Here is more from our TOIFA special reports this time with director Sujoy Ghosh. Now this was quite the free-ranging interview as Sujoy Ghosh, completely jet-lagged by long flight to Vancouver, was clutching to his coffee and sinking into the way-too-comfy couch. After an onslaught of photos and autographs, we got talking about the interconnectedness between editing and scripting, and the glorious character of Kolkatta in Kahaani.
How did you construct the city as a character of this narrative in Kahaani? Did you look to any Ray films for inspiration?
It’s basically what you know, I was born in Calcutta and grew up in Calcutta, so I knew the city well. Plus we had this whole motive of Maa Durga, running through the whole film, so that’s the whole reason for doing it in Cal, because I know the city. I suppose Kahaani could have been easily be set in Vancouver also, had I known Vancouver. Since I was writing it, I needed to set in a city where I knew very well.
Would you say your film has a neo-noir style to it?
You know, it went into that noirish thing but it was an intention. I was setting out to make commercial Hindi cinema, even though it was not formatted, like it didn’t have those little things that are requisite of commercial Hindi cinema. That’s what we were setting out to do, but yeah, it did turn out a bit noirish.
Was Kahaani gestating and written around the time of Aladdin?
Well the thought was before Aladdin but it was written after Aladdin. We had been discussing, Vidya and I, were discussing it for a while, but you know how it happens, with taste and the whole process of reiteration.
You said in an interview that you had packed your bags and ready to leave, did you have go no holds barred to make this one work?
Yeah, because I have family and I can’t doss around, I have to feed my family and pay for school fees and all that. So yes, you know I had to and I think everyone, all of us, needs to realize or be clear about the fact that all these films will disappear. You have to be ready to face it, if you know something is not working, like I know I had made two films that they’re not working, it’s not working that I need to pack your bags and go.
Did you have any inspirations for the film?
No, this is a pure Vidya Balan inspiration, because it was written because we had wanted to make a film and Calcutta came in and Maa Durga came in.
Was it much harder to get studio approval with a female and pregnant one in the lead?
It was, because on paper it’s a bit of a risky project, you know, because it doesn’t have those so-called ingredients, though I have no idea what those ingredients are. On paper, it sounds a little dicey but I guess we had to finish the product make it the way we wanted and then put it out in the market and see who’s gonna buy it and distribute it.
How did you go about casting these fabulous Bengali actors for these iconic roles?
Well you know, because I know the city. I have a totally different point of view for a lot of people, because you know, if I came to Vancouver to shoot a film. Just by showing some iconic structures of Vancouver, doesn’t make Vancouver. Vancouver or any other city is about the people in that city, so as long as I know those people and as long as I know I can bring them out, then I’ll do it. And I think, that’s one reason why you Kolkata in Kahaani is because I you get to meet the people. You know, it’s the people that you remember, not the city. It’s not the city, man, but I could be totally wrong and going south with it, but still that’s my theory.
You’re editor Namrata Rao has been winning all the awards
Yeah, man! She won more than me, I’m so jealous!
You’ve been for the story, how does that come together with the editing to create a well-paced film like Kahaani?
It had to be like that, there are certain things that the film demands. The problem with a film like Kahaani, and that’s why we get so elated when we win an editing award or a screenplay award, we really consider it a victory. First, you get to know a film then you get to see the first look of a film, a trailer, and then finally you get to see a film, that’s the process. From day one, everybody knew this was a film about a pregnant woman whose husband is missing (laughs) if you see Kahaani, the first thing she says in the film and keeps saying the same thing throughout the film. So beyond a point, you’re thinking, ‘look woman, get on with it you know you’re husband’s missing, just bloody find that person!’ So the hardest part was, how do you keep an audience hooked in when they know what the story of the film is, that ‘this woman’s husband is missing and she’s not doing anything about it, she’s just dossing around.’ Therein lies the challenge with the twists and turns, because the question was asked right in the beginning of ‘where is my husband’ and I’m taking two hours to answer that question. So we needed that pace and that kind of a screenplay, where you’re basically saying the same thing every five minutes, ‘hey, her husband’s missing, I KNOW IT!’
Your earlier movies are such fun and so irreverent, but did the failures of some of those fuel into making this film the best film?
No, no, you see we work hard for all the films, sometimes it works, sometimes we fail, it’s as simple as that. There’s no way of going back and figuring it out, what went right what went wrong, like I don’t even know what went right with Kahaani.
Well, people have been telling about their love naah?
Yeah but each has their own theory. I don’t wanna believe in any of them, because films should be like that. Filmmaking is always that search, that search for the perfect film. The moment you think you have the formula, you’re doomed, you’ve just axed yourself in the leg.