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'Subtlety is a very effective tool in cinema'
Dibakar Banerjee's latest directorial venture is a short film in the four-film compilation, 'Bombay Talkies'. He tells TOI-Crest why he chose to give an 'extra' a starring role
Your film in 'Bombay Talkies' is based on Satyajit Ray's short story, 'Patol Babu Film Star'. Why this particular story?
No particular reason. After strong deliberations, we figured out that Bombay Talkies should naturally be stories about cinema and how cinema interacts with the common man. Satyajit Ray's short story is about a guy who is accidentally asked to do a walk-on part, a speaking role as an extra in a shoot that he just happens to land at. For me, this is a fantastic story.
Did you have any other story in mind before choosing Ray's short story?
Yes, it was my own story. Eighteen years ago, my wife and I were having a drink at a bar. Suddenly a television unit arrived to shoot an episode of an Indian English television serial which was quite popular those days. They took one look at us and asked us to play extras sitting in the background. I knew they chose us because they found my wife very pretty (laughs). They asked my wife to sit at the bar and I was asked to sit on the floor. The best thing about that incident was that the novelty of the situation allowed us to flirt through the evening. We had a very good time. We shoot with main actors but the most interesting things transpire around junior artistes: What are they doing? Where they are coming from? What are their concerns? Whom are they trying to impress? It is a whole world and one that is totally removed from mine. These are the artistes who make scenes complete but sadly, they are never acknowledged.
But why should a story about an extra touch a moviegoer?
I am actually more interested in the way a human being is turned into a complete tool. Look at the way extras function in the film industry. Their humanity is completely denied - the very word 'extra' or 'junior artiste' is an example of what he can be and he means nothing to me. But there can be a story behind him that can touch our hearts. Take, for instance, his journey from home to the sets. He may have had a fight at home with his wife or may have played with his daughter, takes a long two-hour bus drive and lands up at the location, waits for hours in the sun, does three or four retakes, gets yelled at and then goes back to his family and says he has acted in a film. This contrast fascinates me completely. And that is what I talk about in Bombay Talkies. Ray's short story is in a stream of consciousness format. But I changed the premise to something else. There is an element of surprise there.
Ray's story is based in Kolkata but this film is based in Mumbai. Does that not change the feel of the narrative?
I chose Mumbai because it is my passion. It has been eight years I have left Delhi. When it comes to selecting the cast for a story, I usually cast the supporting actors from the milieu but have one actor from outside. This creates a certain tension in the film. I like the tension that is created when Nawazuddin is uncomfortable speaking in Marathi. It sets him apart from the milieu.
How did you prepare yourself and your actors to capture the essence of the milieu in 'Bombay Talkies' ?
I have shot the film in Lalbaug-Parel area (in central Mumbai) where I live. We shot in a house in a chawl near my house after studying it for a long time. In fact, Nawazuddin stayed in the chawl for two-three nights. He actually transformed himself into the man whose chawl we shot at. We documented that process. It is a question of imbibing a milieu. In Shanghai, for instance, I took Emraan Hashmi and surrounded him with an unfamiliar milieu. This worked for us and I am hoping it works with Nawazuddin too. It is a universal story, but it is rooted locally.
Unlike some of your peers, you show a flair for subtlety. Does that come naturally to you?
This is how I am. I think if you try to be heavy-handed in your treatment of your film, it means that you are giving the message more importance than the medium. For me, the medium is as important as the message. I believe that subtlety is far more effective than a bludgeon. I am not very anxious to convert people to my view of the truth. I am anxious to record my point of view.
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