Filmmakers Shieladitya Moulik and Arjunn Dutta chat about the struggles of making different cinema
The passion for filmmaking was so overwhelming in him that he left a corporate job, took personal loans, and even sold samosas at one of the railway platforms in London, to complete a course in film direction. “The struggle didn’t end there. After returning, it took me a few years more to clear the loans,” recounts Shieladitya Moulik, who went on to release his first Bengali film — Sweater, last year, at the age of 39.
The other director in this chat too has an interesting journey to speak of. Hailing from a business family, he pursued higher studies in liberal arts, and most of his childhood memories comprise secret movie outings with his grandmother. “I was a complete movie buff, and always wanted to do something related to the film world,” says Arjunn Dutta, whose yet-to-be-released first movie, Abyakto, has already travelled across more than 25 national and international film festivals, picking up several accolades. Arjunn also bagged the best director’s trophy at the recently concluded Guwahati International Film Festival, for Abyakto.
We sat down for a freewheeling chat with the two Tollywood filmmakers over dinner at the newly opened diner, Kolkata Pantry, and our session continued till around midnight, talking about their work experiences so far. Excerpts:
What really brought you to the world of cinema?
Shieladitya Moulik: Since childhood, I had a knack for writing, but as you know, with Bengali families, we look for stability in jobs. So, after completing my MBA in marketing, I started working, but I put in my papers within a month, since as a marketing student, I wanted to develop strategy, but I was pushing the product’s sales instead.
It was then that my father suggested that I try my hands in advertising. It was there that I got a hang of the camera and how to evoke emotions, though in a very limited time. Once I decided to delve into filmmaking, I thought of getting a formal degree — and that’s how things followed. I made my first feature, Mrs Scooter, in 2014, which was presented by Abhay Deol, and I got noticed by Yash Raj Films, when they saw that movie at IFFI.
It was while working with Jaydip Sahni at Yash Raj Films that I thought of doing something in Bengali and hence, Sweater followed.
Arjunn, you too have no remote connection with Tollywood...
Arjunn Dutta: Yes, my family is into business, but I have always been a movie buff, and my journey began with short films, which were a practical training ground for me.
Both your first films, Sweater and Abyakto are women-centric...
SM: I guess, soon, the male actors in Tollywood will gang up against us (laughs). On a serious note, there were no conscious plans to make a women-oriented film. I was more interested in telling inter-personal relationship stories. It really excites me how differently humans react to little actions and incidents.
AD: I too love telling human stories and both Abyakto and my next movie Guldasta coincidentally happen to tell stories centred on women. But they are relationship stories, nonetheless. And, I love using actors in very different roles. In Guldasta, for example, I have portrayed Swastika as a 50-year-old Marwari woman, and it does have touches of reality.
SM: For me as well, stories that strike a chord are more important than whether they click or not. Many people had forewarned me before Sweater’s release that it might not work with the audiences in Bengal, but the audiences proved them wrong.
AD: Yes, I’m also not sure about Abyakto’s fate at the box office, as it’s really different in terms of the story, and deals with a lot of complex issues, including parenting and sexuality, which are very pertinent in today’s times. I guess, I was lucky to get a supportive producer and the kind of reactions I have got so far in all the festivals that it went to, are overwhelming, to say the least.
SM: As a filmmaker, I think, it’s also my responsibility to bring back the audience to the theatres, with good content.
AD: Yes, and I feel a lot of new content and great visual treatment is happening in Tollywood now.
What are the biggest obstacles, you can speak of, in terms of filmmaking, that you’d face here?
SM: If only the new films, which are not backed by big houses, could get good distribution, it would have helped new directors a lot. I faced a lot of hurdles in terms of getting good halls, when Sweater released.
AD: Abyakto is yet to release, and I too am a bit anxious about its distribution. I hope it reaches a good number of people.
You both had your own share of struggles before making it in Tollywood. What kept you going through all of that?
AD: Yes, even Abyakto’s script got rejected eight times before I got a producer. I practise Nichiren Buddhism, and that helped me a lot.
SM: My stakes were so high that giving up was never an option. So, whenever something didn’t work, I tried to find a solution or an alternative to make that work.
Will you be exploring the web platform?
AD: You have asked a timely question. In fact, Shieladitya and I are planning to do something for the web, very soon.
Why do you think the Bengali web is lagging so far behind?
SM: The web audience is global and exposed to high standards, so quality and content can’t be compromised here.
AD: Here, the mentality is that if the content has explicit scenes, it will work. It’s so wrong — why would people watch a Bengali web series just for that.
Tell us about the actors with whom you wish to work with.
AD: I want to work with Rituparna Sengupta and explore her in a very different way, and I would love to do a movie with Jisshu Sengupta.
SM: I would love working with Jaya Ahsan and Swastika Mukherjee.
Which is the one movie that you wish to remake, with a Tollywood cast?
SM: Silsila with Prosenjit Chatterjee playing Amitabh Bachchan, Rituparna playing Rekha and Arpita Chatterjee playing Jaya Bachchan.
AD: I would love to remake Ijazat with Jisshu playing Naseeruddin Shah, Paoli Dam playing Rekha and Swastika playing Anuradha Patil’s role.
What are your plans, going forward?
AD: I want to reach more audiences.
SM: I want to reach a position where I can tell stories on my own terms.
Location courtesy: Kolkata Pantry / Pictures: Satwik Paul