Srijit Mukherji Unplugged (You Tube)
Sholoana Bangaliana caught up with the game changer of the Bengali Film Industry, Director Srijit Mukherji to talk at length about his growing up years, his love for films and theater, all the controversies about his films, his recently released movie Jatishwar and his New Bengali Movie Chatushkhone.
Excerpts from a Srijit Mukherji unplugged Interview ….
Sholoana Bangaliana: We more or less know about your journey as a film maker but not many of us know about your growing up years… What cinematic influence did your peer group and your surroundings have on you as a child?
Srijit Mukherji: I was born in Bhawanipore which is one place in Kolkata that more or less bridges the North and South Kolkata sensibilities, way of living, architecture etc. The place where I used to stay used to be called ‘Cinema Pada’ as it was surrounded by about seven movie halls like Indira, Bharati, Bijoli, Purno, Bosusree etc due to which those show timings and movies were almost a way of life for me during my growing up years. It was a small by lane where I spent my childhood and now when I revisit that place it seems like things around me have shrunk, which again is a change in perspective and way of looking at things.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Great so this was the frame out of home, what was the scene at home? Was there any cinematic influence at all?
Srijit Mukherji: At home it was music, cinema, theater, poetry, arts and culture all around. My father is a published poet as well as a singer and my mom plays the sitar, so overall it was always a very musical household. The love for cinema or the habit of watching movies was literally ingrained in me by my father as he used to encourage me to watch all kinds of movies and this is what has stayed on.
Sholoana Bangaliana: You mother who is a professor of anatomy by profession has this unique collection of over 300 tortoise artifacts collected from all over the world, what unique hobby or passion do you have along these similar lines?
Srijit Mukherji: I collect and draw stories from life. Characters, stories, events drama, life, death, love, compassion, revenge, serial killings; these things fascinate me and I collect them from wherever I can.
Sholoana Bangaliana: So after junior college you went to Presidency for your Bachelor’s; Prem, Podashona, Politics, which one of the 3 Ps of Presidency did you do and enjoy the most?
Srijit Mukherji: Yes Presidency is all about that but more than Presidency I enjoyed all of this in JNU where I went for my post graduate studies. We used to call ourselves students of canteen honors as that is where we used to spend most of our time experimenting with music, writing, love and all such things that we could lay our hands on. Pretty illustrious I must say!
Sholoana Bangaliana: Post Presidency Kolkata you went to JNU for your post graduate studies.. any special Delhi campus life memories that you can share with us?
Srijit Mukherji: Yes JNU was the most life changing experience. It changed my perspective towards life, academics, women, politics, films and so many other things. It opened windows to so many unexplored issues and helped me develop an opinion about everything. The Delhi campus life memories are probably the closest to my heart due to which I still go back to that place at the slightest possible cue.
Sholoana Bangaliana: You were doing your Ph.D when you joined IRI Symphony in Bangalore. It was during this time that your involvement with theater was also at the peak. How did you manage, did you bunk office to pursue theater, if yes please with us the most outrageous excuses that you may have cooked up so far to bunk office?
Srijit Mukherji: No, there was no bunking! As, though I used to love the stage, statistical modeling and number crunching was also equally attractive and enjoyable that used to love going back to. So there was no bunking but inhuman working hours as I used to finish work and then catch up with the rehearsals and all other activities involving the productions I used to be involved with and then come back home to catch up on some two three-hours of sleep and then again get going. It was strenuous but I enjoyed both and was honest to both.
Sholoana Bangaliana: You left a high-flying career in Bangalore and cam to Kolkata to make films. You have been heard saying that it was a calculated risk. What calculations did you do that helped you take such a big decision?
Srijit Mukherji: No there were no calculations…It was as good as bungee jumping and that too without a harness as I knew no one and had not even seen a film camera before. What I only knew was the art of story-telling as I had been doing that for quite some time then. Therefore, I simply came down with a lot of aspirations and confidence in my capabilities with precious little to show in terms of contacts. There was no Plan B or a set path that I had chalked out; I had just taken a plunge and had given myself a deadline to watch out for so that if nothing happened within that given time frame I would shift to cricket journalism or may be wildlife photography or just anything else that I can do well.
