Move over, Gully Boy: Prantik Basu's short film Rang Mahal heads to Berlinale Shorts International Competition

Prathap Nair

Feb 01, 2019 13:24:50 IST

Not too far from the rambunctious fanfare of the premiere of Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy at this year’s Berlinale, another Indian product, a short film, will try to prove its cinematic mettle at the film festival. Rang Mahal, directed by FTII Pune alumni Prantik Basu will compete in the Berlinale Shorts section this year. Basu is no stranger to film festivals. His earlier films have been screened at Oberhausen, Rome Film Festival, IFF India - Goa, Experimenta-India, Kochi-Muziris Biennale and at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

Rang Mahal is set in Purulia in West Bengal, and through the film Basu interprets the tribal way of life, forestry, people’s relationship with nature and modern issues like deforestation and climate change. “Selection for Berlinale is like a pat on the back,” he says on the phone from Rotterdam, where he is attending the International Film Festival. “My films are more experimental, like narrating a film essay. It’s not easy for filmmakers like me who don’t make conventional films to be noticed. So, this is inspiring,” he adds.

 Move over, Gully Boy: Prantik Basus short film Rang Mahal heads to Berlinale Shorts International Competition

A still from Rang Mahal.

Rang Mahal came to him organically when he was filming the Sramjibi Chhau dance group for a longer documentary, a group that he had already collaborated with for his earlier film Sakhisona. “I was amazed by the chalk stone hills of Purulia that change color every monsoon,” he says. With the chalk stone hills as his main motif, Basu proceeded to build a narrative for his film.

Villagers in the neighboring region collect these chalk stones every season when they change color due to pigmentation and apply it as coating on their house walls. Basu’s research led him to conversations with local in the region and he supplemented this by reading up on the mythology and the origin of the tribes. “Since Santali did not have a script until recent years, folktales are orally passed on. However, based on the interpretation of each storyteller, the same stories acquire different forms, just like these rocks taking a different color. I wanted to interpret how these existential phenomena complement each other in the lives of the tribes,” he says.

There are heavy influences of folk tales in Basu’s previous works as well.

His 2013 short film Makara interprets the folk tale, ‘badal namak magar,’ a crocodile named raincloud, in the backdrop of a crocodile carcass. Makara won the National Student Film Awards for Audiography in Kolkata. Sakhisona, his most recent film which won a Tiger Award the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2017 is based on a Bengali folklore.

What about folk tales that inspire him? “Folk tales excite me a lot. These are capsules that contain a microcosm of worldviews. All mainstream stories have genesis in these stories, yet folktales are seldom represented. They take us the bit closer to the older times on how life used to be lived, though we have moved away from this way of living,” he says.

Rang Mahal’s glacial pace, arresting visuals of the hills and forests and narration of the tales in the background by two locals leave a lot to the viewer for interpretation. “I wanted the story to be visual and the vignettes to be intentionally ambiguous, not literal, open for interpretation by the audience,” he explains.

Prantik Basu.

After winning numerous awards and his films having been screened in prestigious film festivals across the world, Basu is now ready for a full-length feature. For the better part of last year, he has been writing a script at the Three Rivers screen writer’s residency at Trevignano Romano, near Rome. Basu subsequently pitched his story idea at the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam for his feature film project and received the Hubert Bals funding for script and product development recently.

His full-length feature is a subaltern romance, titled Dengue, set in a humid summer in Kolkata between a doctor and an immigrant labor from Bangladesh. “It’s difficult for me to make a conventional film,” he quips. Dengue will be a trilingual film in Bengali, Hindi and English, a romance between two men whose love lives are separated not only by social strictures but also by their socio-economic status. “Since it’s a feature film, there are certain limitations in terms of structure and pace but I want to retain my style of idiosyncratic storytelling,” he adds.

With 24 films from 17 countries in the lineup, the competition at Berlinale Shorts is intense. Highlights include three movies from Bosnia and Herzegovina namely Crvene gumene čizme, Omarska and Can't You See Them? – Repeat, focusing on the post-war landscape, Blue Boy a film about male sex workers in Berlin and Rise that features migrant underground artists in Toronto.

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Updated Date: Feb 01, 2019 13:26:22 IST