Birsa Dasgupta on foraying into comedy with Bibaho Obhijaan, and learning from Anurag Kashyap
Armed with an honesty that is rare to come by in the industry, Birsa Dasgupta speaks of his love for comedy films.
40-year-old Birsa Dasgupta has been making films for close to 20 years now. And when I speak to him even today, he does not consider himself a successful filmmaker. Armed with an honesty that is rare to come by in the industry, Dasgupta speaks of his love for comedy films, his mentorship under Anurag Kashyap, and his lifelong dream of having an all-out item number in at least one of his films – a dream that came come true with his latest release, Bibaho Obhijaan. Excerpts from an interview:
How did Bibaho Obhijaan happen?
After finishing work on my previous film Crisscross, I was working on a script of mine when my dear friend, actor Rudranil Ghosh, told me the gist of a story that he had written. My first reaction to his story was – I like it, but we’ve seen, read and heard stories like this several times before, so there’s nothing new in it. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that there was something very appealing to it, and that this could work. I told him the same and he went back and started fleshing it out in detail in the form of a script. When I saw the final outcome, I decided to hold my script for some time and make Bibaho Obhijaan instead.
You’ve made all kinds of films – thrillers, horror, romantic, drama. This marks your foray into comedy. Was it a conscious choice to do something in this space?
Yes, it was. The script that I was writing when Rudy brought me his story was in the comedy space too. After Crisscross, I wanted to make something light and breezy, and those were the days when elections were around the corner. People were all fired up. I wanted to give them something to smile about, something that would entertain them and give them a break from all the heavy discussions that they were engaging in on social media and in street corners. So, yes. The genre was a matter of choice. It just happened that the right story came along.
You assisted Anurag Kashyap in what is now a landmark film in Indian cinema. What was it like working on Black Friday?
Those were the formative years of my career, to be honest. I was barely 20 years old when I went to Mumbai. I had seen some of Anurag’s works by then, including Last Train to Mahakali, and I instantly became a fanboy. I took up a job in Mid-Day while Black Friday was being made. At that time, we needed to make a 3-minute A/V on Anurag, just to let the financiers know who he was and what work he had done. I made that A/V and when Anurag saw it, he liked it very much. That’s how I became a part of the crew. Not many people know that I was initially assigned to be the Assistant Producer, but I don’t know how or why, I kept getting involved in everything – from scheduling, to editing, to producing the music, and even going to court in Delhi when the real Badshah Khan sued us for making the film and portraying his character in a manner that he was not happy with. Literally everything I know about filmmaking today, I have learnt while working on Black Friday. It’s an experience I will forever cherish.
And what was Anurag Kashyap like? Is he every bit the taskmaster people say he is?
The Anurag I saw 20 years ago is not the same Anurag we see now. During those days, Anurag Kashyap was a volcano that could explode at any moment. The man was just raring to go. I have never seen anyone so passionate and so intensely excited about their work as he was. And yes, he got his job done somehow or the other, he knew how to get things done, this way or that way. I would like to say that everything I am today, is partly because of my father (filmmaker Raja Dasgupta) and partly because of Anurag Kashyap.
Coming back to Bibaho Obhijaan, your promotions include a song titled ‘Misrir Dana’. An item number does raise some eyebrows, doesn’t it?
Of course, it does. Especially in Bengal, where people are happy to see Vyjayanthimala dance to ‘Hothon Pe Aisi Baat’ in Jewel Thief or Helen sway to ‘Mehbooba, Mehbooba’ from Sholay, they will frown when there is an item number in my film. Well, I can tell you without a shred of guilt or shame that I had been literally looking for an opportunity to put an item song in my film all my life, and I am elated that I finally got an opportunity to do so. I am a filmmaker in contemporary commercial Indian cinema and I won’t have an item number in my film? No way!
What are some of the comedy films that you yourself have immensely enjoyed?
I really like Woody Allen’s works – The Purple Rose of Cairo and Midnight in Paris, in particular. Among Bengali films, I like Basanta Bilap. Satyajit Ray’s Parashpathar had a big influence on me. In Hindi, I like Andaz Apna Apna – I think it was a charming little film. And of course, there are the ‘other’ kind of comedy films – if you can call them that – films such as Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Godard’s Bande à part.
What have you decided to make next?
I have two interesting projects in the pipeline. One is a film that I am calling Haawa Bandook right now. It tells the story of a romance blossoming in the background of one of the bloodiest and most heinous state-sponsored massacres committed in our country, right here in Bengal, merely a few kilometres from the heart of Kolkata, way back in 1971. I tell this story through the eyes of a survivor, and this is a film that I have always wanted to make. The other is in the digital space – a format that I would like to work more and more in. I call it Kaala Khoon, and it’s set in the backdrop of the Jharkhand mining mafia and spans fifteen years.
Why is the digital space so enticing?
To be honest with you, I was very disappointed to see that not too many people had come to the theatres to see my film Crisscross, when it had received so much critical acclaim. What’s even funnier is that on Hoichoi! (a digital platform owned by Shree Venkatesh Films), the film is among the top three most viewed properties. So as a filmmaker, if my inherent desire is to ensure that more and more people watch my film, won’t it be natural for me to make it for the screen on which most people would be watching it?
Once again, coming back to Bibaho Obhijaan, what can audiences expect from it?
Well, this is the same audience that has liked Srijit Mukherji’s Vinci Da; this is the same audience that has liked Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy’s Kontho; this is the same audience that has enjoyed Dhrubo Banerjee’s Durgeshgorer Guptodhon. This is the Bengali audience. There is no classification of intellectual and commercial. I want to tell the Bengali audience that if they liked the personal conflict in Kontho, the thrill in Vinci Da, and the sheer sense of adventure in Durgeshgorer Guptpdhon, then they will certainly enjoy the unabashed and pure fun in Bibaho Obhijaan. I have no delusions of grandeur. I don’t want them to remember me by this film, because this is not that kind of film. I want them to come to the theatres, watch the film, keel over laughing, have a fun time, go home and forget about it.