with their children and even with me and my brother – Mainak Bhaumik
The young, he feels, have rarely been represented in Indian movies and Bengali movies in particular with any authenticity, in the way they actually are. "I remember when I made Aamra I would meet kids from random schools and colleges who thanked me for 'finally making a movie about us'. When I came back to Kolkata in 2005, the young were no longer reading Tagore or watching Ray or Mrinal Sen or listening to Salil Chowdhury. They were into Tarantino and Guns-and-Roses. For some reason this change was not reflected in our films. I remember loving Mrinal Sen's Interview and Satyajit Ray's Pratidwandi that talked about the youth of the 1970s. I felt I needed to document the youth of the new millennium."
Needless to say, Generation Ami is majorly autobiographical. The protagonist Apu is a combination of Mainak and some of his cousins. "I come from a typical Bengali family where my uncles and dad are all IIT and Oxford engineers and doctors and it was expected I would do the same. Nobody approved of my desire to make films. I had to change Apu to make him contemporary but not much, since the generational dynamics hasn't changed, which is what I found fascinating."
That's a point that Rwitobroto Mukherjee (Apu) and Sauraseni Moitra (who plays his elder sister) agree with. Fresh from the success of Kishore Kumar Junior, where he plays Prosenjit's son, Rwitobroto says, "I grew up with friends who were not allowed to do what they wanted. Though I did not experience that tension personally, my father being an actor, the pressure on my friends rubbed off on me. I found the character of Apu resonating with my friends." Interestingly enough, his father Santilal Mukherjee plays his reel-life father, and that led to one of the tougher scenes in the film for him: a confrontation scene that ran into almost ten pages.
Sauraseni, who was recently seen in Byomkesh Gowtra, reiterates the point: "It was fascinating to play this modern woman who is everything that his brother is not – unafraid, going about her own way. She is more like an elder brother, and the film took me back to my teenage years, exploring all over again the struggles of those wonder years with all their complexities."
The film's music too – the songs 'Tor saathe' and 'Kal shara raat' – have caught on after the trailer released. Although Mainak opted for Arindom as composer on the recommendation of SVF Entertainment, he soon realized that Arindom's approach to music approximated his journey down memory lane. Arindom says, "Shrikant-da [Shrikant Mohta] told me about the film … and Mainak wanted the arrangement from a teenager's POV. So, Proshen-da [the lyricist] and I had just one brief: what would be a Class X student's approach to the words and melody? The compositions are a reflection of the bands and artists I listened to growing up … Creed, Green Day … I was looking for an acoustic arrangement that would come naturally to a musician at that age. "Tor saathe" is, in fact, the first song I ever composed – when I was in my eleventh standard, so that goes well with the fact this was Mainak's first script."
Mainak calls himself a 'weird example' for a film-maker. He has had the rare distinction of being part of a screenwriting workshop conducted by none other than David Mamet. However, he was clear that he wasn't going to make Hollywood movies or movies about Indians in America. "I wanted to make films about Kolkata. The major trigger was Woody Allen. I saw Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters and realized that I wanted to document my city, not his."
Before venturing into feature films, Mainak's interests lay in anthropology and he worked extensively in documentaries about chhau and pat for the Smithsonians. As such, he finds it funny when people now describe him as an urban film-maker. "I started my career shooting in places like Midnapore and Purulia about rural life. However, despite being a part of the Smithsonians, I wanted to shift to fiction and try to do what Anjan Dutt, Nachiketa and Kabir Suman had done to Bengali music. The documentarian in me has remained. I love the camera being a fly on the wall capturing the actors like I'm watching people when I'm shooting a documentary film. For example, when I made Bibaho Diaries, friends all around me were getting married and having kids and a lot of them weren't so happy. So marriage became a major interesting thing for me. I wanted to talk about it."
That perspective is what drove Generation Ami too – and in a way the two-decade delay in making it actually helped. "I remember when I wrote the film twenty years ago, it was completely from the point of view of the youth. This time around when I revisited the script I approached it also from the parents' point of view. That's one of the perks of being on the wrong side of the thirties – you can see the everlasting battle between parents and children from both sides."
About the two-decade wait, he says, "Making Generation Ami was tough. I always knew I'd make this film only if I could do it with fresh faces, no stars, which is always a risk. Nobody wanted to produce this film for fourteen years because I didn't want stars. That's where SVF came in and I'll always be grateful to them for allowing me to make the first film I wrote when I was a kid."