I always had the bigger reality in mind and wanted to make a film on it, says Bikas Mishra debutante director of the award-winning film Chauranga in an interview to Learning and Creativity. Winner of the Golden Gateway award for Best Film at Mumbai Film Festival in October this year, Chauranga is today being screened at the 11th Dubai International Film Festival.
All pictures used in this interview are courtesy Bikas Mishra and Chauranga (Anticlock Films)
From a childhood spent in the village in Hazaribagh district to becoming a filmmaker whose directorial debut Chauranga (Four Colours) walked away with the Golden Gateway of India award for best film in India Gold section at the Mumbai Film Festival 2014 this year, it’s been quite a journey for Bikas Mishra. Moving from one milestone to the other, Chauranga is today being screened at the 11th Dubai International Film Festival under the Cinema of the World section.
Written and directed by Bikas Mishra and produced by Anticlock Films, Chauranga stars Sanjay Suri, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Arpita Chatterjee, Soham Maitra, Riddhi Sen, Ena Saha, Anshuman Jha, Swatilekha Sengupta and Delzad Hiwale.
Chauranga, a fictional account of six days in a dark corner of India, tells the story of class oppression in rural India. Santu wants to go to school like his older brother Bajarangi. When Bajarangi returns from boarding school on holiday, he exposes the 14-year-old Santu to the dreams of city life. But Santu’s destiny was pre-written in a village that’s steeped deep in caste-hierarchy and debauchery. His infatuation for an older girl of a higher caste makes him persuade his older brother to write a love letter.
Setting precedents in crowd-funding and crowd-sourcing
Chauranga‘s journey of success began right from the scripting stage. The Chauranga project was part of NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab at Locarno Film Festival 2010 and ScriptStation at Berlin Talent Campus. It won “Incredible India” Award for the best project at the co-production of NFDC FIlm Bazar, Goa 2011 and also received Script and Project Development Funding from Goteborg International Film Festival, Sweden. It was also invited for Paris Project, the co-production market of Paris International Film Festival 2012.
The film’s production foundation is based on an interesting scheme of crowd sourcing. According to Bikas, “Chauranga has in its credit list three producers from two companies, 10 co-producers from six companies and 25 co-owners who contributed during our crowd-funding campaign.” Chauranga also crowd-sourced talent. Its publicity designer was chosen by an open contest on social media website Facebook. Onir’s Anticlock films also ran a hunt for background score designer on Facebook and sample tracks were uploaded for public voting.
For the unassuming, scholarly Bikas, who is also the founder-editor of Dearcinema.com, the hugely popular online film journal, it is the realization of a dream which he wove in childhood, when he watched films in a projector room in a local cinema, with a growing love for the moving images on the screen.
In an interview to Learning and Creativity, Bikas Mishra recalls his childhood fascination which he gradually started giving a definite shape and direction during college. Thus began a journey of learning, discovering, studying and writing cinema, of understanding the art of direction and scripting and all the nitty-gritty that goes into the making of a film. Picking up momentum brick by brick, Bikas ultimately stepped into making his own film – a film he has conceived, written, visualized and directed.
L&C: Did you ever dream of reaching this level when you watched films from a projector room in a local cinema as a child? What had you dreamt of then and how much of that dream do you think you’ve realized?
Bikas: It look me some time to understand what I dreamed about. I was bewitched by cinema. But the eighties and nineties when I was growing up wasn’t the best time for popular Hindi cinema and I had no access to anything else, so I was fairly confused. I loved and loathed cinema.
I got clarity on what I liked only when I moved to Jamshedpur and started watching films at a film society called “Celluloid Chapter”. This film society opened my world to the kind of cinema, I loved.
L&C: Before we talk about Chauranga, I am intrigued by your journey towards reaching where you are today. If I remember correctly, you had said you received your mass comm training in Jamia. What would you say equipped you to dare to venture into film direction?
Bikas: As part of my Master’s degree, I studied filmmaking formally, so I’m formally trained as a filmmaker. However, the institute where I studied was meant for documentary filmmakers. I didn’t let it become a hindrance and made a short fiction for my degree film (Sweetheart in the Cupboard).
L&C: Watching films in film societies, bringing up Dearcinema, nurturing, fostering, expanding it to become the most respected Indian film journal online – did these exposures help you to develop the skills for directing a feature film? Or was it watching other filmmakers shoot or working with film units gave you a hands-on experience? One doesn’t become a filmmaker overnight, even if you receive formal training. Tell us about how you trained or learned the craft.
Bikas: As Fellini says it, the only way to learn filmmaking is to make films. I made short films to keep myself abreast with filmmaking. Ironically, I never visited film sets. I can remember only visiting two film sets just for few hours.
