Bengali filmmakers Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy have had a phenomenal 2019 with three of their films hitting the bull’s-eye at theatres. The duo talk to Titas Chowdhury about this recent dream run, their journey so far and their future projects
Shibuda, Nanditadi this year 2019, has been a very special year for you. You usually release just one film annually, but this year you had three releases; Mukherjee Dar Bou, Konttho and Gotro. Nandita Roy (NR): It has been a unique year for us. It has been just once before that we had two films in the same year. This is the second time we are doing that, our own film besides our production, which if you count are three films. So yes, it has been an exciting year and it has reaped rewards for us. Mukherjee Dar Bou has done very well at the box office as have Konttho and Gotro.
Shiboprosad Mukherjee (SM): I think this is a hat trick here for us. We are very happy. They are three different films on three different themes. First of all, you can say that we have achieved a couple of very important things this year. With Mukherjee Dar Bou, we have created a new date for the box office. Not many people release films on Women’s Day. March 8 is usually exam time. People wait for the Bengali New Year in April to release a film. But Mukherjee Dar Bou was one of the biggest hits of the year. Then we released Konttho in summer as we did our last five films. Konttho released on May 10. At that time elections were going on. West Bengal, at that time, was not very peaceful. After that, we tried to create another date in Janmashtami. We wanted Gotro to be released during the festival because of the content. We are really grateful to our audience that they loved these films.
Your latest film Gotro raises questions on religion, caste and human identity. What was the inspiration behind the film?
NR: We felt that as directors and filmmakers, we have to send out a message to society. I always believe films are not just vehicles of entertainment. They reach out to such a wide audience who easily lap up what is shown on the big screen. And it was important to give out a message during these troubled times not only in our home state but also across the country. Communal harmony is at stake. We believe that as directors if we can contribute to society in a small way with the message of communal harmony, we would have achieved something. That is why we thought that it was important to come out with Gotro at this time, when the country is in turmoil.
Looking at your career so far, what would you say has been the turning point?
NR: The day Icche got released because before that we were doing television. And then suddenly we decided to stop doing television and start making films on our own terms. We wanted to tell our own stories and in the way we want to. And once Icche became a success, we knew our stories are being heard, seen and appreciated. So we knew we could go on making the films that we wanted to.
Do you agree, Shibuda?
SM: Yes and I think also to some extent, BelaSeshe. What BelaSeshe did was it opened the doors to the non-Bengali audience. At the same time, it joined us pan-India. Before this film, none of our films reached out so widely.
Today you two together are considered a brand and your names are major crowd pullers. What do you have to say about that?
NR: It is very fortunate that we are a brand and our names are enough to pull the audience to the theatres. We never thought that we could achieve this at any point of our lives. Now that we have done it, we are amazed. I think it is simple storytelling with a lot of entertainment and made honestly which resonates with the audience.
Does this add pressure on you as filmmakers considering you have tasted commercial and critical success with almost all your films?
SM: Definitely! There is that pressure of meeting the expectations of the audience. When (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni is playing or Virat (Kohli) is playing, there is an expectation that they have to score. It is like that. We produce our own films and films by other directors as well. Since we invite other directors to make films for us, it is important that our films work.
How then do you keep the pressure aside and focus on the creative aspect of filmmaking?
NR: In this partnership, he takes the pressure. I am the most chilled person. And I am allowed to be chilled because he is the person in the front and he takes all the pressure. So I am able to do all the thinking and creative work. It is a very beautiful partnership.
Konttho saw a national release because the subject was a universal one. And now the film’s rights have been bought by a Malayalam filmmaker, Rajesh Nair. Do feel validated?
NR: Of course. We are very proud. There was a time when filmmakers from Bengal used to search for subjects in the South, pick up subjects from there and remake it scene-to-scene because there was a dearth of subjects in Bengali cinema or so they believed. But now the tables have turned. South filmmakers are taking our subjects because they think that our subjects are stronger than what they are portraying in their films.
There is no way we cannot not talk about Praktan. With this film, you brought together Prosenjit Chatterjee and Rituparna Sengupta after a really long time. Tell us about it.
NR: It is your favourite film!
And almost everyone else’s!
NR: Praktan was a story that I had written a very long time ago. It is one of my favourite stories, so I was looking for the ideal cast. He suggested why not bring them back. They had stopped acting with each other for a really long period. They couldn’t even see each other’s face; there were so against each other. But the subject appealed to them so much that they both agreed to do it!
NR: But then they actually fell in love with the script and were in the same tune as us. They were very enthusiastic and then they put in their best. The past was forgotten and forgiven. They were together doing what they do passionately. And that reflected on screen as well.
Do you have any plans for remaking your films in Hindi or making films in Hindi?
SM: We are planning, but since it is in the planning stages we cannot reveal much at this point of time.
Your next film is Bela Shuru, the sequel to BelaSeshe. Didn’t you plan to release it before Gotro?
NR: No. But Gotro wasn’t supposed to happen at all. We usually release only one film a year and Konttho was already out. But Gotro just happened because we felt that it had to happen. A feeling of compulsion was there. Coming back to Belashuru, we are awaiting release next year in May.