Sholoana Bangaliana: You have also been heard saying that you had watched a lot of movies (of all kinds and grades) to understand the film-maker audience interaction before you started making films. So what conclusion did you draw up from this analysis?
Srijit Mukherji: No, I never watched films to learn or analyze anything; I just watched a lot of them because I love watching movies. Watching films and making them has always been an act of sheer pleasure for me and there was never any motif, message, claim or drive to prove anything. I make movies just because I enjoy doing so and the day I stop enjoying this I will shift to doing something else that strikes my fancy then. I used to and still watch movies for sheer entertainment and for provoking the sensibilities in me, a need which is not different from what most of us watch movies for. Yes, as a by-product though, I learnt the art of story-telling on celluloid. Also, just like this learning was a by-product I would like to add that even all the box office success that my movies get is a by-product, the critical acclaim that I get in film festivals is a by-product and I am happy that they come about but they are not just the only factors that keep me going. I love telling stories my way and if people like to and are willing to watch them with me, good enough; if not, there is little that I can do.
Here I would also like to add that along with Myself, the only other person I would like to impress or please with my work is my producer as that person is putting his hard money at stake just because he has faith in my ideas; so apart from myself this is one person that I would really want to be satisfied with what he is watching on the screen.
But then again, having said that I would also like to say that I will not go out of my way to please the producer and go by his or his choice of casting or music director etc to give shape to my movie. If my ideas and that of my producers do not match at any point of time, I would simply opt for an honorable breakup. Luckily enough, may be apart from minor issues, I have never had to face any real challenges while working with the both the top producers of the industry here.
I have also been quite fortunate as I can call my films independent, from a point of view that my producers give me a free hand and never interfere with my work and that could be possibly because they have seen that whatever I present somehow finds a lot of takers. I all the more do not agree to any suggestions or demands that are not in sync with my ideas because on doing so I very well know that I will absolutely loose that zing and present something that is neither here nor there so it’s always better to back out than present half baked things and compromise with my individuality.
Sholoana Bangaliana: So, is this why we see you working with a different production house these days?
Srijit Mukherji: No, not that, here again comes the point of differences in tastes. If I want to make a movie on Kobi Gaan which does not appeal to my producers or maybe they do not like the casting or my choice of music directors then obviously I cannot hold them on gun point and ask them to produce the movie, so in such cases it is always better to part ways professionally and that too may be not for good. But then again, such things never come in way of our personal relationships as is the case with my previous producers Srikant and Moni (Srikant Mohta and Mahendra Soni of Shree Venkatesh Films); we are still great friends and making or not making movies together makes no difference to the bond we share.
I have to time and again answer as to why am I not working with this person or that, who people have tagged as my core team members but please; Anupam Roy, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Soumik Halder, SVF, Bodhaditya Bandopadhyay and such others; all these people work with everybody so why should only I be an exception and put under the scanner every time.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Srijit is also known to be a very smart player when it comes to the commercial aspects and marketing of the movie. How true are these tags and what is your level of involvement in ensuring a film’s commercial success?
Srijit Mukherji: No nothing like that, I do not understand any such thing; I am plain simple lucky and am sure that luck will run out in a few years. There is no set formula to crack human brains and my advice to everybody would be, make films that you yourself would like to watch buying a multiplex ticket and hope that there are more people like you! Srijit Mukherji has only one formula and that is pleasing himself as, as soon as he is satisfied his job is done and the rest is stochastic.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Now that you are all into cinema, what are the plans for your theater troupe Pandora’s Act?
Srijit Mukherji: Pandora’s Act currently is non-functional as I cannot manage cinema and theater together and I do not want to dabble in theater as that ways I feel I will be disrespecting the medium as in my opinion, the pinnacle of any performance (in terms of acting) can only be reached on stage which is why even after watching so many Al Pacino films, I still get goose bumps when I watch him perform Shylock in a Broadway production in New York. I feel theater completes an actor and his range of performance; therefore I do not want to insult the medium by just dabbling it.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Coming back to cinema……The movie Baishe Srabon… was the name a well thought out way to tickle and manipulate the Bangali sentiments?