I think the biggest challenge is to write a script and I consider myself a writer first. I struggled a lot with writing. Thankfully, formal mentoring platform exists for new writers. Once the script was in place, things got easier.
L&C: We’ve had filmmakers draw inspiration from real life incidents to turn them into introspective cinema that probes, analyses and comments. Several of Tapan Sinha’s films for instance are based on real life incidents. Tell us about how challenging it is to make a real incident act as a spark towards exploring a bigger reality.
Bikas: I always had the bigger reality in mind and wanted to make a film on it. The challenge was to make an engaging tale out of the bigger reality. The real incident gave me that missing thread. I used the incident to piece together the story that I wanted to tell.
— Learning&Creativity (@LearnNCreate) December 16, 2014
L&C: Did you start working on the script before the NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab in 2010 or did the people you met at the Lab provide the ignition? How did this grow and how important do you think the script was in the scheme of things? Tell us about how Marten Rabarts helped you in putting the script on the right track?
Bikas: Yes, one gets selected on the basis of the script for the lab. I had submitted my first draft which got selected.
Marten has a unique method of working. He spends a lot of time understanding the writer and his urge to tell the story. He never told me what to write but he always posed questions that made me think.
L&C: For any film to be successful, it needs the right crew. How did you decide on the crew (I am referring to the technical crew here)?
Bikas: I saw Ramanuj Dutta (my DoPs) student film and liked his work. When I met him I found him to be passionate, intelligent and as restless to make a film as me. Onir introduced me to Arun Nambiar, the sound designer. I had seen his work and liked his approach to sound in the very first meeting.
L&C: Sometimes it so happens that when drawing up a character you know who will best fit the role. And sometimes, you need a fresh face and you don’t know where to find him/her. Chauranga has a mix of established and new actors. How challenging was it to get the right cast?
Bikas: While writing, I had nobody in mind, I relied on auditions, look tests and previous work. The idea was to find the best actors for all the roles. If they are known names or not, didn’t matter at all. We started casting in mid 2012. Our casting director Nalini will vouch for it, we spent the longest time casting for Chauranga.
L&C: Chauranga is a story – sparked from a real life incident, (the screenplay was prompted by a news headline about a boy who gets killed for writing a love letter) with characters and situations drawn from your own life and childhood – but at the end of it, it is a story. When writing the script, how much of your real life experiences did creep into the script? I mean, say when illustrating a particular incident in the film, did you quite often fall back on your childhood, village and experiences to flesh out the characters, dialogues, and the scene?
Bikas: Chauranga is a fictional account of the village but based around characters taken from my childhood. Many of the characters are directly taken from the village where I grew up. Of course, I made these characters do things in the film that they probably never did in their real life.
L&C: How much of Santu is You?
Bikas: I wanted to run away as much as he did. I would not bend down to touch someone’s feet like him to receive a favour. But our lives are poles apart. I didn’t suffer what he has to in the film. In the beginning Santu had my sympathy.
But gradually, he started growing on me. I related to his anger that emanated from being denied what is rightfully his. I connected to his spirit of defiance.
L&C: When choosing the locations what made you choose Bolpur/Santiniketan? I mean, the landscape of Jharkhand is very different from the green of Bolpur, isn’t it? Or was it the visual richness of the place that drew you to it?
Bikas: We shot the film at Bolpur in Bengal and Keonjhar in Odisha. We shot in Bengal because we found the mansion and hut there. It was very much like Jharkhand. For landscape we went to Odisha, again because Jharkhand wasn’t very different from it.
L&C: Did you go by the script totally or did you improvise on it on the spot often?
Bikas: Yes, we improvised a lot without being disloyal to the script. The improvisations were more in the form of physical details than story. Like instead of sitting under a tree and reading Bollywood magazine, they sit on the rock. Largely, we followed the script.
L&C: Were you expecting the kind of appreciation and acclaim the film received at Mumbai Film Festival? How was the audience reaction to the film?
Bikas: It was reassuring to see the house mostly full. Nobody walked out and people laughed where they were supposed to. It felt nice. Almost half the audience stayed back for Question-Answer session. That was great. Every screening brings forth something new and till date we have had just two, so I’m still excited to watch the film with audience.
L&C: What’s next on the cards? What are your future plans with Chauranga? Is there any new venture you are thinking of?
Bikas: I’m not done Chauranga yet. Need a good long break to get out of it.
— sabir haque (@ideaminefield) December 16, 2014
All pictures used in this interview are courtesy Bikas Mishra and Chauranga (Anticlock Films)
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