Nearly a year and a half ago, when filmmaker Q was hanging out with screenwriter Surojit Sen at his Lake Gardens studio in Kolkata, they ended up talking about contemporary Bengali writer Nabarun Bhattacharya — whom both of them admire. The chat veered towards how Bhattacharya lives just a stone’s throw from his studio and that no one had ever documented his life.
A couple of days later, Q was at Bhattacharya’s residence, filming his interactions with one of Bengal’s most critically acclaimed authors in recent times. Bhattacharya, who turned 66 on June 23, is battling cancer and is currently in Kerala for treatment. Q shot his documentary intermittently for a year, after which his condition worsened. “I wish we had more footage of him when he was healthy. My priority was to document his life and career. We had no clue how to go about it but we jumped into it with whatever resources we had,” says Q. The film is titled ‘Nabarun’ and is expected to be ready in the next couple of months.
As Q was not able to shoot with Bhattacharya extensively due to the author’s illness, the film follows the docu-fiction format. It explores the author’s creative and psychological process, sometimes involving the fantastical — a core component of Bhattacharya’s creations that are often set in a surreal universe populated with bizarre, oddball characters.
“I want the film to capture the essence of his writings,” says Q, a self-confessed fan of the author. His introduction to Bhattacharya’s work happened when he read the verse of a character called Purandar Bhat, one among the Fyatarus, a strange group of underclass humans who can fly by chanting a mantra and carry out anarchic attacks on evil political forces for fun.
Ever since, Q has been deeply influenced by the author’s understanding of the social fabric, his “idealistic, Utopian idea of life” and his ability to push radical, revolutionary ideas into the masses effortlessly. The author is known for works such as Herbert, which was also made into a critically-acclaimed film by Suman Mukhopadhyay in 2005, Kaangaal Maalshaat and Ei Mrityu Upotyoka Aamaar Desh Na, among others. This Sahitya Akademi Award winner is the son of Bengali author, Mahashweta Devi and actor Bijon Bhattacharya.
According to Q, what underlines Nabarun’s significance in the larger context of Bengali literature is the pedestrian voice in his language, conceived as a conscious assault on literary elitism. “A middle-class moralist stance was taking over Bengali literature since the ’80s. Nabarun’s language countered the whole bhadralok, civil society culture which considered itself elite. He communicated in a language that is from the streets yet he conveys something infernally deep and is not considered academic in any manner,” says Q, who wants his film to invoke the spirit of Nabarun’s writings, provocative and yet identifiable by everyone.
Though self-funded initially, the grant by the India Foundation for Arts (IFA) has helped Q make the film he wanted to — a “middle ground between art and cinema”. He plans to give the film a 360-degree release through “non-mainstream platforms like international television channels, film festivals and the Internet”.
For now Q wishes that Nabarun gets to watch the film. “He was probably the last communist Bengali writer. I am trying to get a rough cut ready so that he can watch it as soon as possible,” he says.