With Prabhu Nasto Hoye Jai that was shot entirely in black-and-white,Agnidev Chatterjee forayed into film direction. However,the film,with an unconventional story,did not find buyers. He went back to television software only to come back,almost with a vengeance,with Charulata 2011. The film is a thumping commercial hit despite its adult theme and treatment.
You come from a television background.
Yes,I think it would be politically correct to say that I am an old hand at television. I have been working for television over the past 11 years and have directed around 12 daily soaps and mega-soaps most of which have bagged high TRPs right through. They have also bagged some awards in the popular soap category. This defines my training ground in the media. My learning curve is based almost entirely on experience.
Why do you think your first feature film Prabhu Nasto Hoye Jai (PNHJ) failed to capture an audience?
It failed to reach the audience it was targeted at because it did not get a theatrical release. The plot and the theme were too far ahead of our middle-class concepts on morality issues. It did not have a box-office -friendly cast and featured people I had already worked with on television. However,it was featured in the World Competition Section at the Kerala Film Festival. It was also screened at several other film festivals. The film recovered its cost through the sale of its satellite rights alone. It explored the delicate subject of a young girl getting into a sexual affair with her best friends father. It also had a thriller element in the climax.
What prompted you to make Charulata 2011?
There is a gap between my first film and my second one. I had been toying with the concept for some time but was playing around with different approaches. Most of the major characters from Rays Charulata (1964) based on Tagores Nastaneer (The Broken Nest) a novelette of around 80 pages written by Tagore in 1901,are present in my film. The story of Rays film and the original Tagore novelette are set in 1879,at a time when the Bengal Renaissance was almost at its peak. But I have only taken the basic skeleton from the storyline and relocated in terms of time,space,characterisation and relationships. Tagores novel was way ahead of its time and even today I can relate to the complexities of their relationship and frustrations. Charulata 2011 has nothing to do with Rays film. One cannot find even one frame similar to Rays film. It has more similarity to PNHJ in terms of style.
Does the electronic media and the social media network play a strategic role in the film?
Yes,electronic media and social networking sites have played a significant role in the film that is contemporary and relevant to socialisation in todays context. To put it briefly,a bored housewife rediscovers her identity in the cyber-world. Today,the Internet is slowly invading into our privacy and gradually taking up more space in our lives and we humans are getting more and more dependent on this medium. The entire relationship of the protagonist Choiti/Charu and Sanjay/Amal takes place through a social networking site and they meet much later. But the foundation has been laid.
Your choice of cast is rather unconventional. Can you explain this?
Rituparna Sengupta was the first choice. I approached her in 2007,but she was busy with her other projects and I was heavily into television at that time,so it was difficult to match our dates,but this time around when I approached her,she said yes and we started the project. I wouldnt have done this film if she had not agreed. For me,Ritu is Charu. Period. Arjun Chakraborty and Dibyendu just happened,but today I feel that they fit their respective roles to the tee.
What is your response to this success?
I am overwhelmed. Charulata 2011 has taken one of the biggest openings in recent history of Bengali cinema. The producer will ultimately make a profit of approximately ‘1.80 to ‘2 crore. The box-office response to Charulata 2011 has put a lot of pressure on me as a maker. When I make my next film,there will be a lot of expectations from the audience and that I think is quite scary for me as a filmmaker. I would like to add that somewhere,we,as filmmakers tend to underestimate the intelligence of the audience. But the success of this film proves that there is an audience for this kind of cinema. If you make a film with honesty and little bit of intelligence,then audience will embrace it with open arms.