Digressing from the mainstream and exploring ostensibly tabooed themes is a momentous risk if you are an Indian filmmaker.
Subhash Jha speaks to Kaushik Ganguly, a director who has done just that with his forthcoming “Arekti Premer Galpo” (Just Another Love Story)
“Just Another Love Story” is anything but just another story. What made you go into the dark area of alternate sexuality?
You call it ‘dark’ perhaps because sexuality in any form, other than what we deem normal, is taboo, discussed judgmentally, despite an apparent air of openness in our conversations. Those who do not conform, are marginalised. Which is why the term ‘alternate sexuality’ is commonly used.
This is precisely what haunted me… for years, actually, and “Just Another Love Story” was born. The life of the erstwhile Jatra Queen, Chapal Bhaduri (Chapal Rani), was my inspiration. My film does not see any kind of sexuality as dark, or alternate. It is just another love story.
Gay love stories are still not considered mainstream cinema. How do you think audiences will react to “Arekti Premer Galpo”?
I wasn’t focused on making mainstream cinema when I made “Just Another Love Story”. The subject is a social crisis that had made me think and rethink, and the film is an expression and extension of just that. My film moves according to the needs of Chapal’s instincts, insecurities, questions, his vulnerability and loneliness.
When I made “Ushno-tar Jonyo” (Longing for You) way back in 2002, I must say I was apprehensive about audience reaction. And I must also say, that our audience did not fail to surprise me. The response was overwhelming. Hopefully, this time too, “Arekti Premer Galpo”, which is a take off from the film above, will get my audience thinking and, at the least, re-considering their take on same sex bonding. The response in Berlin, London, New York, Delhi and Goa was positively over-powering.
There is an added responsibility for you as a filmmaker since the film also marks Rituparno Ghosh's debut as an actor. Did that burden your creativity?
What is remarkable about Rituparno Ghosh is that all along, he allowed the subject to rule. And he trusted me. I would say that the pressure of delivering loomed large when I had to write a screenplay that would be good enough for a brilliant scriptwriter like Rituparno to agree to debut in the film made out of it. Later of course, his inputs as Creative Director and Production Designer made me understand and know him more as a person.
How do you rate Ritu as an actor? Was it easier/tougher to direct him as he happened to be a filmmaker himself?
Ritu is tremendously hard-working, involved and particular, as an actor. He went in for a makeover, worked out in the gym, took dance lessons. He opened himself to me like a book, which is not easy for one of Rituparno’s stature. He even had his costumes planned out, bought and packed in huge packing boxes more than a month before we went on floor. What more could I ask for of an actor?
Though he had claimed that he was not technically sound, he turned out to be very sure of the technical details that he required to keep in mind as an actor. It was a pleasure.
What do you think about the recent gay films from Bollywood like “Dunno Y...Na Jaane Kyun” (DYNJK), and earlier “My Brother Nikhil” (MBN) and parts of “Jhootha Hi Sahi” (JHS)?
DYNJK, I feel, does not focus effectively on this sensitive issue. Onir has his personal style and honesty and that has made MBN an appreciable film. However, I have not seen JHS, but I certainly will, and give you my feedback if you’re still interested… I’m surprised you did not mention “Dostana”.
Do you think there's a lot of dormant homosexuality in the entertainment industry? Do we need to get more mature in our attitude to same-sex love?
Sexual preference is a personal matter. I feel that there is dormant homosexuality in almost any field. In most cases it lies dormant because of the fear of unacceptability.
I like it when you call it ‘same-sex love’. Perhaps we need to realise that each same-sex bond is also a bond of love. And that each such journey is just another love story.
What made you choose Ritu? Is it true you wanted to offer the part to Karan Johar and Onir?
Very many reasons, actually. First, I was making a film on Chapal Rani, none other than the Queen of Jatra. So I needed an actor who could more than match up to that stature. Second, I could think of no one else who could move, talk, think and feel with the splendour and dignity of a woman. Rituparno Ghosh has a nimble gait, he talks softly, and has a deep understanding of human psychology. The film would lose its honesty had my actor been inhibited, or insensitive. Ritu was in fact my only choice. I hadn’t for once thought of offering the part to anyone else.
Your mention of Karan Johar and Onir has got me thinking… Onir would have been too young for the part, And Karan would have been more suitable for the part of Uday, the wildlife photographer from Nice.
Is conservative Bengal ready for the sexual revolution? How do you think the audience that grew up and grew old watching Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Gautam Ghose would react to your film?
Believe me, I was brought up in the campus of an extremely conservative institution. If I could work on this subject for years, and feel free to make this film in Bengal, with the support of a Bengali producer, a Bengali cast and crew, without any hassles, qualms or unnecessary curiosity from anyone here, why would I be wary of the Bengali audience? The conservative Bengali is perhaps much more open to change and much more tolerant than they are thought to be. Hasn’t Bengal been the seat of many a revolution – political, social and religious?
What would your next film be? Will you go deeper into exploring human sexuality?
My next film is “Rang Milanti” (The Queen of Hearts), about a modern-day swayamvar.
It explores comparison, choice, tolerance. It’s also just another love story.
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