‘Stories work because of the characters’: Bikas Mishra on the process of adapting Badal Sircar’s play Pagla Ghoda for screen and its relevance today

"Badal Sircar’s plays aren’t easy to adapt. He likes to construct his plays like a freewheeling conversation; I guess it comes from the Bengali idea of an adda," Bikas Mishra says.

Written by Alaka Sahani | Updated: June 5, 2017 3:17 pm
Bikas Mishra

What is the relevance of Pagla Ghoda in today’s context, at a time when feminist discourses have intensified?

Feminist discourses have intensified today and that justifies the backlash. That also justifies the apologetic assertions of many leading ladies of our film industry that they aren’t feminists. Feminists are fighting patriarchy, but somehow the uninformed simplified perception is that feminism is women’s movement against men. The underlying misconception is that patriarchy is men’s rule on women and that’s why it’s good for men. That’s what makes Pagla Ghoda relevant today. In no uncertain terms, Badal Sircar shows us clearly that patriarchy hurts men and women equally. The four men of Pagla Ghoda are non-heroic, average guys who chose to conform to the social norms and let down the women who they love. The humongous loss that they have suffered has brought their lives to a grinding halt, but they have to carry on the act of being a man.

How difficult was it to give the play a cinematic touch while retaining its dramatic flavour?

Badal Sircar’s plays aren’t easy to adapt. He likes to construct his plays like a freewheeling conversation; I guess it comes from the Bengali idea of an adda. He is also verbose and likes to talk about the whole world, entire humanity while talking about an individual and his/her condition. His writing is the antithesis of the idea of cinema (particularly, Indie films) where characters talk less, the story is clearly defined, and storytelling is focussed and economical. Sircar is boisterous, at least, at the level of idea. I first started editing the play. I tried to find its soul and separate it from the body. Instead of relying on dialogues and character movement, I focused on setting the mood of the play.

How do you look at this form of presenting a play vis-a-vis having a first-hand experience to watch it on stage?

Theatre and cinema have much in common, but are two different mediums too. When a film tries to be theatrical, it loses its charm, and there is no way for the theatre even to attempt to be cinematic, it will only look fake. But the two mediums are different only in body; their soul remains the same. The soul is storytelling. And stories work because of the characters and because we can relate to them. I was fully aware of the fact that I can’t achieve the power of a live play. So, I didn’t even attempt that.

How did you approach the play’s text?

I approached the original material with a lot of respect, but also refused to be weighed down by the burden of its cult status. I was as ruthless with the text as I would be with my own script. Having read Sircar’s correspondence with his sister when he was writing Pagla Ghoda, I understood what made him write the play. My adaptation can’t be a replacement for a live performance, but it can’t be replicated on stage either. We took the essence of Pagla Ghoda and infused it with the power of cinema.

After making a feature Chauranga, you directed Pagla Ghoda for CinePlay and now it’s available on Hotstar.

I had restrictions — I had to shoot all indoors in an extremely tight schedule. But we were making a film. In fact, the team was also more or less the same one we had for Chauranga. For us, it was a continuation of our previous work.

Would you have liked to take the actors to real locations?

If I had the option of shooting on actual locations or creating the set outdoors, I would have conceptualised it differently. I was recently listening to Alfonso Cuaron’s masterclass that he did at Cannes film festival this year, and said that limitations create a style. I can’t agree with him more — the way Pagla Ghoda is right now, it’s stylised realism.

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