Meet Reshmi Mitra. Apart from her elegance, her warmth and grounded nature, she is one of the few women directors in Bengali cinema, who is consistently making one film after another successfully. Earlier this year, her film Hotath Dekha was based on a long poem by Rabindranath Tagore. Her soon-to-bereleased Barandais based on a Moti Nandi novel. How does she manage to be so consistent in a man’s world?
Excerpts from an interview:
Q Let us hear about your background.
I come from a family deeply rooted in theatre. I have grown up with theatre in my genes and environment. As I grew up, that extended into a passion for cinema, which I feel, is an extension of theatre. I first did a few serials for television before I ventured into Arun Theke Uttam, a 45-minute documentary on Uttam Kumar. That was followed by Amar She Chhobi on Chhobi Biswas. Those were followed by Hemante Chiro Basanta (Hemanta Mukherjee), Salil Sagar Kule (Salil Choudhury) and now, Cinemar Rajkumar. But I always wished to make feature films.
Q How are you so consistently productive in a world dominated by men in every sphere?
From the beginning of my career, I have learnt to involve myself in every sphere and field of a film from conception of an idea, giving it flesh and blood, production, the business side, distributing satellite rights, and social networking and media networking to promote the film. This has taught me to work economically, to look closely at every aspect of filmmaking and so on. To be honest, I have never approached a producer myself, so big production houses never gave me the opportunity to direct a big budget film. But that has helped me rather than worked against me. Today, I can say that I have learnt every side of the trade.
Q Don’t you work with a production unit for a film?
Not really. I do not have an executive producer. I do not have an assistant director. I work on a very tight budget and sit on the post-production myself. I appoint my technical crew from one film to the next and they are not on my payroll.
Q You have been quite versatile in choice of subject and genre. Can you explain this?
I have not set myself into a groove that labels as an “art filmmaker” or a “mainstream filmmaker”or anything else. I am liberal in my choice of subject and genre. Macho Mustafa was entirely an action-packed film with around 21 action scenes. The film was brazenly targeted at commerce. I make the kind of film I want to make at any given point of time and that varies. Mukti dealt with an adulterous affair between a beautiful teacher and her much younger student, which was radical in terms of traditional Bengali values but that is precisely what I wished to underline. Hotath Dekha is based on a long poem by Rabindranath Tagore, which I felt would lend itself beautiful to film. I am now making Baranda based on a novel by Moti Nandi.
Q Hotath Dekha is a Bangladesh India venture. How did it happen?
I had the desire to make a film on a story or a poem by Tagore. So when I was given the offer, I grabbed it and opted for this story. Since this is a BangladeshIndia collaborative effort, I have shots in both India and Bangladesh for the film. The joint producers are Impress Telefilm of Bangladesh and my own company Reshmi Pictures. The script is by Alok Mukhopadhyay.
Q How did Baranda come about?
It is not a feel-good film like Hotath Dekha. It is a story that revolves around a poor family that lives in North Kolkata on Hartuki Bagan Lane in a house that still remains. While I was reading the story, I could easily visualise characters and then decided on my cast. Bratya Basu plays a nagging, suspicious husband while Manali is a one-eyed blind girl who lives in this lane. Rituparna and I have an understanding because we have worked together before. Atashi Chakraborty plays the younger character that Rituparna plays while Sreela Majumdar portrays the mother. Saheb Bhattacharya plays a footballer in the film, who comes from the suburbs to Kolkata. Raja Narayan Deb has done the music. The cinematography is by Badal Sarkar. The screenplay and dialogues are by me and Moloy Bandopadhyay.
Q What does the story deal with?
It deals with a very poor family. Runu is the daughter of a poor nurse who is engaged in prostitution to earn extra money. Her father, an unemployed man, waits outside while his wife handles clients. Mohan and Girija are among her regular clients. Then, Runu’s mother dies. Girija loses one of his legs in an accident. Runu and Girija get close and fall in love and live together for 15 years without getting married. But Mohan is jealous of their harmonious life. Then Ambar, a young man, steps into their lives as a paying guest. Do the equations between Runu and Girija change? That’s the crux of the story.
Q What is the strategy you adopt as a director?
I have script reading sessions with my cast followed by workshops that allow the actors to internalise the characters before facing the camera. This also helps in the actors interacting as characters in the film. Then there are look tests. As far as improvisation goes, I am very clear on my vision but am open to accepting suggestions if these go with the script. My winning card is that I try my best to stick to the original story for adaptation on celluloid.