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Producer of the National Award-winning Bangla film Nagarkirtan, Joy Ganguly, talks to Titas Chowdhury about the film, venturing into the web space and going international

You have produced mainstream films like Bhooter Bhabishyat and Maach Mishti & More in the past. Nagarkirtan is a detour for you. What made you back it?

All the projects I have done have been a detour from the mainstream. My first film, The Bong Connection, was one that no one had ever seen before. We did a rock band film called 033 thereafter. We also did a film titled, Shukno Lanka, which was about junior artistes with Mithunda (Chakraborty). After that, we did Bhooter Bhabishyat and Maach Mishti & More. These films are uniquely different. Even our last release, Maacher Jhol, was a French-Bengali film.

Nagarkirtan is a bold subject for any producer. My biggest hit in terms of box office success and critical acclaim was Bhooter Bhabishyat. It has set records. It has not been beaten by any other Bengali film yet. That was a tough film to make. It was a tough choice. That genre is non-existent. It is one of the few films that have been remade in Hindi in the last few decades.

Kaushikda (Ganguly) and Ritwick (Chakraborty) were big factors behind me backing Nagarkirtan. Riddhi (Sen) was a big surprise! I had never made a film on a bold social issue before, and this is a burning issue. It was something I believed in. There are films that you make for money and there are films you make for yourself. This fell in the second category. If the principles convert into money, that is even better (Smiles). That is the reason we are very hopeful that Nagarkirtan will be a commercial success.

There is already a huge buzz around the film. We have won four National Awards. It will be screened at the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of Goa. We were at the India Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival. We have a couple of more festivals to go to. The film has been made from the heart more than the head.

How do you take an art house or a festival film like this to a wider audience?

Nagarkirtan is not an art house film. It may seem like one but it is an urban, mainstream film. It is about an emotional relationship between two individuals. It is a love story with a lot of layers between two people from the transgender community. We are going to promote it as a regular, urban, mainstream film. But we know that it will have a niche audience and an international audience.

I know that it will not be a Bhooter Bhabishyat, a Badhaai Ho or a Black Panther. It will be like one of those under-the-radar sleeper hit films. Once people watch the film, the word-of-mouth will spread. I am quite confident about that. Bengali audiences, pan-Indian audiences, people of Indian origin across the globe and non-Indians will like the film for its subject and the way in which it has been made.

Mojo Productions is planning to focus on films based on real life stories and real events.

Biopics are something that I haven’t really done. When I say real life stories and real life events, I mean people who I can relate to. If I can relate to it, then I know that audiences will also be able to relate. Being a producer is my job, but I watch films as the audience would. We are focusing on real life stories because it is an area that I have not done before. I have done a sports film too, but fictional.

Often, films are loosely based on some of my own experiences and characters I know, maybe a friend of mine. That is how The Bong Connection was made. Some films are inspired by literature. Bengali literature is rich. But there are allusions to it; I have not yet made a film based on a novel or a book. In Nagarkirtan, for instance, there is a layer of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a woman trapped in a man’s body. There is a huge spiritual angle to this also. That is why the kirtan played a very important role. We actually went to Nabadwip to shoot where the kirtaniyas and Mahaprabhu originated. Films are always inspired by people around us.

What is your process to green-light a project?

I look at three things, primarily – commerce, aesthetics and technology. There needs to be a bridge between these three elements. I always read the script before I green-light it. The director, the script and the budget are also important. These are secondary for me, but they do matter nowadays, especially in the Hindi film market. If the primary and secondary things fall in place, then we work backwards with actors too. The aim is to work with A-list stars in the future.

What made you venture into the web space?

We have just finished one web series with SonyLIV, which will release on November 27. It is called The Big Bong Connection. It is a stoner comedy. The first of its kind, it is an aspirational show about start-ups. It is a Sony Original in Hindi. We are also in talks with Viacom18 for another Hindi web series. We are already doing a Bengali web series with them for Voot. We are doing one more series for SonyLIV. So we have four to five projects in the pipeline and we will work on them in the next 12-18 months. It is a big step because digital is the future. It is the right time to venture into this space. We want to expand the market. There are so many OTT platforms coming up, but there are not enough content creators.

What about Bollywood?

We are in talks with Shashanka Ghosh. It is a Hindi-English film. Making Bengali content and films restricts you to a region, the market becomes very small. Hence, our budgets suffer, the cost of production has to be low and we cannot generate as much revenue as a Hindi product can. Our branding in terms of the kind of films that we make is a little premium and a little different from what other people make in Bengal. We have got a good response nationally.

You are also working with an international filmmaker.

It is an American production that we are shooting in Jaisalmer next month. It is a short which will be directed by Samrat (Chakrabarti), an actor-director of Indian origin. He was in the second season of The Sinners and in The Kindergarten Teacher with Maggie Gyllenhaal. We have an independent American actress in it. It has Jabeel Khan and an American actor called Anmol Gupta. There are lots of short film festivals right now. After that, we will upload it on an OTT platform.

I have a company in the US where we are doing a couple of shorts as pilots. We want to expand into that market as well, into the digital space. I have already done a feature called Dusk, which is in post-production. It has an all-American cast and crew. It was shot in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. We hope to release that in the summer of next year.

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