From being a niche, regional art-house film-maker to possibly delivering the most important film of the year, Pink, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury is the man of the hour.
Pink has just won the National Award for Best Film on Social Issues. Here’s taking a look at an interview we did with its director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury for our October 2016 issue.
When Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s directorial debut, Anuranan (Resonance), released in 2006, I was still in school, and was chided for wanting to sit with my folks to watch the film. It was a “boroder boi” — meant for adults. I must admit that the film failed to engage with me, and it was soon forgotten. Years later, when I did finally watch the film, I realised that it was the sheer complexity of Anuranan that made it fit only for mature viewing. Yes, it might have been a tad too slow and unnaturally verbose at times, but at the core of it, Roy Chowdhury had established himself as a serious film-maker from his first outing. His second film, Antaheen (Endless), is a cracking urban take on entangled relationships at crossroads, with memorable ballads and a fantastic debut by Radhika Apte. Roy Chowdhury had become the poster boy for complicated urban narratives about bored lives and monotonous relationships, and his films were commentaries on the lifestyles and emotional cravings of millennials in Indian metros. Even in his later films such as Aparajita Tumi (You, Undefeated, produced by Shoojit Sircar) he explored similar themes.
It was with Buno Haansh (Wild Goose) in 2014 that a new Roy Chowdhury emerged. The film dealt with the underworld and smuggling cartels — a world new to Roy Chowdhury — and also starred commercial actors as the leads, which is also something he had never done before. While it was a way to become more commercially relevant, Roy Chowdhury did not give up on his sensibilities, and Buno Haansh turned out to be a slick, engaging thriller. His latest outing, Pink, produced by Sircar again, has been lauded as one of the best films of the year. Pink is also his first film in Hindi, and when we chat, fresh out of the congratulatory highs, he says he’s looking forward to making more films in Hindi.
Pink has been universally praised. Stylistically, it is very different from your previous films, and for someone who has seen them, that comes as quite a surprise.
Yes, my earlier films have been of a certain style, and from Buno Haansh I started working with edgier material and style. In this aspect, I should definitely thank Shoojit [Sircar] because initially I was planning on doing the film in Bengali, but he said, ‘No, we should do it in Hindi.’ It would have a much wider audience, of course. I also wanted to place the film in Kolkata, but he suggested we set it in Delhi. This is not my first film on the subject. In my debut, Anuranan, I had attempted the subject of moral policing, too. In that film, it was moral policing within a relationship, while in Pink it is different. Both Shoojit and I worked really well together, all the actors and the team also came together really well, absorbing the characters and portraying them with conviction. What they say is true — a film is not made, it happens. It is a very organic process. Stylistically, from day one, I used to tell my cinematographer, ‘Let’s shoot it like a documentary.’
I allowed them to do whatever they wanted, after they understood the ideology of the script and the film. So, we have tried to capture the soul of the script and the film is a result of everybody playing their part perfectly.
Which style are you more comfortable with — your earlier films or something edgier like Pink?
Right now, I am in a Pink kind of space — an edgier, faster format. But, there is no comfort zone as such. It depends on what the treatment should be for a film. Having said that, there’s always an urge for doing something, for creating something, the urge of telling a story a certain way. When that happens, that urge, that desire becomes your comfort zone. It is all about your longing, your beliefs and what you want to do at that point in time.
Every film-maker in India dreams of working with Amitabh Bachchan. What was your experience like?
Everybody was very comfortable with everybody. The cast and crew worked together very well. On a personal level, he would be very emotionally affected by what we were doing. And, that was the case with almost everyone who was working on the film. When you work together as a unit constantly for 30-34 days straight on something like Pink, that is bound to happen. A lot of people are asking me about anecdotes during the shoot of the film, but it was just an emotional roller-coaster ride for all of us. Also, we had been preparing for the shoot for so long, almost three months. Mr Bachchan wanted to rehearse the whole day for a 15-minute take. And, that, as an experience, is superb. The emotional connect that the actors had with the characters is showing on-screen.
What was it like for you to work in a language you are not comfortable with?
Every film has its own language. I want to work with all of them. Right now, I am working on a Bengali film. I am ready with the script, and I will get back to it after a break. I want to make Hindi films, too. You have to wait and allow yourself to be tremendously attracted to a certain story or idea and see where it goes from there.
How do you see the Bengali industry as compared to other regional film industries?
Regional cinema is doing really well at the moment. We have a lot of good talent and a lot of good actors. The only thing is that we need to increase the distribution of films. We need more halls so that we can make more money to experiment more. It is taking time, but it will definitely happen. Bengali is the sixth most spoken language in the world — why can we not reach the entire diaspora? Things are happening and changing, of course.
Which is the last film you loved?
I watch films regularly, but I recently saw Irrational Man by Woody Allen and I loved it. Another brilliant film was Mustang. I also just finished the two seasons of Narcos, and I really loved them.
Which was the last one you hated?
[Laughs] Well, I do a little bit of research and I don’t watch films I know I will not like.