Debutant director Arna Mukhopadhyay and actor Anirban Bhattacharya on their film, 'Athhoi'

Debutant director Arna Mukhopadhyay and actor Anirban Bhattacharya on their film, 'Athhoi'

Athhoi releases on screen on June 14

To the theatre-loving Bengalis, the play Athhoi by Arna Mukhopadhyay holds a special place in terms of storytelling and execution. An adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, Arna has been playing the character Athhoi (based on Othello) in the eponymous play with Sohini and Anirban playing Diyamona and Gogo in the lines of Desdemona and Iago respectively.

Arna has chosen to adapt the play on screen to mark his debut as a filmmaker. The cast remains the same, with Arna, Anirban Bhattacharya and Sohini Sarkar playing leads. Ahead of the film’s release today, we chatted with Arna and Anirban, who is also the creative director of the film, about the same.

Excerpts:

Q

What made you decide to capture Athhoi on celluloid?

A

Anirban: If I could speak on behalf of Arna, I feel it’s a by-product of the lengthy pandemic. It is an extremely popular play but we didn’t keep very frequent shows of it and that too stopped due to the pandemic. It was during that time that Arna developed a screenplay but he told me about this only last year in February and I felt it was a fantastic idea. Definitely, I also felt the success of Athhoi as a play would be an added advantage, but that our intent was to make a well-crafted and well-produced film.

Arna
Arna Partha Saha
Q

You are debuting as a director with this film, Arna and also acting in it. How does it feel?

A

Arna: Whenever I’ve done a new play, I try to extract the most happiness out of it. Here too, I took no stress and simply enjoyed the process of filmmaking. For managing all the chaos of production, I had Anirban’s back. As a creative director, his involvement is evident. As for preparing for the role, I have been carrying the soul of Athhoi for 7-8 years now, so no extra effort was needed. 

Anirban: But Arna had to take a lot of physical strain to play Athhoi, right from taking a plunge in ice-cold water during winter to other such physically laborious scenes.

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Q

How uniquely have you attempted to tell the story of Othello?

A

Arna: The idea was to adapt it to our soil and it was organically achieved. Just like Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara tells the tale of a different terrain, Athhoi too narrates the spiel of different soil.

Q

Anirban, how hard or easy was the job of a creative director?

A

Anirban: If you want your film to look closest to what you had imagined, every little detail should be structured and visualised in advance. I do all the homework beforehand because Bengali film industry is struggling for the lack of budget and logistics and production play a huge role. So, we planned it meticulously and worked harder to get the most number and variety of shots possible.

Q

Arna, how was the experience of making a film?

A

Arna: It’s a very difficult craft. I have formal training in theatre, which I lack in cinema. But I try to make up for that by observing and keeping an eye on other parts of production apart from acting. I also took a few tutorials online and working with Anirban helped a lot.

Q

Did you ever think of a different cast for the film?

A

Anirban: Initially Arna wanted me and Sohini to play Gogo and Diya and asked us to search for someone else to play Athhoi. We started searching here and in Bangladesh but it was vain and risky exercise, mainly because a large section of the audience already related Athhoi to us. It’s not merely a play for them, they enter the theatre with a calm mind and return all stirred up, only to come back again. So, we felt that changing the cast wouldn’t be right.

Anirban
Anirban Partha Saha
Q

How was it directing Anirban and Sohini?

A

Arna: Directing Anirban and Sohini is a delight and for this film I didn’t even have to direct them because they were carrying the souls already with them. Rather we paid more attention the design and making of the film.

Q

Anirban, you have also written the lyrics of a song here. Tell us about the music of the film.

A

Anirban: The play has a modern Western score and Shubhadeep Guha, our composer, is one of the finest composers of our generation. After many sittings and discussions, we have created an unparalleled and unconventional score for the film.

Arna: From the start we were resolute not to have a folksy regional soundscape just because the film has a rural set up.

Debutant director Arna Mukhopadhyay and actor Anirban Bhattacharya on their film, 'Athhoi'
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Q

Also, we hear you are doing something in music?

A

Anirban: I can never approach music independently because I don’t have the required skill set and formal training to express myself. Hence, we have formed a band called Hooliganism with, me, Subhadeep, Debraj Bhattacharya and a few others and planning to launch it formally soon.

Debutant director Arna Mukhopadhyay and actor Anirban Bhattacharya on their film, 'Athhoi'
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