The Pastness of the Past
When Srijit Mukherji, with an ace tag of being a Presidencian, (student of Presidency College) gave up the lucrative offer at Bangalore- his Mphil backed job as an econometrician and ventured into the deep mystical waters of -theatre and films, little did he know what awaited him. Maninak Bhaumik another director in the film making circle has to say- “Back in 2008, I met a smart, ambitious young guy in a coffee shop, who had left his job, life and the whole world behind in the desperate desire to make it big in the movie business.” Theatres were his first love in Bangalore and as Srjit feels, “We do not always end up marrying our first love,” and in spite of his panache and live in relation with theatre; he married films and became a director. Entirely captivated by the charm of cinema Srjit has drawn the map of commercial cinema afresh. “It is time to move away from the static and claustrophobic ways of filmmaking,” clarifies Srijit, who was awarded the Young Achiever Award from Rotary International, the Shera Bangali Award from ABP Anando and the Shoilojanando Mukhopadhyay Memorial Award in 2012 for his contribution in film direction.
Srijit : As he is…
Another crusader in the perennial war of meaningful cinema is Srijit Mukherji, who not only enthralls his audience by his signature films but has been successful enough to bring back the urban audiences to theatre again. He is a pioneer figure hugely responsible for the turnaround of parallel cinema in Bengal. Affirmed to the bong roots and yet with a faraway look in his eyes Srijit belongs to that genre of directors who desire to explore the unexplored, break free from the conventional stereotypes and put a signature mark on their self created brand. As he prefers not be confined with any genre of direction, he feels films are the manifestation of a persona, expression of a director’s take on social idiosyncrasies and his world view- “Like a blog, films are an expression of a director’s worldview, idiosyncrasies, and belief systems. Yes, I hate repeating myself, but however versatile my directorial style, in some ways; my films bear a Srijitian signature.”
In his films, Tillottoma Kolkata is revisited with a lens of reality as he himself observes-. “My Kolkata is not about pretty poetry, puchka, Howrah Bridge and Kumartuli idols. There is an ugly side to the city, an underbelly that co-exists with its cultural side. ” According to him, his films are but a reflection of “heightened realism”. “My romanticism is not about green paddy fields and bullock carts. It is about black smoke emitted by chimneys, tramlines, demonstrations, and a struggle for existence. Realism is a subjective term because reality differs from person to person. Ritwik Ghatak’s reality of a Bengal that was divided by class and cultural distinctions is vastly different from the cold, temperate reality of Ingmar Bergman’s Sweden”-clarifies Srijit.
Srijit’s Films- A whimsical Canvas of Reality and Expressionism
Autograph– the directorial debut of Srijit has his autograph felt all over, it has his presence crafted. The language, the nuances and the aphorisms that reflect his taste all are confined in Autograph. The concept of Meta Theatre is used in the film that has a tenacity to conform itself to ‘il teartro dello specchio” or the mirror theatre and confirms several layers, the ‘phantasmagoria’ of Shakespeare. Conforming to the genre of Meta theatricality, the movie has the content of a film making attached and it is both through the lens of Srijit, and the director-played by Indraneil Sengupta, the audiences are transferred to the world of Arun Chatterjee- a superhero basking in the revelry of fame. The movie paradoxically reinstates what Prosenjit claimed once-“I am the industry.” As Srijit puts on layer upon layer on Arun Chatterjee, the masks and faces join inextricably hand in hand to bring out the hidden- Arun Chatterjee, the man, the actor and the superstar. Both Indraneil Sengupta and Srijit, the reel and real directors are debutantes, both in an exploration to revisit Ray, and both have a different take on the star, the man behind and the actor.
The movie won 41 awards and raised the expectations of audiences who were equally elated to have Srjit’s next venture-22e Srabon. Srjit’s signature marks in his films are the twist in the tale and his sojourn into the collective unconscious. There is the patch of black and white amidst every individual that gets roused with the circumstantial pangs. The dimly lit by lanes and the chiaroscuro ambience symbolically portrays those unenlightened corners of the conscious and the subconscious in the film. Prosenjit is the totalitarian epitome of the line in between normality and the subconscious. Serendipity is the term that is apt for the humor –a comic relief from the otherwise murderous zone of the bewitching plot. The eccentric poet and the art of killing is a sure treat for the brain! A shifting base between the vicarious terrors, a love lorn police officer, and a man torn apart for being forever unrecognized and in alienation plotting to write his fate anew -is the USP of the movie. There is transcending pain oozing in the film as one witness the delirious ramblings of a poet that is heightened by the soul wrenching use of Esraj in ‘Ekbar bol nei tor kau nei.” The film was a massive hit and for Srijit it was a teary eyed experience when the audience gave the film a standing ovation -“That, too, for a ticketed show, not a premiere!”- He says- “I wasn’t even aware of the possibility of such a spontaneous reaction beyond the theatrical stage.”
