Jonaki: Aditya Vikram Sengupta's lovely ode to his late grandmother, will premiere at 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam
Sengupta's Jonaki goes down the memory lane of his grandmother, played by Lolita Chatterjee, as she remembers her association with her loved ones.
Kolkata is writer-director Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s muse. Born and raised in the grand old city of the East, Sengupta’s latest feature, Jonaki, combines his fondness for his hometown with memories and love for his grandmother.
This is Sengupta’s second feature after his Bengali language debut with Labour of Love (Asha Jaoar Majhe), about a young, married, working couple in Kolkata, which released in 2014, the same year it won the Fedeora for Best Debut Film in Venice Days at the Venice Film Festival. Jonaki, or firefly in Bengali, is inspired by Sengupta’s grandmother. Lolita Chatterjee plays the octogenarian. The film also stars Jim Sarbh and Ratnabali Bhattacharjee.
Jonaki will have its world premiere in the Bright Future Section of the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), which kicks off on 24 January. Speaking on phone from Kolkata, Sengupta said that growing up he shared a special bond with his grandmother who told him several stories from her life. “She was raised in a very affluent and anglicized family but her education and life as she knew it came to a stop when her father passed away. She was married at 16 but was never happy in the arranged marriage. She would tear up when she showed me pictures from her childhood or told stories about her younger days. I found it very painful.”
The memories of his grandmother being in coma for four days before she passed away lingered with Sengupta. “I would go to see her everyday and I wondered what must she be going through,” he said. The thoughts gave him nightmares. “I felt very guilty that I was okay with her passing away at that time and then, I started writing this story. It eventually became a blend of my dreams and imagination of the stories she had told me.”
The trailer of Jonaki does have a fairytale quality, with an artistic colouring and composition. “I needed to evoke the same feelings I awoke with at night. I needed to give people access to my feelings,” said the 34 year old filmmaker.
The story revolves around Jonaki (Lolita Chatterjee) with the other actors playing those closest to her – her parents, her love, her husband and grandparents – as she remembers them from a time in their lives. Curiously, the oldest actor on the set was not 80-plus Chatterjee, but 88-year-old Burjor Patel, and the youngest crew member was a nine-year-old actor.
As he did with Labour of Love, Sengupta has worn multiple hats on Jonaki too. “I wrote, directed, and edited – pretty much all the stuff I did for Labour of Love. I also worked on sound design. I enjoy being a part of the whole process,” said the filmmaker whose wife’s name is Jonaki. When asked about the relevance of the title, Sengupta said, “Fireflies are interesting ad dream-like, like memories they come and go in a flash. In the film, Jonaki thinks the human soul turns into a firefly and goes into the fire.”
A festival journey is in store for Jonaki but in the meantime, Sengupta is already working on his third film, an abstract narrative in which Kolkata features prominently of course. Memories and My Mother is his “emotional response” to the city where he grew up. “I am very close to my city and I have vivid memories from my childhood. It’s fascinating to see Kolkata changing. Kolkata is a strong character in Memories and My Mother. In Jonaki, it represents a breed of Bengalis that is going extinct. We will try for a good VOD/ online release for Jonaki as well as a boutique theatrical release like we did for Labour of Love,” said Sengupta who, when not working on his artistic features, directs ad films.
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