It’s a weird position to be in. And in India it’s almost like a joke because people instantly quote two names to get their points across – Khalid Mohamed and Samar Khan. Remember how Subhash Ghai reviewed Fiza? The precedent is bad but who said that we can’t change the future. So what happens when a film reviewer changes track and moves to the opposite side? Over to Pratim D Gupta, who has been reviewing films for The Telegraph for last few years and has now made his directorial debut with a bengali film titled Paanch Adhyay which has just released. The film stars Priyanshu Chatterjee, Dia Mirza and Soumitra Chatterjee.
This is so damn difficult to write. I have been staring at this empty word file on my Macbook screen for the last couple of hours. That’s like the time I usually take to write my film reviews every Friday.
Any more time and that page wouldn’t reach you the next day. But then every Friday I am your man at the movies. For this Friday, I am the man behind your movie. Perhaps the only way I can put this together is if I tell you about Paanch Adhyay in five chapters.
Chapter 1: The write of passage…
It was always all about cinema waala love. From Uttam Kumar’s cigarette smoke swirl in Nayak to Sanjay Dutt’s eyepatch in Khalnayak, from James Bond’s black tuxedo in every film to Govinda’s yellow pants in every film, I chewed and chomped anything that spelt cinema. So the three-figure JEE rank was dunked and I got into film studies. Soon the Rays and Ratnams had company in Kurosawa and Kieslowski, Tarkovsky and Tarantino.
The world was passing by at 24 frames per second. I had to jump cut. I chose to write myself into the script.
Watch movies, write about them, speak to the guys who make them and try and understand the craft a little more. So incredibly I was attending the best customised film school possible; where I could speak to A.R. Rahman about the core of his scores, discuss the finer nuances of acting with Irrfan Khan, debate shot lengths with Ashok Mehta or just discuss life in cinema and cinema in life with Farhan Akhtar.
One of my earliest on-set assignments was Pradeep Sarkar’s Parineeta shoot in Siliguri. And I remember the film’s leading man, who became Mr Bebo a couple of days back, telling me with a chuckle: “Making a film is like waging a war.” I didn’t fully understand it then. No one knows it better than me now.
Chapter 2: The man who almost made a movie…
I started writing a script in mid-2008 because a filmmaker friend from here liked the idea and promised that he would get me funding for it.
The script happened, the promise wasn’t kept.
I took the script to other producers; everyone shooed me away. Since it was lying ready, I made an English version of it and sent it to international screenwriting competitions. It got selected as one of six scripts at the Locarno International Film Festival and went on to become the first Indian project at the Independent Film Week in New York.
Still no funding came through.
Next a Mumbai-based producer committed to fund the film at Film Bazaar in Goa and even got a French co-producer. I happily got a cast and crew together — the very best talent from here in Calcutta. The pre-production started and locations were scouted. And then the man from Mumbai stopped taking my calls and replying to my mails. When I bumped into him at a social do, he promptly fled from the party.
I actually started believing that I would be remembered (laughed at, really) as that guy who came closest to making a movie but could never make one. You know how artistes love romancing the pain. The pleasure of putting your head down on a wet pillow every night.
Chapter 3: Traces of treason…
Of course at that same time there was something equally terrible happening on the personal front. Everything was shutting down around me. I thought to myself the only way out of this is to write a new script. Yes another very romantic way of looking at things — you got to do what you can do. A batsman has to bat his way back to form; a writer has to write.
That’s how Paanch Adhyay was born. It was called Resh then. Resh as in traces… traces of a relationship. I wanted to narrate what I was going through with a what-could-have-happened twist to the tale. I wanted to tell a love story like a thriller. And because I wanted to go berserk with the structure, I wanted to keep the story simple. Very, very simple.
I slit my veins onto the script. This time I was not writing to get the film made; I was writing to get a move on in life. Writing Resh felt gratifyingly cathartic. I finished the first draft and there it stayed saved in a folder on my lappie. It’s job was done. Or so I thought.
Chapter 4: Moment by moment…
I knew of Kaustuv Roy as a man who threw big parties even though I had never attended one. He called me one fine evening — I still remember I was in a taxi and passing by Park Street — and said: “I have heard about your scripts; why don’t you come and narrate me one?” Honestly, I was tired and I really didn’t want to go through that whole reading-your-heart-out-to-blank-faces ordeal one more time. I told him I would come over one day and forgot about it.
But I kept bumping into him and he kept pestering me about a narration. Just to get him off my back, I took a printout of the 60-odd pages of Resh and went and read it out in his freezing, smoke-filled office. I couldn’t wait to run out of that cold chimney when he said he was producing the film and calling it Paanch Adhyay after the five chapters the film was split into.
Eleven drafts, three Mumbai trips, four months later I embarked upon what has been the bestest year of my life. Composing the songs, shooting the film, editing it, dubbing it, re-editing it, scoring it, re-re-editing it, grading it, mixing it… every moment has been a blessing.
Watching Shantanuda (Moitra) walk out of the room and come back with the most moving piece of melody, watching Dia (Mirza) howl incessantly in the dubbing room to match the mood of the moment, watching Arghyada (Arghyakamal Mitra) slip in a prolonged shot of silence to create the most heartbreaking of effects…. The endless wait up till the Paanch Adhyay experience has all been worth it.
Chapter 5: A new chapter…
“You have not been nice to so many films and filmmakers; get ready to face the music!” Now, that has been the most “critical” concern from my friends, colleagues and well-wishers. Ironically in our jobs, we are remembered more for the gaali reviews than the glowing reviews.
Well, can I share a secret? From the moment those lights go off at the theatres, nothing else matters. It’s just you and the film. Hype, reputation, personal fondness, fanboyhood… everything’s dug deep into the popcorn tub. You know it when you like a film; you know it when you don’t. And you got to be honest about it. That’s all I have been. Always.
There’s a line Dia’s Ishita tells Priyanshu’s Arindam, who plays a filmmaker in Paanch Adhyay, in the film: “That you have been able to make the film the way you wanted to make it, isn’t that enough?” It’s enough for me. It’s enough for me that I could make this film the way I wanted to make it. With my friends, with like-minded artistes and technicians, with heart and soul. Nobody can take away that experience from me. Of course, you can take a happy song and make it better. Because by the time you are reading this, my baby has crawled out to a theatre near you.
Hope you enjoy the show. Pam param pam!
– This piece first appeared in The Telegraph.
– The film will also have its screening at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival on 23rd October. Venue – INOX, Time – 6pm.
– The makers of the film are also having an interesting contest called “Review The Critic”. Deatils in the pic and on its FB page.