Telling tales

New narrative

With many hits and misses against his name, Sujoy Ghosh of ‘Jhankaar Beats’ fame has been quite a storyteller. He is back again, trying his luck with a Viday Balan starrer, ‘Kahaani’, writes Rajiv Vijayakar.

next up Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Kahaani’ (right) features a pregnant Vidya Balan in search of her husband.

We all love stories. And Sujoy Ghosh, who has narrated assorted tales in the past, like the musical Jhankaar Beats, the romantic-comedy Home Delivery, and the fantasy Aladin, has now chosen to narrate a thriller so different that he is simply calling it Kahaani.

Relaxing on a diwan in his office, Ghosh first expresses disappointment at rumours that his latest film is a copy of some Hollywood movie. The inspiration, he reveals, comes from a real woman he knew when he was growing up in Kolkata. “She was married off at 16, had three kids, and had become a widow by 21. She was thrown out of her husband’s home as she was considered unlucky!

She was a pretty woman, but she could not read or write. She actually taught herself, got a job and raised her kids. Somehow, her story always remained in my mind. Of course, in my film, the protagonist is a pregnant and well-to-do NRI, but the bottomline is that a mother’s whole life revolves around her children, and with that as motivation, she can take on the world.”

A woman’s story

Kahaani is as much a tribute to Ghosh’s mother as it is to his birthplace, Kolkata. “In her seventh month of pregnancy, my heroine comes down from abroad to search for the missing father of her child and her husband,” says Ghosh. “And once the character was fleshed out, I could not imagine anyone other than Vidya Balan in that role. In any case, I had wanted to work with her ever since I watched her in Salaam-E-Ishq.”

The story idea was developed by Ghosh along with Suresh Nair and Ritesh Shah. “At one point, we also brought in Advaita Kala to give a woman’s perspective to the storyline.”
After she likes the character and signs the film, Vidya is an easy actor to work with, he lets on. “I had signed Vidya before Ishqiya had released, and after that came No One Killed Jessica and The Dirty Picture. Now seems to be the time for women-centric films and Vidya’s become very big!

She usually does her own research and adds her contribution to the role. As a director, I do not want to tell her how to act because I would not like any actor telling me how to direct,” smiles Ghosh. Raving about the actress, he states that those watching the film might fault his direction somewhere, but will never find a single false note in her performance.

Shooting in the city

Kolkata, he adds, is almost like a character in the film. “I know it so well. I knew exactly which lane or locality to use for each sequence. It is always important for me to know my backdrop and the only cities I really know are Kolkata and Mumbai, where my first two films were based.”

But shooting the film was far from a cakewalk. “Aladin’s crash made my journey as tough as my protagonist’s,” he quips. “Budgets were limited and there were time constraints too. Shooting in real locations often led to problems in dealing with crowds, which would often get upset by small things. At this time, Vidya took on the role of a production assistant and calmed people down. It was a particular hassle to shoot at the famous Kalighaat Temple. A crowd had gathered and the poor shopkeepers opposite the temple were compelled to shut down.”

But Sujoy mentions a unique point about Kolkata: “It’s a city with a heart. Instead of bribing him or giving financial incentives, a warm hug and a request can make a Kolkatan go out of the way to help you.”

Ask why Ghosh had cast an unknown face as Vidya’s husband in the movie, and he says that stars were not exactly lining up to sign up for his film after his last two films bombed. “All the same, a known face would have been a disadvantage
because there would be raised expectations about his screen time and the
importance given to him,” he admits.

Kahaani is also a unique film for its musical content. “Lip-synched songs would not suit such a film and my music had to be script-related,” he explains. “This is an OST (original soundtrack) album, where the songs come in the background. But the film is full of my favourite old songs playing on the streets of Kolkata — with R D Burman, Anand Bakshi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Gulzar heard everywhere.”

Heard on the rumour mill

What next? “I am toying with many ideas. What comes next will also depend on how Kahaani fares,” he tells you. Pressing him further for a clearer hint of what he might do next, he reveals, “I know Bengali literature like the back of my hand. And I have purchased the Hindi rights of the novel that Satyajit Ray filmed as one of his finest films, Aranyer Din Ratri. Yes, I am ready for the brickbats and comparisons.”

What about the buzz that he will make a sequel to Jhankaar Beats? “It’s been 10 years since we shot the film. If they allow me to make the next part, I would not want to make just a musical, but also talk about the problems they face in life. After all, each actor is older by a decade and I have evolved through problems and experience. My daughter is 18 today, and she was 8 then!”

Ghosh is candid about a hit being important for a filmmaker. “There is no formula for success. Each film is like a painting that needs its own colours. And I can only do what I believe in. I cannot make something about which I am not convinced. I have to maintain my passion, par ghar bhi chalana hai.”

Hits, hints the filmmaker, give him the freedom to do what he would like to. And they may also get stars to line up at his doorstep, asking him to tell another
kahaani.

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