Filmmaker Suman Ghosh on his Christmas release Kabuliwala and Puraton with Sharmila Tagore

Suman Ghosh opens up about his upcoming films and more
Suman Ghosh
Suman Ghosh

He is one of the very few filmmakers who has a well-balanced oeuvre with commercial and art-house movies in equal measure. After impressing discerning cinephiles globally with his film Scavengers that recently got great screened at the Busan International Film Festival, director Suman Ghosh is ready with his Christmas release, Kabuliwala, that hit the theatres today. Starring none other than the prolific Mithun Chakraborty in the titular role, this film is a screen adaptation of Tagore's eponymous short story that explore the facets of universal paternal love and longing through a fond relationship between a middle-aged Afghani fruit-seller Rahmat and a Bengali lass Minnie. Suman's film explores the same story set in the 1960s and we chat with him about the same and more.

 How did Kabuliwala happen?

There are two main reasons -- one is personal and the other is the socio political context.

The idea to make Kabuliwala occurred to me 4-5 years back. My daughters, Maya and Leela, were then just about Mini’s age and they loved watching the film despite hardly speaking Bengali. After becoming a father, I had a new found realisation about this short story and I realised that though my daughters are born and raised in the US, they still could connect to the universality of the story.

Besides, I believe that the current world is going through a lot of turmoil -- even in our country there are people fighting over different identities. This story talks about pure love that transcends all identities and different religions, languages, countries or cultures don’t deter such a wonderful relation between a father and a daughter. Rather than all these constructs of identity, this pure love in Minnie and Rahamat’s relationship should be celebrated.

I have kept the time zone in 1965, which is very crucial to the film, that’s the little deviation from the story, but otherwise, this film is a remake.

Was Mithun Chakraborty your first choice?

I wouldn’t have made the movie in the first place, if Mithun didn’t agree. After directing him in Nobel Chor, I experienced his expanse as an actor first hand. And while shooting this film, we knew exactly what we wanted form each other.

You straddle the world of art-house cinema and commercial films with equal elan. What do you enjoy making more?

I enjoy doing both. When I make big budget films like Nobel Chor, Kadambari, Basu Paribar or Kabuliwlala, the cast is big and I ensure it clicks with the larger audience. But I have an experimental streak in me which makes me create films like Shyamal Kaku, Peace Haven, Searching for Happiness, and now, Scavengers of Dreams, where I am a co-producer or producer.

It’s almost impossible to get producers for this kind of movies, so good reaction in festivals help immensely for them to find a spot in the OTT space

I get equal satisfaction making both kinds.

Scavengers of Dreams resonated well at the Busan Film fest…

Yes it did. I told my cast not to expect anything from the film and to be just empathetic toward the subject. I researched for the film for almost 3 years before shooting it in flat 7 days. There was no script and it was shot based on complete improvisation. I took two actors – Sudipta Chakraborty and Shardul – and the others are non-actors and it was a great experience for all of us. Filmmaking is an exercise in empathy and getting to know people from all strata of the society is a big high for me.

Is your other film Aadhaar too having an OTT release?

If things go right, it might see the light of the day. It was a very traumatic period for me last year this time, when the film was stalled just before release. I thought of giving up filmmaking because of that. But then I gathered my pieces and embarked upon making a documentary on Aparna Sen.

After working together in Basu Paribar, I found Aparna to be a truly remarkable person. She is a true Renaissance woman and there’s so much more to her than her roles as a filmmaker, actress, and a magazine editor. I wanted to showcase that part of her. This documentary will be premiered in one of the biggest festivals next year.

Apart from Aparna, you are also to begin filming for Puraton with Sharmila Tagore. Tell us about that.

I had this story in my mind for more than a few years, now. But I wanted to make it with Sharmila Tagore only. But she wasn’t acting after Pataudi passed away. While interviewing Rituparna Sengupta for Aparna’s documentary, she suggested I approach her. When I shared the idea with Sharmila, she liked the topic and I took three months to write the script. When she came down to Kolkata, I narrated it to her and she agreed to do the film. It’s a complicated and layered mother-daughter relationship with Rituparna playing the daughter and Indraneil Sengupta playing her ex-husband. It’s my most difficult script so far and it won’t be very easy to implement it.

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