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 films lead character,Purandar. Loosely based on Satyajit Rays short story,Patol Babu Film Star,its the story of a man who has had a stint with acting. But the absence of it has left a huge void in his life. He partly accomplishes to fill the gap 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 had no success. Then,one day,while finalising the shooting location that would serve as a chawl room in Lalbaug for the lead characters 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 unemployed. Ashok wasnt exactly lying because he occasionally does some fitting work. He believes that he is an interior designer. We instantly knew we had our storyteller.
One of the aspects that makes Banerjees films avant-garde is his experimentation with the method and the narrative. This was 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. Its 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 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. 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 actors own story of struggle and survival. 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 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 latters hometown in Budhana,UP. 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.