Director Anik Dutta did not face censorship for his first two films Bhooter Bhobishyot (2012) and Aschorjyo Prodeep (2013). Bhooter Bhobishyot (The Future of Ghosts) was about a group of ghosts coming together against the millionaire who tries to demolish the mansion they haunt in order to make a shopping mall. Aschorjyo Prodeep (The Astonishing Lamp) was a critique of consumerist society through a middle-class Bengali man and a genie-like entity. They were full-blown satires, and even though Dutta insists that they were political, they did not ruffle any feathers.
Four years later, Dutta’s upcoming thriller Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo (The Mystery of the Slaying of Meghnad) has drawn the ire of the Central Board of Film Certification. The censor board has directed Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo’s makers to get rid of words like “Ramrajya” and “penis”, resulting in the release being postponed by a week to July 21. Dutta spoke to Scroll.in about censorship, his upcoming projects and his latest movie, which deals with the mystery surrounding a science fiction writer played by Sabyasachi Chakraborty.
‘Ramrajya’, ‘bandh’ and ‘penis’ have been cut from the film. How do you feel?
They have been muted. Not cut. I did contest the CBFC’s suggestions. Some of my arguments were accepted.
Personally, I am not in favour of censorship. The CBFC is a board that is in place to certify films, not censor them. I could have challenged them but my film is not a documentary that does not have the pressure to earn money through selling tickets. My producer never put any restrictions on me, by the way.
The muted words are not going to affect my movie much. It will still communicate what I wanted to say in the first place.
‘Bhooter Bhobishyot’ came in 2012, ‘Aschorjyo Prodeep’ in 2013. Your third is coming four years later. Why the gap?
There have been several instances where prolific filmmakers made films after longer gaps than four years. Aparna Sen’s Parama (1984) and Sati (1989) had a five-year gap, for example. My reasons are manifold. First of all, I am very lazy. I only like to make a film when there is a film to be made. I enjoy the act of filmmaking itself but not the paraphernalia attached to it.
Besides, my livelihood depends on advertising. So, making a film is a financial loss for me in a way. It is a loss of opportunity.
‘Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo’ is your first thriller. How did you come up with the concept?
Like anybody else, I grew up with mysteries and detective stories. Twenty years ago, I wanted to make a political thriller but that did not work out. So, when I set out to make a mystery film, I did not want it to be just another detective movie. I wanted to make something in the garb of a thriller and then the story would deviate from the premise and would have layers.
The idea for Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo was with me for a while and I could have made it after Bhooter Bhobishyot but I did not have a ready script so I made Aschorjyo Prodeep. Now, everything has come into place.
How does Michael Madhusudan Dutta’s magnum opus ‘Meghnad Badh Kabya’ (The Slaying of Meghnad) tie into the story?
When I wrote the basic plot, Meghnad Badh Kabya was nowhere in the picture. I don’t remember exactly when I realised that there could be a connect. My film is more about a book called Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo than it is about Meghnad Badh Kabya.
When I was very young, I was part of a school trip to Mullick Bazar cemetery where I saw the epitaph of Michael Madhusudan Dutta. I would read stories of his time at Hindu College, his flair, his flamboyance, how Ishwar Chandra would support him financially and when Madhusudan would buy a bottle of wine or a gown with that money, Ishwar Chandra would be criticised for sponsoring a drunkard. Ishwar Chandra would retort by saying that, “If you could write like Madhu, I would sponsor you too.”
There are references from the epic poem (Abhimanyu, for example) in my film. However, people will be able to enjoy my film even without reading Meghnad Badh Kabya. My film is not that literary.
There is a belief that you are temperamental on your sets. Is that true?
I would like to know who is not. I know people more temperamental than I am. After my first film became a hit, some people created these rumours to harm me. See, if people cannot find flaws in my cinema (not that there aren’t any), the next best thing they can do is to find flaws in me. My involvement and passion for my films, perhaps, makes me the way I am.
Sometimes, I am amazed by the finesse of Ray’s films like Aparajito (1956) and I wonder if I am in the wrong profession. Ray had said that making a film is like going to war. I am very calm till the shooting stage. On set, there are 150 people, so the atmosphere can be unsettling.
Another thing that bothers me is the work culture in Kolkata. Sometimes, people from the industry tell me that they had a picnic on some other film’s sets. I ask them, “Was your film a picnic-like experience for the audience too?”
Filmmaking is serious business. For people not acquainted with a struggle for reaching perfection, my methods can seem like excessive.
Since you strive for perfection, which of your films has been closest to how you imagined it in the first place?
I think Meghnadbodh Rohoshyo.
The Hindi remake of ‘Bhooter Bhobishyot’ (‘Gang of Ghosts’, directed by Satish Kaushik) was a disaster. What went wrong?
I was not involved in the decision making process. I had put down my own conditions to the producer but the makers chose to violate them, ethically and legally. The wrong person was chosen to make it. I could have gone to court, but I let it be. Let them do what they want, I thought. Ultimately, I didn’t get a single penny.
What is next on your plate?
Several projects. The one most likely to happen immediately is Bhobishyoter Bhoot (Ghosts of the Future). It is not a sequel to Bhooter Bhobishyot in any way. It is a satire like Bhooter Bhobishyot, but edgier, with futuristic ghosts.
When you do get around to making the political thriller you had to abandon, will you be able to make an uncompromising film, given the times we live in?
A political film need not be a thriller. It can also be satire. My first two films were also political in their way. Even saying “I am apolitical” is a political statement.
Personally, I would not hesitate to make the political film I would want to make. I don’t think any time is healthy for making a political film because the powers-that-be would never like the truth.
The political thriller I wanted to make was, however, based in the seventies but through that period, I can also talk about this period. I think if I make a political film, it will be pretty scathing.