In Search of Independence on Reel: An Interview with National Award Wining Director Pradipta Bhattacharyya

Dithi Bhattacharya

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Pradipta Bhattacharya, is Filmmaker and Editor by profession. His first feature film Bakita Byaktigato won National award in Best Regional Film category. But his true identity lies with short films and innovative thinking and execution, far from glossy cine world.

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Dithi Bhattacharya is normal thinker with a little bit inquisitiveness about surroundings.

Dithi: What is your opinion about Independent film?
Pradipta: It’s good to have a chat with you. One needs money to make a film, if it is independent, the source of it (money) must be self finance or crowd funding and also it does not aim to make profit out of it. But in my opinion independent films can be anything where your freedom of thinking is retained. You need not to be under pressure of audience’s likings or disliking, you can make your own story executed uncensored (any kind of censoring). In recent times, there are various factors attached to it, say, whether it is being screened at regular theatres, whether it is hit or flop; along with another factor is there, festival. You are making independent film with a wish to screen at some foreign festivals, their choices or likings may influence. For me, that is also not an independent film.
Dithi: Do you think the old art film is being renamed as independent in new model?
Pradipta: It is a new term, you may say.
Dithi: Can an independent filmmaker take money from a producer to make a film independently? Is there any liability issue?
Pradipta: One can take money from a producer but there should not be any kind of liability to him. If producer dictates you what should be the return, who will be the actors or change your story in case, independence will not be there.
Dithi: Say any producer is ready to give money to make the film as per director’s wish, not intervening in the process. Now during the process if the director feels I took the money from producer so I need to give it back…
Prsdipta: Then it can never be an independent. You should make the movie as you like. As for me, I always want to show my movie as much as possible, but there should be a planning. A film starts with pre production and ends with exhibition, when you are screening the movie, but till there your independence should remain.
Dithi: Do you think a director can decide the price of tickets at screening or you are asking your audience to decide to donate as per their wish after screening?
Pradipta: Absolutely. This should have been decided earlier through discussion with producer. Now there may be riffs between the producer and director, but that apart, this may be the ideal case.
Dithi: So an independent film maker has complete freedom on making and exhibiting the movie?
Pradipta: There is another important intermediate part, distribution.

