Pernod Ricard India Brand
July 22 , 2015

THE 'NEED' TO WORK WITH SOUMITRA

The Telegraph

THE 'NEED' TO WORK WITH SOUMITRA CHATTERJEE IS WHAT PUSHED KAHAANI MAN SUJOY GHOSH TOWARDS HIS INTRIGUING SHORT FILE AHALYA

TEAM AHALYA: (L-R) Sujoy Ghosh, Soumitra Chatterjee and Tota Roy Chowdhury at the screening at Taj Bengal on Monday.

Ahalya from The Ramayana- the wife of ascetic Gautama Maharishi who was seduced by Indra, king of the gods, cursed by her husband and liberated from the curse by Lord Ram - has been given a modern and dark twist by Kahaani maker Sujoy Ghosh in his eponymously-titled 14-minute short film. Shot in Calcutta late last year as part of the Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films initiative, Ahalya stars Soumitra Chatterjee as a maverick artist, Radhika Apte as his mysterious wife and Tota Roy Chowdhury as a cop who comes knocking on their door one day.

Monday afternoon at Taj Bengal saw Sujoy, along with Soumitra Chatterjee and Tota, unveil Ahalya hours before the short premiered on YouTube at 7pm. “I really loved it when Sujoy narrated Ahalya to me. I loved Kahaani and I knew that he is a director who isn't capable of directing a bad film... he will always make a good film, “Soumitra told t2 after the screening.

Seamlessly merging elements of suspense and thrill, magic realism and mystery, Ahalya keeps the viewer on edge for 14 minutes, making him second-guess the motives and actions of all its three principal characters. “It's a huge challenge to pack in so much in such little time. I really hope people like Ahalya because a lot of effort has gone into this one,” said Sujoy.

He has such a childlike enthusiasm for his work even now. His energy is like that of a child. When I was in the same frame as him, I would forget to act and just keep looking at him!” -- Radhika Apta on Soumitra Chatterjee

For Tota, Ahalya, despite being a short, involved the seriousness and intensity that goes into the making of a feature film. “I had an acting masterclass with Soumitrababu for three days when we shot for this film,” said the actor best known for Chokher Bali.

Soumitra Chatterjee, meanwhile, revealed that he was “excited” about Ahalya right from the get-go because he had once wanted to adapt the tale on stage. “I wanted to make it a verse play. Not all Projects materialise and this was one such... I am happy I got to do this finally.”

Radhika Apte wasn't present at the screening, but was all praise for Soumitra Chatterjee when t2 spoke to her. “He has such a childlike enthusiasm for his work even now. His energy is like that of a child. When I was in the same frame as him, I would forget to act and just keep looking at him!”

The veteran actor had only good things to say about the girl who was first seen in Tollywood with Antaheen. “Radhika is not only very beautiful, but also supremely talented. Before this, I worked with her in a film called Rupkotha Noy and it was a wonderful experience.”

Soumitra Chatterjee believes that the short film is the future. “Today, with the Internet and so many TV channels, it's become easier to find a platform for these films.” So has he watched any in recent times? “I don't even watch TV! And the Internet and I stay miles away from each other. I don't know how to use any of these things,” laughed Satyajit Ray's favourite actor.

Watch Ahalya at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ff82XtV78xo&feature=youtu.be

t2 spoke to Sujoy Ghosh on Ahalya and the 'next film'.....

How did Ahalya happen?

Predominantly, it stemmed from the need to work with Soumitra Chatterjee. I have wanted to work with him for a long time... as a hero, not as some character actor or father figure. When I was asked to make this film, I saw this as a great opportunity where I could do this. I could actually write a story which could have him as the central character.

Also, it was the challenge of making a film which was less than 15 minutes and one that would have a beginning, a middle and an end... one that would fulfil the requirements of a full-length film, but would have the characteristics of a short film... it would leave you with questions, it would end on an intriguing point... So, the challenge was huge.

Why did you choose the story of Ahalya from The Ramayana?

Of all the ones I know, this was the most interesting, with Soumitrada's character (Goutam Sadhu) being the closest to his real-life persona. This story had the right element of mystery, a little bit of magic realism... the story had everything. Maybe if I had a different cast, I would have chosen a different story. But with Soumitrada, etai apt laglo amaar. When I told him aami eta korta chai, Soumitrada was also very excited because he always wanted to do a play on Ahalya. So somewhere ektu faith intertwined hoye gechhe.

So, in this case the actor came first and then the story instead of the other way round...

In most of my films, etai hoy. The actor always comes first.

So was working with Soumitra Chatterjee a fanboy moment on the sets for you every day?

Oh yeah, big time! These are the moments we become directors for. He's Soumitra Chatterjee and I am getting the honour to direct him... that's another league. People like him... Amitji(Amitabh Bachchan). Ei gulo theek quantify kora jay na... priceless moments.

There were moments during the shoot when he would leave us spellbound. We would be very careful not to tax him because of his age (80). A film set is not a very comfortable place, especially if you are shooting in a real location. On top of that he had a lot of dialogues. But the way he did it... amazing! When you say 'Action', he's a different animal... another person just springs out of him. It's the little touches he gives... you go like: 'Arre, eta ki holo? Aami jaa likhechhilam tar theke onek bhalo hoye gelo!'

These are the moments we become directors for. He's Soumitra Chatterjee and I am getting the honour to direct him... that's another league. There were moments during the shoot when he would leave us spellbound... When you say 'Action', he's a different animal... another person just springs out of him.

What made you cast Radhika Apte and Tota Roy Chowdhury for their roles?

Tota I had seen in Aborto directed by Arindam Sil and I thought he was brilliant in that. For me, it's important that my characters are visually representative of what I have written. Visually, they should match. For his character (Indra Sen), I needed a kaatkhotta look... someone who would visually be a contrast to Soumitrada. Tota was the right fit.

For the role of Ahalya, I was looking for a girl who would be “normally” sensual... not really in-your-face. I wanted to work with someone who people haven't seen like this before... and therein lies the ananda if you can pull it off. I have been wanting to work with Radhika for some time and when I offered her this, I asked her if she would be open to being “changed”. And she's such a sporting actress... ekdom lafiye lafiye chole elo. See in such short films, the monetary benefits are minimal. What makes you want to work is the script and the urge to do something different.

For the role of Ahalya, I was looking for a girl who would be “normally” sensual... not really in-your-face. When I offered Radhika (Apte) this, I asked her if she would be open to being “changed”. And she's such a sporting actress... ekdom lafiye lafiye chole elo.

Althought there are subtitles, doesn't making it in Bangla prevent Ahalya from reaching out to a pan-India audience?

I strongly feel, and this has been proved to me time and again, that a film is a film, irrespective of language. The kind of feedback I have got for the trailer in Bombay is incredible. It's been looked upon as a film... not just a Bangla film.

So is this the first of many more short films from you?

Arre, I would love to! I have been inundated with offers, but aami jaani na kokhon korbo, ki kore korbo. I never knew people were so interested in short films. There have been offers from Bombay to Delhi to Calcutta to Bangalore.

When one Googles 'Sujoy Ghosh', the first search throws up 'next film'. So when is the next film?!

Jaani na re. Aami ekhon aar kichhu bolchhi na. Whenever I say something and it doesn't happen, I end up looking like a monkey! Ki aar kora jaabe... keu tor aar ichchey kore korchhe na... aabaar hobe.

Priyanka Roy

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