Interview By: Drishti Pandey
Srijit Mukherji, the National Award winner for best director for his film ‘Chotushkone’. His Bengali films have mostly garnered positive reviews from the critics, and great audience’s response. He talks to us about his directorial debut in Bollywood with ‘Begum Jaan’ and how the journey has been. Read on…
“Begum Jaan’ is a much more personal film hence I decided to name it after the person, whose spirit and presences get’s through the film”
Being the National Award winner for your remarkable Bengali films how did you come onboard to make your directorial debut in Bollywood?
Actually Mahesh Bhatt ji was aware of my work and he had seen my film which is ‘Jaatishwar’ which I made in Bengal, so he had told me whenever I come to Bombay and whatever I wish to do – just let him know. Because he wanted to see my work, so I came to check the subtitle of ‘Rajkahini’, so while all that was happening, he watched this film and after watching the film he was crying and trembling because such was the power of the film; so he said we must tell this story to the audiences and then we both started to work on it. We approached Vidya and then traced others and that’s how ‘Begum Jaan’ was born.
So while writing the script for ‘Begum Jaan’ what was your sensibility to take such actors, were they in your mind while casting them for the Hindi remake?
Characters are more or less the same in terms of the mapping from the Bengali version but telling the story and individual back story is different. They now represent a group of woman who come from various parts of north India, some from U.P, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, and the kind of formal metaphor for the nation and I think that is one of the biggest and interesting draws and USP of the film because one will hear such a variety of languages that have been spoken. When I was writing the original script about the members of the household they kind of created themselves in terms of equation and other things. In Hindi I needed to map them for bigger pan India canvas which is what I did with ‘Begum Jaan’.
I also spoke to Gauahar Khan and she said you called them by their characters name on sets, so what was reason behind it?
The simple reason was that when we often shoot in Bombay or Calcutta there is a constant interaction or distraction that happens but we were shooting in a very faraway place where there wasn’t any distraction that was one good thing which got the actors to get into their characters, secondly this is the method that I use is; because it really helps the character respond to the main man and hence behave like the character. So it’s kind of preparative thing and it worked.
Keeping that in mind were all the actors your first choice?
So, how’s it working with Vidya Balan and other veteran actors?
Vidya is an absolute sweetheart and she’s a delight to work with and I would love to work with her again and I’ve told her that. There were other actors too who I made an interesting collaboration with, like Rajit Kapur I’ve worked with before and I really like his acting. And Ashish Vidyarthi I’ve worked with for the first time and he’s done a great job. Chunky has a very interesting character in the film and have tried to discovery him and of course Naseer Sahab, it’s like a dream working with Naseeruddin Shah I couldn’t have asked better than that.
Was the process of making a Hindi film similar to making a Bengali film?
There is a difference between both the industries and that is something I understand and I was quite prepared for it. But in terms of working there’s no difference, it is how a project is bringing in and taken forward, that’s the only difference in both the industries. And in Kolkata films happens faster because the process are not that longer and in Bombay it’s longer hence it takes more time and also it is a very star driven system over here; we have to wait for the actors dates to go ahead with the project.
Locations being the prime factor of the story what were the basic aspect that you had to work on?
Since it’s a period film I needed a location which had a divide of cables and modern day structures so I needed a full expands which I had already found so I wanted to use it again. And we also shot in portions of Punjab because its’ story set in Punjab and then we kind of combined the two. And once you have that kind of comfort zone in terms of the location and also the location was in middle of nowhere so there was no disturbance and it was smooth and focused to work. It made it much easier and convenient to work.
Why the title ‘Begum Jaan’?
‘Rajkahini’ has a very macro feel to the title which describes the film so the focus of ‘Rajkahini’ was much more board it’s a very macro historical canvas sort of a setting. On the other hand ‘Begum Jaan’ is a much more personal film hence I decided to name it after the person, whose spirit and presences get’s through the film and it’s a very intimate, personal kind of a film as appose to macro historical canvas which is why the difference in the names.
It’s an inspired true event story so was there a need of fictional elements in the script?
This particular house is a fictional thing but there were houses which go through events, there were houses which were addictive, which were distracted, it’s a very surely drawn rattle flam and it kind of took a toll wherever it went through so till those points it’s based on true events.
What are your next upcoming?
There are a few films which I’m working on, a few Hindi and a couple of Bengali and as I said it’s a star driven industry so I’m waiting for people to come onboard and I can go ahead.