A journey from script to screen

A journey from script to screen

A journey from script to screen

At the age of 71, Rattan Mann has made his debut as a filmmaker with his movie ‘The Buddhist Monk’.

Inspired by a true story during the pre-independence era, the Norway-based physicist and writer, who has also authored the novel ‘The Prime Minister’, wrote the script in 1978. And since then he had been trying to make the movie, which finally released online on August 12. In a candid chat with Puja Gupta, Rattan, who is presently in India, shares more about the two-hour-long movie, the difficulties he faced and future projects.

What took you so long to make the movie?

It is indeed true that I have been trying to make this film since 1978 (when I used to live in Delhi). I even went to Bombay of that time, applied at National Film Development Corporation, met directors and producers who would give me at least a minute; but within two months I noticed that there was no chance of success. I came back to Delhi, and in 1981, I left for Norway for further studies. There too, I tried my best to interest someone with my story, but I noticed that in this respect
Norway was no better than Mumbai. Then in 2012, when my siblings and I were sitting together in Delhi, we all agreed to make the film ourselves. And thus the film was made.

Tell us more about the movie.

The only films that I want to make are love stories. Love has zillions of shapes and forms. ‘The Buddhist Monk’ is the story of one man’s personal battle between right and wrong, his devotion to his country and his love for his wife. In the late 1800s, while India struggled to gain independence from the British Empire and Queen Victoria’s rule, the British created a secret group known as the Pandits. Their objective was to carry out secret missions to gather information, influence people and, in this case, steal. It is the story of Sukh Nain Singh (who was part of the secret group) and his sick wife . The whole film revolves around this conflict as well as the anti-British feeling in Indians.

How did the story come to your mind?

When I was 18, I started self-studying all fields of science and arts. In 1968, during my study of Buddhism at the Delhi University library, I came across a sentence in a book which read: “During the British Raj, the British sent an Indian clerk in Calcutta to Dalai Lama’s Potala Palace in Lahasa, disguised as a Buddhist Monk, to steal valuable Buddhist scriptures”. No other detail, not even the time, was mentioned. This single sentence struck me and has never left my mind since then. Slowly my interest in filmmaking developed and I wrote the script in 1978. The advantage of making a film from just a sentence-long story is that you can allow your imagination to run wild.
What difficulties did you face while working on the project?

I had never stepped inside a film studio all my life, and hence was unfamiliar with even the names of film cameras, and post-production terms like DI (colour correction) and sound mixing. I must thank the internet which allowed me to self-study these topics, which took me months.
Why did you decide to work with new faces?

The film is a completely new story, written by an unknown and struggling writer on a new and clean slate. There is no baggage of history, familiarity, fame, or achievement. In this context, completely new and unknown artistes standing on a fresh and clean stage would blend more into the story of the film and the spirit of the writer than actors carrying a heavy baggage of familiarity, fame and fortune on their backs. This is my philosophy of filmmaking.

How do you perceive Bollywood movies?

The greatest contribution of Bollywood not just to cinema, but to human culture as a whole, is the love themes created by people like Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, and Yash Chopra, among others. The reason is that their works combine beautiful stories, moving songs and superb acting skills with pearls of (ancient) wisdom, making this whole much greater than its individual parts.

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