Juxtaposition of the real reality, pseudo-reality and theatricality is brought out well in his Hemlock Society. The film has an unconventional take on the chosen subject-suicide. Some may name it as a romantic satire and a lot as the dark comedy. Srijit’s Hemlock Society explores a suicide workshop that teaches and trains people the art of committing a hassle free suicide. Koel (Mallick) desires to learn the art of committing suicide in the school run by Parambrata (Chattopadhyay).Koel Mullick is the damsel in distress and Parambrata is the messiah-sounds like any other romantic flick? But the thread that weaves the whole plot is the concept of suicide and the presence of a group who desire to aid those who are in their willful journey towards suicide as Srijit himself observes the “subject of assisted suicide is a rediscovery of supremacy of life over death… We are in no way glorifying suicide which is there only to serve the purpose of a gritty suspense thriller, and with a little bit of introspection on life.”
Srijit himself connotes –“But I wasn’t supposed to make Hemlock Society, a name which I borrowed from an erstwhile US organization supporting Euthanasia, while researching for my 2009 play, Checkmate. I was well on my way to adapt 12 Angry Men in Bengali, when I met a person. A person whose philosophy about life, whose take on death deeply moved me. So much so, I took to throwing up a story where Param’s character, Ananda, would be modeled after the person. And it took me just eight days, the fastest amongst my endeavors, to cook up a story about this guy who runs a school where suicide workshops are conducted, and a patient/student who falls in love with the guy.”
Srijit’s last venture till date has been Jaatiswar, after his much hyped Mishwar Rohosshyo. Jaatiswar delves deep into psyche and the connotations lie merged with an invincible crux-music. It is a concurrence of two ages, two voyages with a similar pole star-love and music. By travelling through time and travelling back in time ‘tempu deux rerum’-time the devourer, Srijit inculcates the sojourn of a folk artiste in Bengal of Portuguese origin-Hensman Antony. The suffering of being an outsider and the desperate desire to discover acceptance is found both in the character of Jishu Sengupta(research scholar Rohit), Antony and Kushal da- the anticipated reincarnated self of Antony; that lays at par the cudgels of love, longing and life beyond the barricades of death. The plot brings to mind Dr. Brian Weiss’s ‘Love is not Real’- the discourse of past life regression and the union of souls in different lifetimes and again- the penalty of Karma. Srijit feels-“The idea behind the film is that nothing changes and everything gets repeated. Be it parochialism, religious intolerance, linguistic jingoism — all of these have a correlation to our past. And there are echoes of our past in our present. The only things that remain are memories. And what if these past memories suddenly become dominant? There are medically proven cases, where such past memories have become dominant. When this happens, people wake up to the echoes of the past.”
Srijit- Here to Stay and Reign…
Francis Ford Coppola had once observed-“Most techniques in Cinema have been devised by people who didn’t know what to do.” Srjit obviously knows what to do with the myriad subjects that capture the moods of his characters and the journey associated- of the characters, the audience and the director; the captain of the ship. A self taught filmmaker, Srijit is known to experiment not only with the characters that flocks his films or the out of the box contents, but even the camera angles and shots. It is easy to recognize his films as the ‘Srijitian brand’ though he is unfaltering in unabashedly embracing any particular genre. There is a tone of youthful lyricism, playful ambience, unapologetic didacticism that is at once opined through the cadent dialogues and a languid atmosphere of the themes. In short, they are in effect- poetry for prose. There is an overbearing dusk of haunting reality at times that consumes the lyrical extravaganza though Srijit denies it claiming- “When I say I depict heightened reality, it means I use cinematic devices that have been described by my fiercest critics as my flights of fantasy or even, as escapism. I want to make believable the unreal, for example the descending of gods to resolve a situation, known as ‘dues ex machina’ in Greek theatre.”
Srijit blatantly agrees that his films are referential- “They are layered,” he says, “Autograph is a love story and probes the nature of relationships. It is, on the other hand, a commentary on Tollywood, besides being a tribute to Uttam Kumar. Baishe Srabon is a thriller, a triangular love story as well as documents a literary movement in Bengal. Hemlock Society is a love story, but most importantly a black comedy on life and death. Our existences are multifarious: love, life, death, beauty, pain are all equally important.” Talking about his films, they are as he feels the extension of his presence, expressions and reality-“ I try to explain that one doesn’t make babies thinking they will top the IIT/IIMs or will bring back a fat salary home. One does it to express oneself, to ensure parts and extensions and reflections of the self stay on even after the pyre would go quiet.” Process of film making is a journey in itself and Srijit Mukherjee goes and explores …in search of life- “And yes, after heartbreaks, moments of disillusionment, controversies, career highs, countless awards, brickbats, unprecedented acclaim, Box office successes, festival hopping, criticism, friends, foes and onlookers, I still find solace in Ulysses’ immortal quartet of aims – to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield-.”
By Adrita Dey Ghatak