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“I simply made a film that I believed in”

Actor Churni Ganguly, who turned director with Nirbashito, is elated with her film’s recent release. The film, which also features Ganguly as its protagonist, won the Best Bengali Film award and the Sound Designer trophy at the National Awards this year. Here’s the talented actor-director in conversation with Rohini Nag

You have completed 10 years in the Bengali film industry as an actress. What has the journey been like so far?

I worked even before that but you could say that I have completed a decade in the film industry. I did theatre when I was in college and I did a lot of Hindi as well as Bengali television. I have also worked in Mumbai and Chennai, as far as film industries go. The journey has been nothing less than extraordinary. I got a chance to play some very powerful roles and now, with direction, I begin a new phase in my career.


Haven’t you ever wanted to work in the Hindi film industry?

I was working in television and shifted base to Mumbai. I was at the peak of my career and family issues forced me to shift back to Kolkata. I did get a lot of offers after that too but I couldn’t ignore my family and move back to Mumbai.


Nirbashito, your first film as a director, won a National Award this year. Did you expect your first film to get such a big honour?

It was a moment I will cherish forever. It would be a cliché to say that you don’t think of awards when you make a film but that is exactly how it was for me. When you make a film, you are not thinking of what people will think of it. I simply made a film that I believed in. People told me it was a sensitive subject as Taslima’s story inspired me to make this film and we didn’t know how people would accept it. But the National Award told me two things. First, that I can direct a film and second, that the story that I believed in was a story worth telling. Receiving a national honour meant it was accepted by our own people. The film has released and I am overwhelmed with the response.


What inspired you to make Nirbashito?

The banishment of Taslima inspired me. She leads a claustrophobic life yet never stops voicing her opinion. This is not a biopic on Taslima Nasreen but is highly inspired by her triumphs in life. One has the right to express one’s opinion, and even if it hurts someone else, one shouldn’t be ostracised for it. There has to a better way to deal with it. Nirbashito tells a tale of separation. It tells a story of a mother and daughter separated by circumstances. It revolves around the period when she was taken away from her home in Kolkata, deported from India. 

My film isn’t a biopic, it’s a balanced film. One must know what goes against her and also what she stands for. I believe you are always entitled to your own opinion. There’s a line in the film which says ‘burning vehicles on the road is no way to express one’s protest’. There’s another line which says ‘invariably, the sword wins’. However, I believe the pen should win.


How did you manage to direct and act in the film

I had not planned to act in the film. I had just finished scripting it and was looking for financers. All I wanted to do was direct but I couldn’t find the right actor to play the part. During the narration, a few of my friends from the film fraternity suggested that I play the character. After a look test, it turned out that I suited the role and I stepped in as an actor as well. It was very hard and, in a way, chaotic too.

I sat and made all the notes in advance and shared them with my associates and assistants to make them understand my vision. It was tough to shoot because, after every scene, I had to rush to check the monitor.


How involved was Kaushik Ganguly while making the film? Was he creatively involved?

The basic idea was Kaushik’s and I borrowed it. I developed the script and then he wanted it back to make a film on his own. I didn’t let him. After I narrated the first draft of the film to him, he was so pleased that he wanted to make a film on it. But I refused to part with it. I told him it was mine now and I would make it into a film. So he is the presenter of the film and has also produced it in the sense that he did not invest any money in it but took care of the production. It was easy for me to discuss my requirements with him. He did ask me to change the cat to a cute puppy as dogs are much easier to tame, but I was adamant on using a cat. The cat is a metaphor in the film as well and I didn’t want to change a thing from the script. He supported my vision to the fullest.

It was very gracious of him to not interfere while we were shooing. As a director, it is very hard to keep your opinions to yourself and let others do things their way. I give him full credit for letting me work according as I wanted to and he supported my
vision without forcing his directorial vision on me.


You have done theatre, television shows and films too. How different is acting on all these platforms from one another?

I have done theatre only at the university level but the fact that theatre gives instant gratification sets it apart from the other platforms. The interactive capacity that comes with it is overwhelming. At the time I was doing television, the content being made was fabulous and it was at its very best. I would even say that, back then, it was prime time for television and people still remember me because of the television I did. Now the kind of films is being made and the content being presented is very good.


What next for you as an actor and as a director?

As a director, I am still basking in the glory of Nirbashito. I have some concepts that I will be working on but, right now, I want to concentrate on my son who has his board exams coming up. As an actor, I have a film coming up at the end of the year.

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