Spotlight interview: Filmmaker Srijit Mukherji on Dwitiyo Purush, Feluda, marriage and more
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that 2019 ended in the best way possible for National award-winning filmmaker Srijit Mukherji, both personally and professionally. It started with Shah Jahan Regency followed by the box office hit Vinci Da and the biggest hit among the Puja releases, the much-debated Gumnaami, based on the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
His movie Ek Je Chhilo Raja on Bhawal Sanyasi’s life fetched him a National Award for the best Bengali feature and the icing on the cake was his marriage with his beau, Rafiath Rashid Mithila. Soon after his wedding and honeymoon, the workaholic director got busy with his much-cherished project, Feluda Pherot, a power-packed exciting web series for Addatimes based on two very popular stories of this iconic sleuth created by Satyajit Ray, Chinnomawstar Obhishaap and Jawto Kando Kathmandute. With his much-awaited movie Dwitiyo Purush, a sequel to the blockbuster Baishe Srabon being released this week, we catch up with Tollywood’s man of the moment about marriage, work and more. Excerpts:
Has life changed after marriage?
There’s no major perceptible change as such. I’m still working like a maniac. The only thing perhaps is that I feel like calling up Mithila once in a while, letting her know where I am and how the day had been. Postmarriage, it’s more structured communication with a particular person through the course of the day for me. But otherwise, she is busy with her PhD, I am busy with shooting and till such time we get together and settle in one place, this will continue.
How are you managing a long-distance marriage?
I don’t think long distance marriages work and this is not a long-distance. It’s a temporary arrangement until we work out something since I genuinely don’t believe in long-distance relationships.
How is Mithila as a wife?
She is one of the finest human beings I have ever met and I don’t look at her separately as a wife. She is a great friend, a fantastic human being and a stupendous company.
How does a National award for Ek Je Chhilo Raja feel?
I feel ecstatic because it’s one of my favourite films from my filmography and it’s possibly the best shot film in terms of cinematography. It’s Jisshu’s lifetime performance. I am very fond of the narrative structure of the film, the research that went behind it and the dramatic elements. It’s not easy to make a magnum opus with meagre resources but we shot intelligently and I am glad that the jury agreed.
You are busy with the shoot for the Feluda Pherot web series. Can you please tell us about that a bit?
It’s an interesting coincidence since I went to meet Nispal Singh Rane (Surinder Films) for another film and in passing, he mentioned that he had the rights to make the Feluda series. So, I grabbed the opportunity since there’s no way I will miss working on a Feluda series or film — it’s a character I grew up reading and watching on screen.
Everything followed swiftly with Tota Roy Choudhury being cast as Feluda. I have always wanted to see him as Feluda ever since I watched him in Tintorettor Jishu and I feel he is closest to the Feluda sketches drawn by Satyajit Ray. He is earnest and hardworking and superbly fit. We are having a blast shooting the series. I chose Chinnomawstar Obhishaap and Jawto Kando Kathmandute to start with since they have all my favourite elements including adventure, jungle and tiger.
From the pictures that you have shared on social media, we have noticed that you have not diverged from the set design as described in the books and films. Did you ever want to experiment?
I think experimentation is not the right word to use for Feluda. I am a hardcore Felu buff and buffs want to stay true to the sketch. Here Satyajit is my beacon and though he deviated from the books in terms of the facial structure of Felu and bodily structure of Maganlal, I am shooting the series based on his books and films.
Kharaj Mukherjee plays Maganlal Meghraj, Did you think it was a risk since he is perceived more to be a comedian than a villain? And Utpal Dutta too will be difficult to match up to?
Not at all, I think the line between a good comic role and a good villainous role has been blurred since time immemorial and if you have watched Kharaj in Accident, Gotro, Durgeshgorer Guptodhon, you will know that he excels in the negative space. A brilliant actor worth his salt, like Kharaj, will excel in any role.
Look at the iconic villain in Joker or Jim Carey in The Cable Guy. Fine actors can easily transfer the histrionics from one zone to the other. Bollywood too has actors like Paresh Rawal and Anupam Kher who can play both with equal aplomb.
As for matching up to Utpal Dutta as Maganlal, well he is a class act, a maestro. But then that’s the fun of reinterpretation and doing something afresh. You can build on the legacy and learn from it and give the new generation the taste of our very own Feluda.
What made you think of Dwitiyo Purush, a sequel to Baishe Srabon, a landmark film in your career?
I was adamant not to make a sequel unless I have a plot or a narrative which can rival or equal Baishe Srabon in its complexity, violence, grittiness and edginess. It is why I waited for nine years. You can’t just sit down and write a sequel to a cult classic like that, it has to come to you. So, despite getting requests from fans and financiers alike since 2012, I kept on postponing that until I finally had something exciting. It also gave me a chance to revisit the characters.
It seems to be bloodier and gorier than the first one...
Oh yes, bloodier, gorier, darker, edgier. A sequel needs to take it one step further, otherwise what’s the use? It’s also equally enthralling if not, more.
Anirban seems to have nailed it as Khoka - the dark, disturbed, psychopath killer...
Yeah, and he plays someone from a particular stratum of the society which is not shown enough in Bengali films. He has done a fantastic job. It’s my sixth film with him and he has exceeded all my expectations each time.
What’s the status of the biopic on heptathlete Swapna Burman that you have been planning with Sohini Sarkar?
It has hit a roadblock because of Sohini’s ligament injury. And though she has undergone surgery recently, she can’t take the pressure of playing the character of an athlete. So, I will be possibly casting Swapna herself in the role. Let us see.
How different will Kakababu be this Puja?
It will be very different since the location will be different. It’s the third part of the trilogy. The first movie was shot in a desert, the second in the mountains and the third will take the audience to the jungles of Africa. I have also treated the story a bit differently and given some elements of my own. So, it will be a different experience during the Pujas this time.
What’s the status of your second Hindi film, Sherdil, with Pankaj Tripathi in the lead?
The script is ready, the narration is going on and the dates are blocked for the second half this year. So preparations are going on full-swing.
Any other projects you have planned for this year?
I don’t think there will be time for more. But apart from these, I will be doing one X-Ray short story of Satyajit Ray in Hindi and there are double biopics of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Noti Binodini.