He has only four films to his directorial credit but Bengali filmmakerSrijit Mukherjee is already considered a filmmaker with the Midas touch. But more than commercial success, his name is synonymous with intelligent cinema. In an in-depth interview with Sagorika Dasgupta, he speaks about his latest film Mishawr Rawhoshyo striking gold at the box office and what excites him about the medium
Your latest film Mishawr Rahoshyo released just recently. What is the response you have received so far?
It’s huge. We didn’t expect the film to do so well. It is in its fifth week and is still running to packed houses. It is a big deal for a Bengali film to do so well and I am elated. It has done business that is equivalent to some of the biggest commercial mainstream Bengali films. I think we still have the potential to grow even bigger.
The success of this film will invite more and more investments, to the extent of ` 4-5 crore, into Bengali films. It worked on its sheer ‘Bangaliana’ and has all the elements usually associated with commercial cinema. It has also thumbed its nose at art-house critics. Mishawr Rawhoshyo proves that sensible commercial Bengali films can also work at the box office.
But your past films have also done well. Are you still a stranger to success?
I am used to box office verdicts in several shapes and sizes. My first film Autograph was aimed at urban towns in Bengal. The film enjoyed huge success across several sections of society and the songs grew very popular.
Baishe Srabon was my next film and it had the nuances of a psychological thriller. This one was appreciated by the masses too. But Mishawr Rawhoshyo has all the elements of an urban film. It was shot in Egypt and was made for the urban audience, which has its own clientele across diaspora.
The film is based on a story for children written by Sandip Ray. It was made on an altogether different scale. But it has attracted the audience from even the remotest districts in Bengal. Through most of my films, I have tried to make a point that good Bangla films will always work at the ticket counter. We don’t need commercial, South Indian pulp factors to make films click. That is very reassuring.
Most of your films release during Durga Puja, a holiday when people in Bengal refrain from going to cinemas. Is it a wise decision to do this?
That is a misconception. Earlier, the essence of Durga Puja in Bengal was synonymous with pandaal hopping, shopping and eating out. Other forms of entertainment comprised listening to Pujo-special songs and reading stories that would be published in Pujo Barshikis (annual magazines). But the younger generation is not interested in reading and they are so exposed to Hindi films that they don’t wait for Bengali songs to hit the market. With the advent of new technology, these two mediums have been replaced by cinema. I think Chokher Bali released during pujas and it did well. After that, there was a lull till I decided to release Autograph during the pujas .
So Bengali films do well when released during Durga Puja?
Yes. It’s a time when the influx of NRIs and non-residential Bengalis into Bengal is highest. This audience is hungry to watch Bengali films on the big screen, so footfalls across cinemas are highest during this time. It is also a good time to market your film because the volume of people on the streets goes up almost five times and they can be reached via hoardings and outdoor advertisements. My film Baishe Srabon drew a huge response when I released it during the pujas. It’s a fantastic time to release your film.
Each of your four films belongs to a different genre. What kinds of stories excite you?
I like to experiment with genres. I love making thrillers and I wouldn’t mind even making a love story. But I hate repeating myself. I am averse to comfort zones, which is why I gave up my plush corporate job a few years ago, to make films. I want to tell new stories because if I were watching a film in a cinema hall, I would want to watch new stories. I am the first one to watch my own films when I colour-correct them or at the mixing stage. So I wouldn’t want to watch a film which has used the same subject twice. I need to keep thinking of new ideas and stories to tell.
Do you witness that change already taking place in Bengali cinema?
Yes. Bengali films have undergone a sea change from the ’90s. I am really proud of the films that were made in the last couple of years. Films like Bhooter Bhabishyat, Goynar Baksho, Iti Mrinalini and Meghe Dhaka Tara speak volumes about the change that the Bangla film industry has undergone. It’s not that these films are restricted to the parallel cinema bracket as they were in the past. New and innovative subjects are proving to be commercial successes too.
One of the main elements I am trying to instill in my films is that of showcasing the rich tradition that we have. I am trying to bring about original stories to keep the Bengali quotient alive. It is an attempt to make sure that the originality of Bengali cinema is preserved.
There have been so many changes… in technical knowhow, writing styles, screenplay. We are now open to adapting better stories. Unlike in the ’80s and ’90s, there has been an influx of people who are proactive in taking Bangla cinema to the next level.
You say you don’t want to repeat your subjects but you tend to repeat the same set of actors.
Yes. And not just actors, my technical crew too. My first film Autograph would not have been possible without Prosenjit Chatterjee because it was a story of a superstar. No one in Bangla films commands that kind of an aura. He has that ‘X’ factor that only a superstar possesses. So I had to have him in that film. I developed a very good rapport with him and that’s why I worked with him in my next films, except Baishe Srabon, which featured Parambrata Chatterjee.
You have dabbled in direction, acting, writing and music…
(Cuts in) I love working with friends and am quite a multi-tasker. So, apart from directing my own films, whenever a friend asks for my help in music, writing lyrics, composing songs or to act in a small role, I am readily available. If a friend is making a film based on a fantastic story line, I wouldn’t mind assisting him or her. The thing is, I hate interviews and attending parties. So the only kick I get is when I am on a film set. I am such a film fanatic that I fill my time either shooting, editing or writing. In fact, when my friend Kaushik Ganguly was making a film called Shabdo, I was so impressed with the story that I told him I had to be a part of it. When he said he didn’t need me, I said I was prepared to even serve tea on the sets just to be a part of the film! (Laughs)
Having experienced success, both critically and commercially, what is more important to you?
It depends on who the critic is. Thanks to social media, everyone has become a reviewer and they feel it is their right to critique a film! Twitter and Facebook have given birth to this brigade of armchair cynics. People have to realise that films are not factory products. They are not daily-use goods that people consume, come rain or shine.
You have to give cinema the respect it deserves. Critical evaluation is necessary but it should be done by expert minds. The box office is a parameter to test how many people in the country like your film. But I don’t want to vie for box office success at the cost of my sensibilities. I wouldn’t chase that extra Rs 40 lakh that would come if I included a song or something like that.