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Cinema is dead and gone: Qaushiq Mukherjee

If you draw a short list of interesting Indian filmmakers, Qaushiq Mukherjee will make the cut. Known for delving into dysfunctional topics, the Kolkata-based director’s last venture, Gandu, never got released and his next, Tasher Desh is a rather offbeat take on Rabindranath Tagore’s play. Sunday mid Day caught up with Q (as he prefers to call himself) to discuss cinema, career and catharsis.

Qaushiq Mukherjee
Qaushiq Mukherjee is known for for delving into dysfunctional topics

You’ve been often described as the Andy Warhol of indie cinema in India.
Shit! I don’t want that. I’m not a bourgeois. On the contrary, I lead a very difficult life. I’d rather be India’s Banksy, a pseudonymous England-based graffiti artiste, whom nobody knows except for his work.

Between making documentaries and movies, what do you enjoy more?
Documentaries, although both are effective forms of communication for me. I’ve been filming docus for years now. I like to document stuff because it’s a lonely process. The reason why filmmaking can’t become an art form is it involves too many people -- each contributing as well as altering the original design.

You repeat your actors --your girlfriend (Rii Sen) being one of them -- in all your films.
Yes, I do. But the actual work is done long before we hit the sets. We don’t follow a corporate model, so there’s this proper coordination required. As a director, I tend to be fascist at times (laughs). I’ve made my life miserable because I’ve chosen this way of life where uncertainty rules. Sadomasochism is quite apparent. But then, that’s what cinema is all about. In what other line of work do you have martial words like action, cut and shoot in everyday vocabulary?

And what sort of cinema influences you?
I’m a fan of post-modern digital cinema, with a non-aligned approach. I keep reiterating that we don’t live in an analog world anymore. Cinema, as we once knew, is dead and gone. The reality has shifted drastically -- from booking train tickets online to launching a Mars orbiter -- and there’s no point in being nostalgic. We are currently very regressive in nature because our goal is to attain success and money. The emphasis is no more on retaining culture and ideas because it’s seen as a short-term goal.

And what significance does box-office hold to you -- if at all?
The sort of films I make are a long-term investment. They’ll be played -- hopefully, that is -- over and over again across the globe at film festivals and archives for the next 20 years. They are not meant to be measured in Friday-Saturday- Sunday collection. I’m in the business of cinema, not an assembly line to dole out films at a premium price.

What role does money play?
See, money is always a problem. But the bigger problem is there’s no concept of a NGO in filmmaking. You either get your funds from a producer or a film studio in this country. So what filmmakers like me do is to find ways to subsidise ourselves thanks to European co-productions in Belgium, France or Germany. National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), however, took initiatives and helped immensely in the making of Tasher Desh. What often gets overlooked is the fact that crazy people like us have time in our hand and time is money, right?

Your previous film Gandu ran into controversies. Tasher Desh seems to have chosen a different path. Was it a conscious effort?
No. As a filmmaker, you don’t function like that. When I was making Gandu, I was pretty clear about my intensions and it was to f*** with the audience’s mind. What else can explain the so-called controversial sex scene which happens only in the 72nd minute? And that too without a satisfying climax? That scene was supposed to have political connotation, not just gratification. On the other hand, Tasher Desh is something which had been in my head for ages. I was trying to figure out how to make this film. It’s 114 minute long and filled with 19 songs. If you’re into Tagore and tripping, you’ll like it.

Why Rabindranath Tagore?
Because I’m a Bengali and I’ve grown up in his shadow like every other Bengali. And there have been moments when I’ve tried to walk out of it. Without trying to take anything away from him, he’s also a baggage. Tagore became an accidental God for us and that’s very unbecoming of us. He was a universal poet and it’s incumbent on the present generation to make sure he’s relevant even today. He is. We can’t keep people on pedestal lest we forget them. My film is just an attempt in that direction.

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