Dithi: Don’t you think distributers may have some say on screening at theatres?
Pradipta: Yes. I am not referring that distribution. I am talking about spreading and sharing. Say I am giving you a DVD of my movie. Now that can be screened locally or at a theatre..Whatever, it should be my decision.
Dithi: If you want to release your film in a popular theatre, is there any hurdles you need to overcome?
Pradipta: Firstly they charge huge. Secondly they run mainstream big budget movies at prime times to get return. So they fix your show at odd times when nearly no one comes to watch. Personally I don’t feel that it is very important. You need to think other alternatives to reach out to people with your film.
Dithi: So you think independent film maker should not be bothered with just box office collection or hit-flop theory?
Pradipta: Absolutely. Nowdays you have to be more cautious about other available medium. One of the important medium is Internet.
Dithi: Are you referring Netflix?
Pradipta: Netflix is like another distribution channel. But I am talking about free distributorship, like YouTube. While making a film you should not be hyper about how much extra you may return to your producer, then only your work will be conditioned. This transparency should retain and again you just cannot waste the money of your producer. Both sides have to be cleared.
Dithi: what is your take on Indian Independent films?
Pradipta: Court by Marathi film maker Chaitanya Tamhane, recently moved me; a beautiful movie. There are many independent movies are being made across India in different sates… but there is also a trend that films are being made aiming to be screened at different foreign festivals, European festivals. There are certain points that you may project your local culture but not that deep or elaborated which may not be understood globally, so even if your story demands, if you aim such festivals only, you have to make it differently. So how people over there would like to see in Indian movies about its culture, movies are being made that way, a universal approach is given to that. One is making a film and then sending it to festivals, is not the scenario. Now Festivals are aimed first, then the story evolves. I cannot say such films independent. In south, different types of experiments are happening. A very famous crowd funded movie is Lucia, though I have not watched it yet; heard of it.
Dithi: Do you think in crowd funded movies a director is liable to each and every contributor?
Pradipta: I think in crowd funding one is more liable. I am taking say ten rupees from someone, thousands from someone or say one lakh from someone. I become more liable to make the film honestly in all ways. I need to try level best to excel in making. I should not have thoughts to cheat the fund and make personal profit out of it.
Dithi: Do you think mainstream industry bothers about independent films?
Pratipta: Yes, they do. And they try to adapt it fast.
Dithi: Recently we have seen many populist directors are making short films and releasing it on YouTube, whereas, until some time, they did not even recognize short films as film.
Pradipta: The mainstream directors are making short films as advertisement. Most of these popular short films are sponsored by and made for multinational companies, say it liquor brand, or soap, oil, shampoo brands. But out there youngsters are really hard working for making their short films seriously. Digitalisation is a real gift. If I would stay at Beharampore(home town at Murshidabad) only and did not come to Kolkata, back then 1997; I would never know how films are being made in real. I had a distant feeling of film making procedure, but I did not know there are film institutes. After I came to Kolkata, I got to know about FTII and saw SRFTI here. Now things have been changed. If a boy/girl at any remote place has access to internet or has a mobile with internet facility, easily can know about everything and can make movie staying there only. So they can watch best of movies staying at their place only. Mainstream industry wants to adapt this and they are making some propaganda films. In mainstream we still need a father figure like character.
Dithi: In our country anyone may write a film review. What do you think?
Pradipta: Film criticism is a vast subject. Here most of the reviews are based on storyline, acting or music. You should have proper sense and knowledge to understand and criticize the other technical parts . You have to study for that. Who cares that much? Better they will make an instant review.
Dithi: Do you ever feel mainstream industry try to marginalize certain films through the lens of such critics?
Pradipta: They say that these are not films. But I feel personally after some years these will be called true films. They think certain equipments should be used in shooting, if you don’t do that, it will not be called a real film. If after 3-4 years, what you Had already tried becomes trend, they will call it a film. They believe in Goebbles theory, that practice the lie, one day you start believing them.
Dithi: Have you ever faced the situation where your content has been hijacked?
Pradipta: Several times. I used to develop my story by sharing its different layers with others, but I found someone took the idea and makes the film within six months whereas it may take two years for me to make the film. There is huge crisis of original content. Some people are there who just borrow idea from others; They never try to think originals. I am not taking names but my thoughts have been copied.
Dithi: You have screened your feature Bakita Byaktigato at many places through crowd funding. You and your mates went to different places with projector and organize a screening of your movie to locals at a minimum cost. Do you think it can be a good option for independent film makers?
Pradipta: This is not new. In eighties John Abraham, student of FTII, did this. He was a great director. He made films by crowd funding also. He was truly an independent film maker. I’ve heard that Purnendu Patrea also made films by crowd funding. It can be a path that with independent film making, independent distribution can also be made. Actually in my case, I arranged the screening at Tehatta, where I know everyone or in other areas where friends know locale; but if we want to regularize the process we need unity.
Dithi: Since the independent film makers do feel ousted by mainstream industry, is not crowd funded screening a better alternative to reach the audience?
Pradipta: It can be, but whenever there are, say, forty people, all of them will have different ideas; if the ideas are not matching, it will break instantly. These become very elite group. Suppose, me or others, do talk to everyone on a regular note, but there are some makers who never consider the common man as his/her audience! It becomes like a festival, where elitism exists strongly. It is not of a form of movie or its text; it is more of how well you are dressed, good food and wine, whether you can speak in English fluently…. Unless we are free from such baggage completely, it is difficult.
Dithi: Do you have any news of such initiative across the country?
