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Sara is the discovery of my career

Director Srijit Mukherjee gets candid on his latest venture, Uma, which is his first to have been inspired by a true story.

Shoma A Chatterji |

National Award-winning filmmaker Srijit Mukherjee’s inclination so far has been remaking and restructuring either from old films or making his own versions from the plays of Shakespeare.

Some of them have been successful while some have not. But commercially, they have more than broken even, setting him on a route to commercial success.

For the first time with Uma, produced by SVF Entertainment that releases in June, Mukherjee takes inspiration from a true story, relocates it to Kolkata and makes it his personal celluloid tribute to the boy who triggered his creativity. But let us hear it from Mukherjee himself. Excerpts from an interview:

Q. What is the true story that moved you to make this film?

One day, I read the story of Evan Leversage, known as “the boy who moved Christmas.” This seven-year-old who lived in Ontario, Canada was diagnosed as suffering from terminal cancer in 2015 and doctors said that he would not survive to celebrate Christmas.

An appeal by the mother on a social media site mentioning the first thing in Evan’s bucket list created a modern day miracle — the entire town orchestrated a series of actions to set up Santa Claus and a “real” Christmas for Evan without his being aware that this was not the real Christmas.

What is surprising is that these people did not even know him! The entire town lit up with lanterns and candles, with Christmas trees lining the streets, and lots of Santa Clauses just for Evan.

They also organised snow-making machines and brought reindeer from the North and Evan enjoyed his last ever Christmas months before it was due. This incident popped up one day on my social media timeline and I decided that this is a story that needed to reach out to a wider audience and Uma was born.

Q. So, you Indianised it?

Yes. But it will be better to say that I relocated it within the Bengali ambience in Kolkata today and Christmas became Durga Puja while Evan became Uma, a girl. And I made it a father-daughter story with Jisshu Sengupta and his two daughters, Sara and Zara paying Uma in different ages. Zara plays the little Uma while Sara is the older one.

Q. Was it difficult to convince Jisshu to play his daughter’s father in a film in which she dies in the end?

Yes, it was difficult but I tried to talk to him about the make-believe aspect of the film. Sara, however, is a wonderchild and she took all of that naturally and gracefully.

I kept her personality in mind while writing the script and incorporated her grace, elegance, natural charm. We scheduled the shooting when her school was on vacation. There were moments that were very difficult for Jisshu though he is a master performer.

Q. This film has been a journey in more ways than one. The father brings his daughter from Switzerland to Kolkata. What are the subplots that came out during this journey?

The many journeys within the single one — that a father is determined to organise Durga Puja for his dying girl have been a fascinating experience for the entire cast and crew.

The one that will tug at the heart-strings the most is the new meaning Uma’s tragedy brought into their fractured lives when they design a Durga Puja only for her.

One such character is Brahmananda, played by Anjan Dutt who happens to be a friend of Himalaya, Uma’s father. He is an obsessed filmmaker whose wife and daughter have left him because he has no source of livelihood. He is the one who becomes the mastermind for setting up the Durga Puja.

Then there is Gobinda, played by Rudraneel Ghosh, who is the “production manager” for the housing complex Durga Puja. He is a tough guy who cares for nothing but money.

But this journey changes him for the better. We are also introduced a make-believe mother for the sake of Uma who has no recollections of her real mother who left them when she was a toddler.

Q. You have brought in several mythological references through the characters. Right?

Yes. Uma is another name for Durga. She is Himalaya’s daughter, which is Jisshu’s name in the film. Gobinda is the metaphor for Krishna while Bramananda is portrayed by Anjan Dutt.

There is an antagonist too in the name and style of Mohitosh Sur, a metaphor for Mahishasura who was destroyed by Durga. Anirban Bhattacharya, one of the most talented young actors around, plays the role of the antagonist.

In the film, we have organised the Durga Puja in spring, the Basanta season according to the Bengali calendar, which is mythologically the original time for Durga Puja. We now have it in October, which is called akaal bodhan.

Q. Are you happy with the final product?

Yes. I am overjoyed because all my actors and technicians were completely dedicated and committed to this film. The actors have poured out their emotions instead of acting out their parts.

Q. What problems did you face during the making of the film?

Shooting across the city of Kolkata posed the biggest logistical problem. We shot some scenes in Switzerland, which was not very difficult as we punched it together with a schedule for Yeti Abhijaan. But we had to take special care to steer away possible crowds in the city.

Neel Dutt has given me a wonderful background score while Anupam Roy has done justice to the songs, mostly on the soundtrack. Samik Haldar handled the cinematography, Pronoy Dasgupta edited the film, Anirban Sengupta was in charge of the sound design while Shibaji Pal did the production design. I must say, Sara is the discovery of my career!

Q. How do you respond to criticism about your films?

I like it if it is constructive. I reason with it if it is uninformed and I ignore it if it is destructive.