Srijit Mukherji: People used to say that before the film’s release but after it released they got their answer. This is one film which could not have been named anything else but 22 se Srabon as it was there right in the script. The name was not given in order to manipulate the Bengali sentiment and there was no manipulation what-so-ever as the film did not essentially tickle the very concept of Bangaliana but was rather a very anti Bangali Bhadrolok kind of thing which I had expected would not at all be appreciated by most Bengalis. I was even pleasantly surprised when the censor board allowed me an un-cut film with just an A certificate.
Probably the only thing close to tickling the Bengali sentiment was the use of poetry but then also not too many of the multiplex going audience of today is actually into Binoy Majumdar and such other forms of poetry or literature; in fact there is hardly anything beyond Tagore for the younger generation so there is no manipulation at all.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Coming to Jatishwar.. How tough or may be different was it working with Kabir Suman?
Srijit Mukherji: Kabir Suman is a thorough professional and the only tough task was convincing him and pulling him into the project but after he was in, he turned around the songs in probably just about seven days. I would always be thankful to him for agreeing to be a part of this movie not just because he gave me some of his most prized possessions like ‘Khudar Kasam Jaan’ but also opened doors to immortality for me as I feel, people will remember me forever for making a movie with such songs in it.
Sholoana Bangaliana: How were Jatishwar’s Box Office Collections?
Srijit Mukherji: Collections were very slow in the first two weeks and it was a little disappointing but then again there were a lot of reasons for the dull show. It was a non-festive release and the great actress Suchitra Sen passed away right on the day of the release owed to which Bengalis all around were in a general state of mourning or stuck to the television screen for latest updates so nobody really was willing to watch a new movie at that point.
Compared to Bengal, the movie has done quite well in Singapore and the U.S. (comparing the first two week Box Office collections) and it’s still on. Singapore had two completely house-full weeks which is overwhelming and even here in Kolkata it is running fine even now with about 60-65% occupancy even in late night shows.
This gradual increase in the collections I feel, was totally because of the fantastic reviews and the word of mouth publicity that the movie got; something that I have not seen for any urban mainstream movie so far. I was overwhelmed with the kind of reviews people were writing; some I would say were even better than the film itself.
The graph thus started looking positive from the second-third week and this can be compared to movies like Bhooter Bhabisyat and Ichhe. The gradual increase in box-office collections was also owed to the repeat watch that eventually started happening with people reporting about eight to ten repeat watches. This movie is not a populace film as it has kobi gaan which does not have much resonance in today’s society as such it should not be compared with Mishawr but should be seen at par with Hemlock Society and as per those parameters the movie had done fairly well.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Why did you select Indraneil for Hani Alquadi’s character in Mishawr Rohosyo?
Srijit Mukherji: Hani Alquadi needed the best and most classical features a man can have, one who looks as good as a hero and Indraneil was just the right choice for it. Moreover, he is the only one who does not have those typical Bengali features and could thus be easily fit into the role.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Your new movie Chatushkhon has been in the news for quite some time now. How was your experience of making this film with such stalwarts like Aparna Sen and with all the last minute quits that you had to deal with?
Srijit Mukherji: It was like working with 100 years of Bengali cinema! With Param, Aparna Sen, Gautam Ghosh, Chiranjit, Kaushik Ganguly, all in one project it was an ensemble of the best cinematic experiences that I got to work with.
This project was also probably the most frustrating journey towards final realization as I had written the script just after autograph and the movie has finally materialized now and that too with so many people like Anjan Dutta, Bodhadittya, Soumik Halder, Kaushik Ganguly pulling out and Rituparno Ghosh leaving the mortal world altogether; it was just reversals all around. I had to re-write the script to fit in Param in place of Kaushik Ganguly but now that it’s finally taking shape, I am happy. I had faced many road blocks while making this movie but they only strengthened my determination and I was also very fortunate to have the backing of some great friends who were ready to walk along through thick-n-thin.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Who is doing the music of Chatushkhon?
Srijit Mukherji: Anupam Roy is doing the music and here he is back again. Here too, I would like to add that my relationship with Anupam does not change if we do not work together in a few movies.
These working relationships are completely dynamic and someday I may even drop myself off from the team if that is what the project idea demands. There may be a different script writer, a different story and every other possible permutation combination experimented with in order to make a good film.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Along with cinema, you also love and enjoy cricket so how closely do you follow the game and aren’t you upset about SRK’s decision of not having any kind of Bengali representation in the team?
