February 23, 2014 12:30:29 am
The tea shack near the Dum Dum international airport in Kolkata rattles to the rhythm of early evening traffic. Pradipta Bhattacharya, a kulhad in hand, waits for the din to subside a little so that he can be heard. Behind him are the props that make the tea shop so essentially Kolkatan: a faded poster of a Tollywood blockbuster sharing wall space with that of Rabindranath Tagore, a transistor and an assortment of biscuits in glass jars. The scene is strikingly similar to a sequence from Bhattacharya’s debut film, Baakita Byaktigoto (The Rest is Personal), which has won a cult following in Bengal. A scene where the protagonist, a documentary filmmaker in search of a magical village where people invariably fall in love, is waiting for something to happen at a bus stop on a busy highway. “I am a very patient man. I have waited close to a decade to make my first film,” says Bhattacharya, who studied filmmaking at Kolkata’s Roop Kala Kendra.
When Baakita Byaktigoto was released first in Kolkata in September 2013, Facebook fan clubs sprung up overnight and Tollywood biggies tweeted about it passionately. “But there was no business. The film ran for only two weeks in Kolkata,” says Bhattacharya. But then he had half-expected a reaction like this.
There is no reason why the Bengali film audience should have warmed up to such a film. The protagonist, a youth unlucky in love, sets out to make a documentary about love and the way it defines us. In the process, he hears about a mythical village of love and decides to visit it, where he finds true love. In spite of having such a fairy tale-like premise, Baakita Byaktigoto pleads with the audience to recognise love in its most unromantic definition, a lonesome journey of self-awareness. It talks about an old abandoned man in a mansion who makes peace with loneliness; it lauds an independent woman for choosing a life of stability over the love of her life. “Baakita… is meant to question our attitudes towards love and its ability to possess us,” says Bhattacharya.
But Bhattacharya wasn’t bogged down by bad business. “I was down for a few months. But I kept getting encouraging messages from people, saying they loved the film and would want to show them to their friends and family,” he says. That’s when he decided to take it to villages and towns across the state. “I carry a DVD of the film and my laptop. We borrow projectors from the local district or panchayat headquarters and screen the film in villages,” says Bhattacharya, who has just returned from the screening of the film in Jhargram, West Bengal. The producer of the film, Satrajit Sen, also managed to re-release the film in a standalone theatre a few weeks ago. “There were countless requests to re-release it,” says Sen.
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Though this time too, it didn’t do great business, it caught the attention of the audience at the recent Jaipur Film Festival. Prasoon Sinha, who made India’s first digital Hindi film, Kismet-Ek Anokha Moad, saw the film at the fest and decided that he wanted to remake it in Hindi. “I loved the subject and I loved the way in which the director treated the film. I have spoken to the producer and talks are in progress. I want to cast Aditya Roy Kapur or Ayushmaan Khurana in the lead,” says Sinha.
Khurana’s name doesn’t light up Bhattacharya’s eyes. The prospect of a Bollywood version of his whimsical tale seems to make him squirm. “Can you imagine it as a Hindi film?” he asks. Having worked in the Tollywood film industry for almost a decade as an editor, Bhattacharya knows only too well how a spirit of a film can be killed. “Producers intervene to make the films more saleable. Songs will be added, the protagonist would have to be suitably Bollywoodised. He has to be attractive and charming. These things disturb me. I don’t want to think about it,” says Bhattacharya.
For now, he has found peace in screening the film in the villages of Bengal. “People have a strange way of relating to the film. Women, in particular, love it. I charge them Rs 25 for a screening, but they are ready to pay more,” says Bhattacharya.
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