IFFI 2018: Uronchondi director Abhishek Saha on introducing genre of road movies to Bengali cinema
Abhishek Saha's Bengali road movie Uronchondi features in the Indian Panorama section at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) this year.
His debut feature film Uronchondi has been described as a visual treat, and Bengali cinema’s first ever road movie. The film also features in the Indian Panorama section at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) this year. We speak to Abhishek Saha about his filmmaking journey, and his penchant for the open skies and a lorry.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you spend your childhood? And how did you become a filmmaker?
I am an out-and-out Kolkata boy – I was born and raised here. After finishing school, I wanted to pursue hotel management, so I moved to Mumbai. I was about to fill up the admission forms and get into a school there, when I bumped into a gentleman at a social gathering. He turned out to be a producer, and he invited me to come over to a studio to see what a shooting 'looks like.' I went to the studio, and that is where it all began. I stuck around and soon decided to take up filmmaking as a profession. I assisted a number of people in Mumbai, in various departments – directing, editing, others as well. Then I got into advertising and ad-filmmaking. I did that for a few years, when I heard that my father wasn’t keeping well. Sixteen years after I had left the city, I returned to Kolkata, to be close to my father. I joined Star Jalsha and that was my first 'job' per se. After a few years, I decided to make my own film. It was a long journey from the day I had first walked into that studio in Mumbai, all the way to my first film.
And a pretty interesting one too, I may add. Your debut film Uronchondi has received wide critical acclaim. How did you conceive the story? Tell us about the journey of the film.
I had the story in my mind for some time. I sat down with Sudeep Saha – the writer of the film – and discussed my ideas with him. That was the genesis of the film. A few years before that, I had
directed Prasenjit Chatterjee in an ad. He had seen my work and told me that if I ever wanted to make my own film, I could go to him. I had kept that in mind, and when we had the story of
Uronchondi in place, I met him and narrated the story to him. He loved the story, and told me on the spot that he was going to produce it.
Uronchondi is a film about the liberation of three ordinary women from various walks of life, who are themselves at different stages of their life. The common thread binding them is that they have all been wronged by the men in their lives – a lover, a husband and a son. What is your take on the way women, in general, are treated in the country?
The way women are being treated in this country is nothing new, to be honest. Women have always been subjected to such humiliation, agony and torture throughout the ages. It’s only now that we see more of it, simply because of the media. But here’s the fine point of it. Most of the crimes against women we see now are ones that happen in the cities – because that’s where the focus of the media is. Hardly anyone talks about such crimes happening in the rural areas, where a vast majority of our population resides. I wanted to bring the story of these rural women to a larger audience.
Your film explores the beauty of suburban Bengal, and the road seems to be the constant foundation of your visual narrative.
You are right – that was indeed my intention. I have this strange fascination for the road, you see. It allows for a certain manner of unrestrained storytelling. And I am a bit finicky in the sense that if I can’t see the open, unobstructed skies in my shots, I don’t feel content. My brief to my cinematographer – Soumik Haldar – was along those lines. In fact, there isn’t a single indoor shot in the film. We wanted to capture the beauty of the road and the scenes along the road throughout the film. And I think we have succeeded in doing so.
The music of the film is also quite unusual.
Yes, Debojyoti Mishra is usually known for his work with stringed instruments. But I wanted to use a lot of percussion-based music for my film. I think he has done a marvelous job with the score.
Tell us a little bit about the dialect used in the film. You must have had to take your actors through rigorous language workshops?
The dialect you hear Bindi and Chotu speak in the film is a concoction of Bhojpuri, Hindi, with a bit of Bengali thrown in. You usually hear such kind of dialects along the border of Jharkhand and
West Bengal. Satish Shah – the gentleman who played the role of the fake Kaali in the film – is from Bihar. He helped us a lot by conducting language workshops.
Let us talk about the three women in your film a bit. I think it would be safe to say that among all three, the character of Bindi stole the show. Did you always have your wife Sudipta Chakraborty in your mind for the role?
On the contrary, Sudipta and I had discussed this between ourselves and decided that she would not act in my first film. But somehow, everyone in the crew felt that she would be the best fit for the role of Bindi. Finally, one day, Bumba da (Prasenjit Chatterjee) put his foot down and asked her to do the role. I guess it was the best thing to have happened, because she was the most organic choice for the role. And how she fared in the role is for everyone to see.
What about Meenu and Sabitri?
I was looking for a young girl for the role of Rajnandini. Bumba da asked me to take a look at her profile one day, and I asked her to come in for an audition. On that day itself, we found our Meenu. As for Sabitri, we looked at a number of elderly women, till we zeroed in on Chitra Sen. I must say I really admire the way she handled the arduous pressure of the shoot – a tight schedule, an unforgiving terrain. And to do that at her age – that’s very inspiring.
You mentioned a tight schedule.
The entire film was shot over a period of 13 days. I have to thank my crew and cast for being so supportive. I must also add here that in the entire shooting of the film, there were no industrial lights used, we didn’t even have a generator with us. All the night scenes were shot in the lights of fire torches, lanterns and vehicle headlights.
That is really interesting. I noticed you used the lorry very effectively in the film.
I always say this to everyone – there are five principal characters in my film: the three women, the driver and the lorry! The film wouldn’t have been possible without the lorry.
How did you find the right actor for the character of Chotu, the driver?
Sudipta and I were going through hundreds of profiles and photographs. I was looking for someone who people would find it difficult to see as a lorry driver, because the character was not really a driver as such, remember? He was the handyman. So that was a problem because anyone who wants to act in the movies these days first heads towards the gym. Whereas I did not want a beefed up actor for my film at all. Finally, we found Amartya (Ray) on a social media website, and we liked him. He is a young man, he is still studying. He took a few days off and came in for the shoot. I told him – you would have to drive a lorry. Bumba da has a make-up van, Amartya tried his hands on it for a couple of days, finished the shoot and went back to Pune to finish his studies!
All images from Twitter.
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