By Shoma A. Chatterji
Manoj Michigan lacks the glamour and the chutzpah new era directors in Bengali cinema are known for. He made his debut with Hello Kolkata (2008) and waited for a producer for his second film Damadol (2013).
Hello Kolkata sank without trace not because of the quality of the film but because it was released without the minimum of promotion and marketing and bad exhibition. But all said and done, the film lived up to Michigan’s promise of laying out ‘a vibrant drama of many lives in a city where there is hope of a better tomorrow after a stressful yesterday.’ Damadol was a roller-coaster ride through a glamour-struck don Pappubhai who funds the film of three friends.
Michigan’s next, 89, has been produced under the banner of Magic, Motionz, Moviez by Manoj, his wife Paramita Das and a friend Ranjan Bandopadhyay of Mumbai. 89 is a psychological thriller but Michigan refuses to explain the numbered title because, “the tag line is not just a number, it holds the final clue to the psychological climax. Explaining it would be as good as giving the story away,” he says.
“Two genres excite me the most, comedy and thrillers. With Damadol, I ventured into situational comedy and after that I wanted to make a gripping thriller, my inspiration being Hollywood thrillers like Seven, The Call, Shutter Island, etc. These films were edge-of-the-seat, gripping thrillers where the script was the winner. I hope I achieve this with 89. The script based on my own story will lead the film to its chilling climax,” Michigan adds.
89 has three central characters – Sabyasachi, a mental patient, Purba, a psychiatrist who is currently going through a trauma of her own and Anup, an inspector with the anti-terrorist squad who joins Purba in her search for the secret to her inner fears. Sabyasachi is portrayed by the versatile Saswata Chatterjee. “Sabyasachi is psychologically disturbed and has strong sinister shades but at the same time, has depth and intelligence. Who else could have portrayed such a layered role other than Saswata?,” asks Manoj.
Raima fits Purba’s character like the proverbial glove because she has large, expressive eyes, “and a body language that carries the character with ease and grace. Though Purba is vulnerable, assertive and soft, she has inner strength and aggression that seals the fate of the story.” A new actor Shataf, who calls himself a global citizen as his father is from Karachi and mother from India, makes his debut as Anup.
“I was looking for a face that would work out a perfect balance between authority and sensitivity. It had to be a dashing young man working in the Intelligence wing and has the emotional quotient to get into Purba’s space and guide her through her crisis. Shataf is a true suave and sophisticated find.”
What about the marketing? “The marketing of a film depends on the package where the story, the way it is presented and its characters make a viewer decide whether it is a good film or not. There is a risk with this genre… but no risk… no gain I guess,” Manoj sums up. 89 is slated for an October release.