His first feature film, Khaasi Katha, might have been a long time in the coming since Judhajit Sircar graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India, but it left a mark because of its unusual take on the human-animal relationship. Now this communications expert and filmmaker&’s Kolkatar King is going places. It was screened in the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema competition section at the recently concluded 21st Kolkata International Film Festival and was also part of the Indian Panorama at the International Film Festival of India at Goa. The film offers a very relevant lesson in post-modern cinema in the way it fuses form, content, technique and colour to narrate, once again, an extremely unusual story. The response in the filled theatre at Nandan was mindblowing. But let us hear it from the director himself. Excerpts:
After Khasi Katha, this film seems to be a polar opposite. Your comment.
Stylistically, this is a different film and I feel at home in this style. Khasi Katha kept me a bit unsure about following a non-linear structure. But there are similarities. While the second film is an inspiration from Brecht&’s Three Penny Opera, I was inclined to a style that was different because straight storytelling wouldn’t have worked. I find myself most comfortable in this form.
You’ve titled the film Kolkatar King. Why Kolkata and why “King”, because the hero could have belonged to any metro in contemporary India since he is negative?
All the characters in this film, male and female, are negative with shades of grey. It is not as if one character is bad and another good as a foil to that. Why Kolkata? The city is a metaphor for any other city undergoing changes in the name of development and progress, but in a decaying society like ours it&’s more relevant.
You’ve used a different texture and composition of cinematography in terms of colours — mainly primary colours — their shadings, the angles, the distance of shots, and so on. Distorted angles have also been resorted to. This is somewhat relatively new in Bengali cinema. Would you kindly explain this?
Initially, I thought of making the film in colour. But during editing I realised that it would be more effective if done with black and white. However, since black and white would be a little too oppressive, I therefore resorted to different tones and colours. This is also a reaction to the current Bangla film look, which is very predictable.
Have you chosen the technique in keeping with the content of your film?
The plot is very simplistic, which would go very well with the crass commercial Bangla film or the low-grade commercial Hindi films. I have used the plot, changed the structure with mild doses of an anti-narrative technique and this is in keeping with the “spirit” of Brecht, whose work is an inspiration for this film. It is not possible to do justice to Brecht if not performed live. Brecht was audience-friendly and populist to a fault. This somewhat fits in very well with what I have done. In fact, a German critic told me after seeing the film that it had captured the essence of Brecht.
You have used a lot of surrealism and fantasy in this film where sometimes the viewer is confused about when the surreal ends and the real begins and vice-versa. Can you explain this?
Unlike Khasi Katha, the elements of surrealism are less here and whatever there is exists in mild forms, keeping in mind the audience&’s acceptability. Only at the end have I played it around a bit in keeping with what I wanted to convey — the nexus between criminals and the law enforcing agency in an atmosphere of corruption. It is corruption that is co-opted or accepted by us all and never dies. We are mute witnesses to this cozy relationship.
What brief did you give the music director for this unusual film?
Since Brecht&’s music has been equally popular as his plays, my brief was that it should not resemble the famous Brechtian tunes. That would have been an easy way out. Instead. I asked him to make it contemporary yet reflective. Nightclub music, a bit of rap to capture the game that is constantly on between the law enforcer and law-breaker, which is almost like a cat-and-mouse game. I also wanted to make multiple use of a song in various situations. I treat music as part of the film&’s sound and this is as important as visuals are. Therefore, the music is more of a “soundtrack” that is creatively juxtaposed with various images. Mention should also be made of the background score where all the instruments are played separately but by one person — music director Vikaramjit Bannerjee or Tuki. It was extremely challenging for him and me.
In one sense, this is a political satire that is a powerful comment on the state of things in every city in India today and Kolkata might only have been used as a microcosm and a metaphor. Even so, how would you like to place the film within a genre? Which genre?
Like you correctly said, Kolkata is just a metaphor but gradually the city is falling into a situation where the old sense of culture is giving way to a certain debasement in every sphere of life that was not so blatant earlier.