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“We need to bridge the gap between commercial and urban cinema”

Chondrobindu was a sensation. After devoting over two decades of his life to music, maverick musician Anindya Chatterjee, the lead vocalist of the band, finally tried his hand at directing a film, with his maiden venture Open Tee Bioscope. The film, produced by Shoojit Sircar, is on the verge of completing a successful four-week run. In a candid chat with Box Office India, Chatterjee speaks about his first film and more

Your film Open Tee Bioscope is in its fourth week and still going strong. How does that feel?

Well, it feels wonderful. To tell you the truth, I had never expected it to do this well, business-wise. I was skeptical about the film’s fate, mainly because it’s not a commercial, masala film. It’s more a coming-of-age film and has a really simple story. So I was not sure many people would come to watch it. But they did and I am very grateful for their support.

The film has been produced by Shoojit Sircar and his partner Ronnie Lahiri. How did the collaboration with them come about?

This is Shoojit’s second Bengali film as a producer. I had actually worked with Shoojit and Ronnie on their first Bengali production Aparajita Tumi, which was directed by the National Award-winning director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury. I had written a few songs for that film and also sang a couple of them. We bonded a bit on the film and they are very easy-going people who are very easy to make friends with. So by the time the film came to an end, we had become good friends. A few months after the film’s release, Shoojit came to Kolkata and I jumped at the chance to meet him. I told him I wished to make a film on a concept I had and that’s how we began working together.

How did the idea of the film come about?

I used to contribute to a Bengali magazine called Robbar. It is a very popular magazine and the late Rituparno Ghosh (director) was the editor. I had written a long kind of story, which was more like a novel called Ekdin Baapi. It was about a day-long football tournament and had all the elements of how a typical para (community) would behave. I met Shoojit and told him that I harboured this desire to direct a film based on this story. I gave him the novel to read and he liked the idea very much and agreed to produce it.

Did he have any apprehensions, considering this is your first outing as a director?

I’m quoting Shoojit when I say he believes in giving a chance to people who are passionate about cinema. He knew me because I was the lead singer of and establsihed Bengali rock band Chondrobindu and had heard my songs but it was his sheer conviction in me that made him back the film. Of course, I managed to convince him that I could pull off the task of director efficiently. But full credit to them because without their help, Open Tee Bioscope wouldn’t have been possible.

What were they like as producers?

Fabulous! My film has no stars in it but it has star producers! In Tollywood, a film requires stars like Prosenjit and Dev to make the audience come to cinemas but for this film, it’s just the strong content which is the backbone of the film. Shoojit himself believes that content is your hero. All the Hindi films he has directed have enjoyed a tremendous run at the box office because of their content. That’s mainly why my film worked too. You could say that, in a way, I am growing with the film.

The film seemed like it would cater to a select audience but it has garnered mass appeal…

When I was making the film, I had no target audience in mind. I knew it was a good film but it really surprised me when it brought in a new audience that flocked to cinemas.

What do you mean by ‘new audience’?

The ’60s and ’70s say many more Bengali films releasing than are produced today. So the cinema-going audience was a lot larger. Then came a time when cinemas went to ruin and the quality f films too began to slide. Eventually, people stopped visiting cinema halls. There was no urban audience coming to watch films at cinemas. But the new wave of cinema has brought back the audience. There are two kinds of cinema in the country today – commercial cinema and cinema for the urban audience. As filmmakers, we need to bridge the gap between the two and make sure that our films are devoured by all kinds of audiences so that the business of our films also grows. That’s why probably my film was able to make money because it appealed to a wide section of movie-goers, from students to families. It has been appreciated by teenagers as well as old people.

Since you belong to the very popular band Chondrobindu, that must have added buzz to the film?

It did, but instead of looking forward to the film, I think they were a little sceptical about how I would perform as a director. (Laughs)

From being a lead singer in a band to directing a film, how did that transition happen?

I became a part of the Bengali band circuit in the early ’90s, when the music scene was dominated by path-breaking musicians like Kabir Suman and Anjan Dutta. They were the pillars of music in the Bangla rock space and we were heavily influenced by them. We began performing parody songs at college fests and eventually right from our first album, we became runaway hits. So our successful run has lasted 15-20 years. During this time, I was also assisting several directors like Rituparno Ghosh on his film Titli featuring Konkona Sen Sharma. I also directed a few episodes of the hit show Mirrakel on TV but I secretly harboured a desire to direct a film. Now that wish has been fulfilled.

You also had a stint with acting. How did that happen?

(Laughs) Oh I don’t know…I guess I am an accidental actor! I first got a chance to act in this film called Shubho Mahurat opposite Nandita Das. Then I played a role in this film called Satyanweshi, where Sujoy Ghosh played the character of Byomkes Bakshi and I played this character called Ajit. Then I also did a cameo in Prosenjit-starrer Jaatishwar. I enjoy acting but is not really a priority for me.

What’s next for you?

I will soon start developing my second film, which is again based on a simple story, like a slice-of-life film, but it will have the core nuances of our culture. That’s the kind of film I want to continue making and that’s the kind of films the audience is appreciating. Of course, music will always be an integral part of my life but right now, my focus will be on direction.

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