Pradipta: It is not possible for me to know everything! Such news has not reached me yet!
Dithi: Other than critical acclaim, festival / private screening or trending and discussed on social sites, how do these movies connect with the larger section of audience? What do you think?
Pradipta: That is not happening and that is the main problem. Actually very few consider these mass viewers as proximate audience, so they do not feel any urge to reach out to them and on the other side, those audience are not habituated with this kind of cinema. I think personally that to make a habit to watch other than mainstream movies, these should be shown at free of cost. Suppose they are invited to watch different kind of movies at free of cost for five years or so, then they will develop the taste and interest to watch the new things even buying a ticket. Even if they can reject it also, but what I have seen after being part of such screenings of short films and Bakita Byaktigato, responses are over whelming. Though only one movie cannot prove much, but this practice should be maintained rigorously. You need to reach out to people to make them know such films do exist. See, in Kolkata Film Festival, we can watch many foreign films, short films, children films at a bare minimum cost. If this can be arranged at places where people can come and watch wonderful movies under a delegation of certain amount that will be really helpful. In Rasulpur(a very small town in Bengal), Burdwan, Ramprasad Gain organizes a festival like this, in Ghatal also this is happening. It is too early to say this can be expanded to be independent distribution system! Actually, the concept of movie theatre is disappearing rapidly. We have to wait and watch how these things are shaping up.
Dithi: What is your opinion about free downloading of movies?
Pradipta: I think this is good opportunity to download and watch every kind of movie.
Dithi: Does this hamper the business of a movie?
Pradipta: I think those who like to go to theatre, they will certainly do that, and for those have not that scope, free download is obvious. Very few single screens are there, and in multiplex, tickets are highly priced. It is not possible for a film buff to watch each and every release in a multiplex, but to satisfy his hunger, torrentz are best alternative.
Dithi: What is your view on censorship?
Pradipta: Censorship exists in every country. For me political censoring is more dangerous than censoring so called bold scenes. Taxi, by Jafar Panahi, for example, is a wonderful movie which shows things differently. It is made under ban. True artist blooms fully if only there is a crisis.
Dithi: It is my long awaited query. In most of the Indian films, those are claimed to be real, I observe detailing cry far away. Gloss and glamour and a decorated presentation overpower everything.
Pradipta: That too was written by Satyajit Ray. But in fifties or sixties Bengali movies were honest by their depiction. They showed what real people do, say, Sare Chuattor, but during eighties Bollywood overshadowed with its gloss and set. Now days people are losing that honesty and the effort to project reality. Suppose this session is a part of a Bengali movie, then we both have to talk drinking scotch in an air conditioned room. Our room should be well decorated looking more like a hotel room, instead of a regular household. If they are projecting a struggling director’s room, one may wonder he must be a very successful director in bollywood to live in such place. Or else liberal, independent women are being shown; they have to smoke or have short hair or to speak in certain manner. This is also stereotyping of an image of liberal women… This gives a message to people that liberal women are like these. Previously, directors or producers had normal and regular dialogues with common people. They used to go each other’s place, know each other, but now, they only know people of their stature. So whatever they watch it is superficial. They don’t travel in public convenience, so have no idea what exactly happens inside. Lack of communication with common people is a big reason.
Dithi: Who in your opinion are future makers of independent films?
Pradipta: It’s high time to decentralize the movies from Kolkata. The future independent film makers should come from each corner of Bengal, from villages, districts, towns with their own idea and story and making. Then only we will get real new things. In Kerala these are happening. The usual depiction of Bengal and Kolkata should be changed immediately in movies. There are lots of things to be explored visually. Plus, digitalization will lead new paths.
Dithi: Does digitalization be considered to be a threat to Big production houses?
Pradipta: Digitalization helps me to release my movie online, where people can watch and then can comment their opinion. This can be recorded permanently. If the discussion goes long on social media, big media house tries to take a look on it and then they are criticizing people who are discussing on social media, or challenging them to make a movie first. So it is actually affecting them. It is not more a closed door discussion and this is very positive to look forward. Unless they are censoring people’s voice on social media, it is a fantastic way to express freely.
Dithi: Does monopoly business policy of production house exist in West Bengal?
Pradipta: Absolutely and only exists here.
Dithi: In Mumbai?
Pradipta: The conflict between big production and small production house exist everywhere, but in Maharashtra, film makers get relaxed taxation, subsidy on film budget. So Maratha films are blooming. I came to know that in Bangladesh, too, Government are giving money to make independent film without interfering in the process, though I doubt in that case how much they will allow voice against state. But these are good steps being taken. In Kerala there are State film award, it is used to be in here also. Though we live in democracy, there is a little space to express freely. If we say slangs, it is allowed; the moment you point out something correctly, it is not permitted then. So production houses need to keep in mind so that movies do not get stuck.
Dithi: Does this big production house in Bengal try to bring the original thinkers under them?
Pradipta: That they try always. If someone nods head with their instruction, it is easy for them.
Dithi: To make your protest through a film, is not it important to make a watchable film?
Pradipta: It is very important to know your job well. You might have a wonderful thought but to express it beautifully is a real job. If you cannot execute it, nobody cares. So knowledge on the craft is very important. Lot of youngsters are making films in various manners, but I do really hope among all these, real, good films will float on the top and will remain forever.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    Imdependent film making has become complex in the modern world due to various reasons including finance and government regulations. As pradipta in the elaborate interview mentions, one should try to be truthful to the script and express the idea as clearly and beautifully as possible.