Sujoy Ghosh has waded through a pile of controversy between his career high of Kahaani and the upcoming release Kahaani 2. The filmmaker, who has since 2012 directed the short film Aahalya and produced the thriller Te3N, fought hard to retain his creative rights over the Kahaani franchise – which were almost passed on to Kundan Shah by producer Jayantilal Gada. But Ghosh maintained that “no one had the right to make the sequel” to the film that marked Balan's professional peak and stirred up interest in films with strong female protagonists. His views were seconded, among others, by Shah, who endorsed Ghosh as the rightful owner of the “Kahaani brand”. In a conversation with Scroll.in, Ghosh shared his anxiety over Kahaani 2 and what it feels like to lose cinematic ground and start all over again.
You are working with Vidya Balan again after four years. How has she evolved since ‘Kahaani’?
It is very, very hard to gauge. She was mind-blowing in Kahaani 1 as well. She is as brilliant now as always. But yes, when you go through life and certain experiences, whether it is writing, acting or directing, it adds to your stock of expressions. That is what, I am guessing, has happened with Vidya as well.
Balan was at her peak when ‘Kahaani’ was released in 2012. She is no longer such a formidable presence.
Yes, if she was on a 10 then, she is at a 2 now. Not just her. All of us who were part of the film are starting at a 2 or less. I was a zero when Kahaani happened. But the film catapulted me to a ten.
Had Kahaani 2 happened immediately after Kahaani 1, we could have started on a much stronger note. We have a lot of ground to be covered now. And we need the love of the audience. That is the only thing that matters.
You are now calling the earlier film ‘Kahaani 1’. But this story is unrelated and has a new plot line and characters. What is ‘Kahaani’ then? A franchise?
I would love to believe that Kahaani is a genre. A genre about strong women-oriented narratives. It could be Laxmibai, Mata Hari, Neerja. Kahaani is not bound to me. It is as much Ram Madhvani’s [who directed Neerja] as it is mine or anyone else‘s. Maybe it is too much to ask for, but in my head, that is what Kahaani is.
‘Kahaani 2’ is a new story, but the trailer has many of your signature moves – red herrings in the form of the identities of the characters, murder, mystery and a dogged cop.
Unless you are making a documentary, when you wish to draw audiences to the theatres, you have to entertain them in some form or the other. These are relevant and important cinematic hooks for them. They have certain expectations from the film. And as a filmmaker you need to meet them.
What else is different between the two films?
Kahaani 2 was born out of chaos. Gareeb maa ka beta hai (It’s the son of a poor mother). It has to fight hard for its survival. It was not born with a silver spoon and will not have it easy. But that is okay. I hope the audiences like this child too. The trailer, which has been painstakingly put together, has been well received. And it is extremely encouraging for all of us.
‘Kahaani 2’, from the looks of it, could have been set anywhere, unlike ‘Kahaani’, in which the city was a character and a catalyst. Why do you keep going back to Kolkata to tell your stories?
The two films have different stories but share the same spirit. However, Kolkata is innocent in this film. The geography plays an important part for some filmmakers. It is almost synonymous with them. Woody Allen in New York City, Ray in Kolkata, Eastwood anywhere in the world. I am from Kolkata and I know this city like the back of my hand. But I certainly know that you cannot force Kolkata to work. It has to be more organic. And I feel most comfortable setting my stories here.
Your cinematographer in ‘Kahaani’, ‘Setu’, also a Kolkata product, captured the spirit of the city without the clichés. He is not part of your team this time.
What to do! He was hijacked by Aamir Khan [for Dangal]. But I worked with Tapan Basu and he has done a brilliant job as well.
After ‘Kahaani’, ‘Gundaay’, ‘Piku’ and ‘Te3N’, is there anything more about Kolkata left to explore?
This city is inexhaustible. We shot Kahaani 2 here and in Kalimpong. You will still see things that you have not seen before. There are certain elements that are extremely distinctive. The way people dress, the windows of the old houses. It is very Indian from a global perspective. But I guess my perspective would be similar to that of the person from Delhi and Mumbai who would be able to recognise distinctive elements about their cities. But even then, I strongly believe this city is instantly recognisable.
But the city, the geography does shape the characters, turn the narrative.
Yes. Which is why Kahaani 1 was all about Vidya Bagchi [who visits the city for the first time in her quest to find her husband]. And we did not want to reprise the character again in the new film.
There was also Bob Biswas.
Yes. Lekin woh to mar gaya, na (But he died, no)?
You have a Durga Rani Singh now instead of Vidya Bagchi. And an Inderjeet Singh played by Arjun Rampal instead of Satyaki Sinha. So will there be a new version of Bob Biswas as well?
At the time of writing this character, we had no idea Bob Biswas would be such a hit. It took all of us by surprise. But it would be dangerous to start writing with the thought that we have to create another Bob Biswas. It would be too ambitious and impractical.
You could have taken up any other project in the interim. Why was it so important for you to get back to ‘Kahaani’?
As a filmmaker, it is important to say something. Whether people listen to you or not is irrelevant. But it is imperative that you say something that matters to you. Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury did it with Pink. I wanted to do it with Kahaani 2. It is more my voice than even Kahaani 1. In Kahaani 1, it was one of many things I wanted to say. But this is more distilled. More me. And mine alone. I am just grateful that I got the chance to make this film and have an actor who has perhaps escaped from some asylum, who believes in the film so much that she agreed to be a part of its nutcase journey.
After casting Parambrata Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui in ‘Kahaani’, why did you decide to work with Arjun Rampal?
Tell me honestly, from what you have seen of him in the trailer, don’t you like him?
He has always been eye candy.
You will be surprised with the way he has taken up the character of Inderjit Singh and given it his unique spin.