Srijit Mukherji: I also love movies along with cricket so cricket is the first passion. Yes, for KKR I feel that there should have been some Kolkata representation, definitely not at the cost of the team’s efficiency but then again its Kolkata Knight Riders so that little hitch is indeed there.
Sholoana Bangaliana: You love cinema so you make films, what have u done for the love of cricket?
Srijit Mukherji: Just because I love cricket I try to take part in all the celebrity cricket leagues, read about the game and even follow the game closely, which at times becomes quite difficult with the schedule that I have. Yes, the next most obvious thing would be making a movie on cricket; which I will not do as that would probably be the most predictable thing to do and I do not like being predictable and enjoy challenging myself and stretching my limits. I have a fascination towards sports movies indeed and may make one in future and that may or may not even be cricket; it totally depends. I like to keep stretching myself and trying out new things and finishing them off in style with a Srijit Mukherji Autograph!
Sholoana Bangaliana: We have all read and heard about the praises that you receive for your work; what is the criticism scene like.. How unkind have people been to you?
Srijit Mukherji: Oh, yes criticism comes in plenty, even from some people who I personally know. Some people compare me with the master film makers of Bengal and that is what irks my critics the most but then again, where am I at fault here?.. I have not asked them to praise me or compare me with such legends. People think I take myself too seriously but I think just the other way round just because I know that I will be making films as long as the idea keeps exciting me and the day that excitement is gone I shall be off bungee jumping or doing wild life photography or just anything that I find exciting at that point of time. Also, what I fail to understand is why do people go and watch such movies, the concept or basic framework of which they do not agree with and then come back and pointlessly criticize. Just as a pat on the back feels nice, constructive criticism from learned people also feels good as, such people do not attack me as the person but attack the thought, concept or the idea and in a very healthy exchange of opinions give me a chance to put forth my point post which, if I fail to establish my point I lose and if they fail to prove theirs, they lose.
Also, Do you know in order to become a film maker, brain surgeon, rocket scientist, film critic or even a poet what is it that you need ?.. It is only Facebook, as that lets people do and say everything they wish to. This is one platform where we meet a lot of energetic, learned and interesting people as well as just the opposite kinds and on Facebook all kinds of opinions can be voiced and these opinions when coming from learned people are most welcome but become laughable when they come from people with absolutely zero knowledge of cinema.
So let’s end this wonderful conversation with a sneak-peak into your thoughts in the form of a rapid fire round of questions:
Five favorite Tollywood directors: Aparna Sen, Kaushik Ganguly, Suman Mukhopadhyay, Kamaleshwar Mukherjee
There are three directors whose works I have loved at some point or the other so cannot leave them out and they are Aniruddha Roy Choudhury, Atanu Ghosh and Anik Dutta.
Param or Abir; the better actor: Different schools; cannot compare.
Swastika or Nandana; the Oomph factor: Swastika
Kaushik Ganguly or Anjan Dutta; the better director: Kaushik Ganguly
Ray or Ghatak: Ray
Hemanta Mukherjee or Manna Dey: Manna Dey
Indraadip Dasgupta or Jeet Ganguly: Indraadip Dasgupta.
Sachin or Saurav: Objectively Sachin, Emotionally Saurav
Srijit the actor or Srijit the director: Definitely the director. The choice would have been difficult had it been Srijit the stage actor and Srijit the director.
On Camera: Subhodip Mukherjee
Subhodip is a young and dynamic professional who has been associated with programs like Gora, aired on DD National, Bengali Movie Ashe Bochor Abar Hobe, CID Bengali as an assistant director and many other short films of international fame.
Editor: Sumit Banerjee
A graduate of Mass Communication, Advertising & Journalism from International School of Business in Media, Kolkata, SumitBanerjee started making short films from his first year at college. His first film being Zindagi: The Time With Friends was screened at his own college on 1st December 2008, World AIDS Day. Since then he has made over 16 Short Films, Corporate Videos and Documentaries for different NGO’s like ASA, Save The Children, MPL Dhanbad etc and short films ranging from Family Drama, College comedies to surreal dramas and thrillers. He has also worked for different television productions in Kolkata including Animation Series. Currently he is working as a Program Producer in a leading channel in Kathmandu, Nepal.