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Young love and grown-up outrage tussle in Shiboprosad-Nandita’s Bengali film ‘Haami’

Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee talk about the inspiration for latest production.

Nandita Roy and Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s Bengali films have always tapped into the contemporary concerns of Kolkata’s middle-class residents that often stem from the clash between traditional values and a rapidly changing present. Their upcoming film Haami (Kiss) sets the friendship of two school children against the backdrop of mistrust and misgivings over the relationship between students and teachers.

The protagonists are classmates Bhutu, played by six-year-old Broto Bandhopadhyay, and Chini, played by seven-year-old Tiyasha Paul. When Bhutu gives Chini a peck on her check, their families and the school administration react badly.

The trailer of Haami begins with a character addressing a crowded auditorium, “Seventy two percent Indian parents don’t trust schools anymore. But because of a few bad people and the ineptitude of one particular school, should we blame the entire system?”

The reference is timely. On December 1, 2017, Kolkata was rocked with the news of a four-year-old girl being sexually assaulted at the GD Birla Centre for Education. Amid protests by parents, two teachers, identified by the victim, were arrested as culprits.

Soon after, news of similar misconduct in Kolkata’s schools emerged. As the 24-hour news cycle jumped into the fray, Kolkata’s residents expressed their lack of trust in the education system and called for protective measures such as the need for surveillance cameras, among others.

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Haami.

The subject of Haami, scheduled to be released on May 11, makes it a relevant film for Kolkata audiences. Roy and Mukherjee, however, said that the screenplay was in development months before the incident at the GD Birla Centre for Education was reported.

“While working on Ramdhanu, we met a lot of teachers and students, and we kept hearing these stories,” Mukherjee said. “Since, Ramdhanu became a massive hit, we wanted to make a sequel of sorts. We created the script borrowed from the incidents told to us.” Their 2014 film Ramdhanu introduced the characters of Mitali Dutta (Gargi Roychowdhury) and Laltu Dutta (Shiboprosad Mukherjee), who go to great lengths to get their son admitted in one of Kolkata’s top schools.

In Haami, Mukherjee and Roychowdhrury reprise their roles as Laltu and Mitali. “We wanted to bring the characters back just as Munnabhai and Circuit are used in a different setting with different characters from film to film,” Mukherjee said.

Nandita Roy with Tiyasha Paul (right). Image credit: Windows Productions.
Nandita Roy with Tiyasha Paul (right). Image credit: Windows Productions.

The filmmakers insist that the incidents of December 1 and the subsequent furore did not influence the screenplay. “Coincidentally, only when the script was ready did we get to know that something of this sort [the GD Birla incident] had happened,” Mukherjee said. “You can find some similarities to the Gurugram incident, and while writing when you come across these things, you cannot help but think if you were able to foresee things.”

Haami’s trailer, however, features a scene where a woman, presumably a parent, says out loud, “Would you call the Ranikuthi incident something that occurred out of being playful?” The GD Birla Centre for Education is located in Kolkata’s Ranikuthi area.

Both Haami and its trailer have received an Universal rating. Was it tough to touch upon sensitive issues while incorporating extensive scenes involving children into the screenplay? “It depends on how you are telling the story,” Mukherjee explained. “Our aim was not to sensationalise a sensitive topic. A boy and a girl might become friends in a co-ed institute, and one might propose marriage to the other, or write I love you in a piece of paper, but these incidents are increasingly being seen in a different light because of ongoing circumstances.”

Roy and Mukherjee hope that their film will instill confidence among parents in Kolkata’s education system. “Definitely, we want things to become normal again,” Roy said. “We want to show the positive side of things. There are bad elements in every system, but we need to rationalise that instead of hyping it up and creating fear.”

In the trailer, Bhutu’s character is seen asking her parents the meaning of “shlilotahani”, which loosely translates to “sexual harassment”. On being asked about how the children were protected from the darker corners of the screenplay, Mukherjee said that the two child characters had complete trust in the filmmakers, and that they said dialogue without ever questioning what they meant. “Children don’t have any inhibitions,” Roy said. “They learn very quickly. Once you show them a way to do a scene, they imitate it as if they learned it by rote.”

Mukherjee added that it is inevitable for children to question their parents about sexual harassment once they are exposed to the term because of the state of affairs.

“An incident occurs, the school is closed, and 1,200 students go home, and they are exposed to the discussions of their parents and the ruckus they see on television,” Mukherjee said. “Of course, they will want to know what has really happened. The words sexual harassment are written in headlines, day after day. So, they will ask. And parents will be forced to answer. Did anyone want these kids to grow up so soon?”

Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy. Image credit: Windows Productions.
Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy. Image credit: Windows Productions.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.