Young filmmaker Subhrajit Mitra strikes all the right notes with his epic film, Avijatrik
Speculations were rife whether young filmmaker Subhrajit Mitra’s bold decision to make Avijatrik based on the concluding part of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s epic novel Aparajito would turn a cropper or not. More so, because Mitra was trying to take off from where Satyajit Ray had left. Following the footsteps of the Apu Trilogy made by Oscar-winning Ray, Avijatrik deals with the wanderlust of Apu and his relationship with his son.
The movie got screened at the 26th Kolkata International Film Festival on January 11, where it garnered appreciation from all corners, for its brilliant treatment, great cinematography and an impressive performance by Arjun Chakrabarty, who played Apu. Just before Mitra leaves for IFFI Goa where the film has been selected for screening in the Panorama section, we caught up with the director about the film and why he is planning to hark back to the rich repository of Bengali classic literature to make films. Excerpts:
You have indeed created magic on screen with Avijatrilk. What were the things that you consciously kept in mind that you should avoid while you were writing and researching for the script?
The research was mainly around Bibhutibhushan’s works and I read the omnibus of his literature to get into the skin of the author. I wanted to create a different language on-screen and I wanted it not to be influenced by Ray’s treatment, hence I needed to read Bibhuti and research about the period to put it in the context of the political unrest of the 1940s. I used the same as visual references to recreate props and costumes and other essential things.
The black and white tone added to the magic...
Yes, I kept it monochromatic simply because whenever we refer to the pre-independent era, the associated images or videos are all in black and white and people immediately relate to it. Also, credit goes to my producers Gaurang Jalan and Madhur Bhandarkar for trusting me with this. It was a huge risk.
How did you conceive the expansive frames?
When I visualise, I can’t think small since I grew up on old foreign classics that had a vast expanse. Cinema, I feel, is meant for the big screen and has to be a grand viewing experience.
You are perhaps the only filmmaker who is going back to the classic novels. Any reason?
I love working with classics. My first movie Mon Amour was based on Tagore’s Sesher Kobita. I also did a trilogy on Sunil Ganguly’s Kakababu and Chorabali was based on Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table. Now my next, Maya Mrigaya will be based on Tagore’s Dui Bon. I am a voracious reader and comfortable with this genre of filmmaking. Whenever I read any story, I want to share my visualisation with the audience. The only hurdle in case of making films out of classics is perhaps the budget besides time.
Your next, Maya Mrigaya has an even larger scale and budget...
Yes, it’s an extremely expensive project and on a huge scale. When I first read Dui Bon, I felt it could be adapted to screen quite nicely. I have kept it in the background of 1925-30, keeping the plot intact. Interestingly, the historical characters of that time including Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose are part of the screenplay. It will be a magnum opus with seven songs and three instrumental pieces. Though several Bengali filmmakers including Ray, Tapan Sinha and Rituparno Ghosh, have made films out of Tagore’s novels, I don’t think anyone has thought of such a treatment. I am trying to do that, let’s see.
Aranyak is another classic you are planning to lay your hands on...
Though the story is set in the 1920s, I have pushed it back a few years to 1902. The difficult part is to recreate the jungles of Purnea in today’s time. Let’s see how things turn out.
And what about Bankim Chandra’s Anandamath?
Not only Anandamath, but I also have plans to do a film on Begum Mary Biswas. While the former is about sanyasi revolt, the latter has Battle of Plassey in the background. For both, I need a huge budget and if I don’t get it in Bengal, I am ready to make it in Hindi but I would never compromise on the scale.
Any plans to also explore the web?
Talks are on with national web platforms. They have liked a few scripts of mine, but it’s a lengthy process, so can’t tell more before things pan out.