In 2008, Partho Sen-Gupta came across a peaceful protest outside a police station in Mumbai. Hordes of parents were gathered holding placards and shouting slogans against police inaction in the abduction cases of their children. That incident ended there for the Mumbai-born filmmaker. But a few years later, after his daughter was born, it triggered in his memory. “I looked at my daughter and she was so fragile. I wondered how anyone could want to take away somebody’s child. A lost child is the worst thing that can happen to anyone,” says Sen-Gupta, who has, after battling years of financial crunch, completed his feature film, Sunrise. It will compete in the New Currents section of the Busan International Film festival in October.
The 49-year-old Paris-based filmmaker’s second project, which was delayed by more than six years, is a fictionalised look at the issue of missing children. Though the premise is based on a father searching Mumbai’s streets by night in search of his daughter whom he lost years ago, the treatment is not linear. “During my research I read a Home Ministry report which mentioned that one lakh children are lost each year,” he adds. Adil Hussain plays the father, a police officer called Joshi, and Tannishtha Chatterjee plays Leela, the child’s mother, in this 89-minute Marathi thriller.
The treatment combines reality and fiction as Joshi is guided by a shadowy figure, which is nothing but his own dreams playing out into reality, to guide him in search of his daughter. “I did not want a simplistic treatment to this story. I have tried to work out what happens in the father’s mind. He deviates from reality and tries to create his own form of justice through his dreams and envisions this shadowy character. Those dreams blur the boundaries between reality and fiction,” says Sen-Gupta, who grew up in the Shivaji Park area of Mumbai before leaving on a scholarship to Paris in 1993, to pursue a four-year film degree from La Femis Institute. His first feature film, Hava Aney Dey premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2004.
Sunrise was made with help from the National Film Development Council (NFDC), and two French co-producers. Initially, when he wrote the script in 2008, Sen-Gupta had intended to make the film in bambaiya Hindi. “But NFDC wanted to finance a regional film that year, so Marathi was the next best option. The actors had to learn Marathi with a language coach,” says Sen-Gupta, who shot for 38 nights in the suburbs of Mumbai and film studios.
The title of the film derives from the fact that Sen-Gupta shot only at night to reflect the gloom of the characters and “it is like the characters seek sunrise in their lives,” says Sen-Gupta.