National Award-winning filmmaker Suman Mukhopadhyay's first Hindi film 'Captive' makes its festival debut at Busan

The 25th edition of the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) that is being held from October 21-30, both offline and online, will screen 194 films from across the world, of which eight are from the Indian sub-continent. The impressive line-up from India includes six films that are making their debut on the festival circuit. The list of films making their world premiere at BIFF include Suman Mukhopadhyay's Captive, Manju Warrier's A'hr, Ananth Narayan Mahadevan's Bittersweet, Shyam Madiraju's Harami, M. Gani's Matto's Bicycle and Prithvi Konanur's Pinki Elli? Chaitanya Tamhane's The Discipline and Ivan Ayr's Milestone that were screened at the Venice Film Festival are also a part of this edition of BIFF. 

Ahead of its first fest outing, A Potpourri of Vestiges caught up with National Award-winning filmmaker Suman Mukhopadhyay to know more about his debut Hindi film Captive which is inspired by a short story by renowned Bengali author Ashapurna Devi.


Deconstructing the cinematic journey 

I am a reader by nature. My first Hindi film - Captive or Nazarband - is inspired by a short story titled Chuti Nakoch by Ashapurna Devi, one of my favourite Bengali authors. When I first read this particular story, it caught me by the jugular. Not all stories provoke like the way this one did to me. Its visual narrative excited me as a filmmaker. I could spot a cinematic structure in its plot, characterisation, imagery and settings. The two characters, whom I eventually renamed as Vasanti and Chandu in the film, grabbed my attention. I started exploring the idea, went and got the rights of the story and started developing its screenplay for the big screen. At the same time, I didn't want to rush into things or push to complete it. I let the story grow inside me, giving me a lot of thought and images. Once I had completed the process, I started looking for actors and a dialogue writer, and, of course, a producer who could fund it. 

I met Pawan Kanodia, whose AVA Film Productions Pvt. Ltd., had produced three of my earlier films. He got interested, but he talked about other limitations of making this film like shooting within a limited budget, in public spaces, with a minimal but committed crew who will be keen to shoot on roads, without a vanity van or huge set-ups, no permission and the rest of paraphernalia. All the boxes were ticked before I started looking for actors. 

London based Kate Mcdonough has shot the film, and Tinni Mitra has edited the film. Prabudhdha Banerjee has composed the music of the film, and Bigyna Dahal has done the sound design. The film has been helmed by Anustup Basu, Asad Hussain and myself.

A still from Suman Mukhopadhyay's 'Captive'

Casting backstory

I knew that my film didn't need known actors; it needed newcomers and non-stars because the film requires that kind of real-life texture.

I had watched Tanmay Dhanania's earlier screen outings, and he seemed to fit well into the character of Chandu. I had briefly known Indira Tiwari from the days when I was directing a play with final year students at her alma mater, the National School of Drama. I knew I had found my Vasanti, but I didn't tell her anything.

Also, because I don't believe in auditioning actors and actresses. Instead, I prefer to do workshops. Once I had zeroed in on the protagonists, I called Indira and Tanmay for the workshop. The workshop validated my gut feeling, and I realised that Indira and Tanmay fit their respective roles to the T; there couldn't have been any better cast for this film.

Exploring the cityscape

The third character in the film is the city of Kolkata. Chandu and Vasanti embark on a harrowing journey, and the film captures their unpredictable odyssey drifting across the rough terrain of Kolkata. I have tried to capture the architecture of the city; it lends a different aesthetics to the visuals. I ended up scanning and navigating the City of Joy, from north to south, from east to west, in this film. The film is an interplay of three protagonists. I placed my characters in a certain background in Kolkata, and contrasted them against the backdrop of their emotional situation and the city’s architecture. At times, the emotional situation of the two characters came to the foreground with the architecture of Kolkata moving to the background; at times, it was just the opposite.  

Challenges along the way

The film has been shot extensively across three states - Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. The most challenging part was shooting with our cast and crew in real-time and among the crowd, especially during the Shravan Mela in Jharkhand. We didn’t have permissions or budget to afford vanity vans or hire security. Ours was what we call the guerilla-style shooting in film terminology. 

The actors became inconspicuous in the melee of Kanwariyas that were thronging the streets, walking all the way carrying water from the river Ganges in Sultanpur to Baba Baidyanath Dham in Deoghar. We shot with the crowd of devotees, captured their mad rush and even shot inside the temple. It was easier said than done, but we could manage it thanks to our stupendous cast and crew. 

Technically sound

Cinematographer Kate Macdonough is astounding in the way she approaches her work. She comes with a militant kind of spirit and says no to nothing. She can shoot anywhere, anytime. Be it low-light, on the road, among the crowd, real locations, Kate has the uncanny ability to capture the best in her camera despite all these limitations. She would often walk with the camera on her shoulder and shoot. 

Tinni Mitra had almost completed the editing of the film when we went on to participate in an editing workshop in Kerala. The respondents there provoked me and made me rethink the entire editing process. I ended up re-editing and unpacking the film all over again, and by the end of it, we had an entirely different version of it. We didn’t shoot any new bits but used all that was already there. There were changes in what we call the scansions, beat, and points of stress. It was a strenuous process, and it took two long years to complete the film. 

The change didn’t happen in isolation. It provoked changes elsewhere as well. The script of the sound design underwent a complete overhaul during the second edit. The first version had many music pieces, but in the second one, we desired to keep them minimal and use more of the natural sounds strongly, both diegetic and non-diegetic sounds to portray the psychological growth of the characters. The sound design has beautifully complemented the visual scape of the film. 

Migrant theme

The film emerged from the story of these two characters in Ashapurna Devi’s story. They are immigrants in the city of Kolkata. The category of non-Bengali in Bengal has particular importance in the social dynamics of the city. There have been many people from Bihar, who came to Kolkata many generations ago, and have lived on in the city since then. They are a part of Kolkata’s diverse social spectrum. They speak mixed languages – Hindi and Bengali, much like these two characters. Vasanti is entirely new in the city while Chandu is more aware of the city. She is exploring it with a fresh pair of eyes that Indira has essayed so well, and Kate has so beautifully canned those moments in her camera. The film takes a visceral look at their survival in the big city and dives deep into the depths of companionship and the meaning of rejection and acceptance for them.

Watch the trailer here

Real takeaways

Both Tanmay and Indira are brilliant in their craft. Tanmay came with prior experience in films, but Indira was fresh out of NSD when I had signed her. In the workshop, I didn’t push any agenda. I didn’t keep the duo restricted to the language but extended it to include the visual vocabulary in the way I saw the characters shape up onscreen. I injected images inside their minds, took them to different parts of the city, travelled along with them, and they instinctively got the characters, and also got inside the characters. 

Their contribution to the film is immense. The duo got into a trance and made Chandu and Vasanti their own. I was extremely fortunate to have them in this film. As a filmmaker, I have just been able to capture their cinematic efforts. 

Tanmay is a little choosy, and he doesn’t lap up everything that is offered to him. He picks only those roles where he thinks he can do justice. Indira, on the other hand, is growing and has adapted to the change of medium very well. The dynamics of working for films and theatre are different and as an actress, she has a fair understanding of the grammar of both mediums, and it stands her in good stead.

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