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Hey, that's no way to say goodbye
Morbe moro choriyo na (Kill yourself if you want to, but don't make a mess of it) - that's the message Hemlock Society has for its viewers. For those taken aback by this calm piece of advice, here's more: the Bengali movie is about an institute that teaches its students the best way to commit suicide with no side-effects.
Director Srijit Mukherjee, whose critically acclaimed Autograph and Baishe Shrabon got Bengali audiences back to the halls, says his satire on suicide is a far cry from what the film's sensational posters and promos make it out to be. It doesn't encourage people to jump off a terrace or make a case for euthanasia. "The only thing black in the movie is the satire, " says the 34-year-old director and scriptwriter.
The title is taken from a right-to-die US organisation called the Hemlock Society that was founded in 1980 to support physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia for the terminally ill. It was named after the poisonous hemlock plant whose extract Greek philosopher Socrates, when faced with the choice of death or exile, spiked his drink with to end his life. It was while trawling the web for sites on suicide that Mukherjee stumbled on the Hemlock Society. "I liked the sound of it and decided to name my movie after it, " he says. "But we have gone beyond what this organisation does and taken it forward in a fictional format. "
After Baishe Shrabon (The 22nd Day of the Monsoon), 2011, when Mukherjee was wondering what to do next, he met someone whose philosophy on life and death touched him deeply. "That's when I got the idea for a new film. And soon I started doing a lot of research on suicides and euthanasia, " he says. "But the movie moves beyond death and is centred around love. " With a smile he adds, "Okay, maybe love in times of death. "
The film is about a man called Ananda (brilliantly played by Parambrata Chatterjee ) who runs an institution which teaches people fail-safe methods to kill themselves. Ananda recruits Meghna (Koel Mullick) to undergo a 'suicide workshop' and that's when love blossoms. But Chatterjee, who made his presence felt in the Hindi film Kahaani, says it's not so simplistic. "My character is that of a very light-hearted man, who, despite taking things very casually is actually dealing with something as serious as death. Doing this role was a real challenge. " The plot, he adds, "isn't just a simple boy-meets-sad-girl sort of thing but is much more serious. It can also be called a fast-paced entertainer - a celebration of life, of love. "
Calling his film "most emotional" and "most positive", Mukherjee says, "It takes a hard look at life and how, eventually, life triumphs over death. " Mullick, known for the 'bubbly' characters she portrays on screen, does a volte-face with this one. "Playing an intensely sad girl wasn't easy for her, " says Mukherjee. "The character is in sharp contrast to what Koel is in real life. So, from the very first day of the shoot, she had to work hard to get into the skin of her role - of getting into the 'unhappy zone' of Meghna, who, having faced several tragedies in life, suffers from frequent bouts of depression. "
Talking about Chatterjee, Mukherjee feels the actor's given his "career's best performance in this movie". "Having grasped the nuances and incoherencies of the character, he's made the pseudorealism of the whole exercise very believable, " he adds.
But if the movie advocates life and love, why give the impression that Hemlock Society is about death and darkness? Is it to create a buzz? Perhaps, hints one of Mukherjee's fellow directors. "The film's promos are all about creating suspense. The motto of the institution - 'Morbe moro choriyo na' - also strengthens that impression. So while the director may say the movie is not ultimately about death, he has used death to draw in the crowds. " And that, for any filmmaker, is what ultimately matters.
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