The reward of a story

Documentary filmmaker duo Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen Farooqui helped Dibakar Banerjee find a real person based on the lead character of his short films for Bombay Talkies.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published: April 20, 2013 11:45 pm

Documentary filmmaker duo Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen Farooqui helped Dibakar Banerjee find a real person based on the lead character of his short films for Bombay Talkies.

When Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen Farooqui were hired as chief assistant directors by Dibakar Banerjee for his segment of Bombay Talkies,titled Star,the brief included hunting for a person whose life bore similarities to that of the short film’s lead character,Purandar.

“Based loosely on Satyajit Ray’s short story,Patol Babu Film Star,it is the story of a man who has had a stint with acting in the past. But the absence of it has left a huge void in his life,which he seeks to fill. He partly accomplishes that by becoming a storyteller to his daughter,” says Hassanwalia.

The duo,independent documentary filmmakers from Delhi who produce and direct under the name Hit and Run Films,searched across Marathi theatre groups,film aspirants,people in chawls across the city,but they had no success. Then,one day,while finalising the shooting location that would serve as a chawl room in Lalbaug for the lead character’s home,they found their man. “He was standing right there in that room,” recounts Farooqui,“The owner of the house,Ashok Karangutkar introduced himself as an interior designer. But his mother walked in and burst his bubble,explaining that he is in truth,unemployed.

We realised that Ashok wasn’t exactly lying because he occasionally does some fitting work. He believes that he is an interior designer. We instantly knew we had found our storyteller.”

One of the aspects that makes Banerjee’s films avant-garde is his experimentation with the method and the narrative of the story. This was most visible in the way he shot Love Sex Aur Dhokha,using an array of cameras including spy and mobile phone varieties,to tell three interconnected tales. For Star,say Hassanwalia and Farooqui,the director has attempted to open his craft to serendipity. It is also what lies at the core of the genre that the duo work with,documentary filmmaking,where one walks into a situation and it rewards them with a story. This is the reason why Banerjee chose documentary filmmakers for the job,where he hoped to use their expertise as a research tool.

The girls,once they had found their Purandar in Karangutkar,started to shadow him,observing his mannerisms and also the Maharashtrian touches that were integral as a setting to the film. When Banerjee had first shared the script with the girls,Nawazuddin Siddiqui had already been shortlisted to play Purandar. Incidentally,the lead character had much in common with the actor’s own story of struggle and survival in a star-driven industry. After watching the footage of Karangutkar,the director added nuances to the character and the setting. From thereon,Purandar became an amalgamation of both Siddiqui and Karangutkar.

In the process,Banerjee and the girls realised that the “research tool” had started to take on a form of its own. “We had extensive footage of Ashok and we started to film Nawaz as well. We even spent a day at the latter’s hometown in Budhana,Uttar Pradesh. There were parallels,but also factors that set them apart. The biggest differentiating factor is that while Ashok has come to accept his existence,imagining himself to be an interior designer,Nawaz never gave up even in the face of adversity,” says Farooqui,31,who recently moved base to Kolkata. This became the crux of what will soon be released as a documentary,yet untitled,being produced by Banerjee.

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