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Aneek Chaudhuri, an independent filmmaker from Kolkata, made headlines when his silent film “White”—a story about three female rape survivors — created a flutter. The film went on to be screened at Cannes Film Festival and won acclaims at many international platforms. Besides “White”, Chaudhuri has made another successful silent feature film, “The Wife’s Letter”, and directed two documentaries. Having mastered this genre of films, Aneek Chaudhuri is back with another silent — Cactus.
Cactus focuses on the story of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary. What’s surprising is that Jesus Christ in Chaudhuri’s film is a woman. Actor Amrita Chattopadhyay has been cast for the role.
Speaking to Thestatesman.com, Chaudhuri explains the concept. He says he personally believes the sensitivity shown by Christ can only be portrayed by a woman. “Back then, the situation was quite patriarchal and that is why it was important for a god to be a man and females could only be his counterparts.”
Commenting on the religious sentiments of masses can be tricky and dangerous, as was seen in the case of Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, Lajja by Tasleema Nasreen or any other film showing religion in a different light. Did this deter or scare Chaudhuri?
“I am expecting a lot of backlash. My film might not be accepted in a lot of film festivals” he says. But as a filmmaker, Chaudhuri adds, it is his responsibility to dissolve the existing notions and beliefs of the society. In a scene, he elaborates, after the death of Jesus Christ, Mother Mary will be seen breastfeeding a doll—a symbolic version of the dead body of Jesus Christ.
“Cactus is going to attract controversy,” Chaudhuri concludes.
Chaudhuri’s films always have women in the pivotal role. A woman’s struggle, her story and her sensibilities have always found a voice in his films. “The Wife’s Letter”, “White” and now “Cactus”, all these films portray the lives of women. Has this been a conscious decision?
“Women are interesting creatures. There is a lot to show and discover about women and that is why I prefer women-related issues,” he says.
Chaudhuri was working in a corporate world in Delhi when he left it all to focus on his filmmaking skills and moved to Kolkata. He rarely works with stars. “It ends up as their films and not mine,” says the director.
He decided to engage talented but struggling actors and cinematographers. This, he says, also gives him the opportunity to work with the people he likes and trusts. “Besides, having being born in Kolkata, it was my duty to give back to my community.”
But this is easier said than done. Along with the perks of being an independent filmmaker come problems like budget constraints. Describing himself as a “restless filmmaker”, Chaudhuri describes Cactus as “an ambitious project”. He admits that finding success with Cactus will be much more difficult than White. He wants to challenge western beliefs and ideologies with Cactus.
Chaudhuri is known to make silent films as he believes language is a barrier. “If I am making a film in Bengali, I do not want the German, French or Italian audience to read subtitles and then understand the emotion or expression. This disrupts the entire motion of the movie.”
While Chaudhuri’s work is being recognised on international platforms, he has not got much attention in India. “These things do happen,” he says, adding he is fine with his films not getting recognition now. Chaudhuri wants his work to be recognised “15-20 years after I die”.