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Dibakar Banerjee: Being slotted is my nightmare

Filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee, who attempted a contemporary take on the fictional Byomkesh Bakshi featuring Sushant Singh Rajput, talks about the middling to positive reviews to his film, evolving audience sensibilities and more in a no-holds-barred conversation

Your film, 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!' (DBB) has received mixed reactions. What were your expectations?
I didn't know there were mixed reactions. I thought they were polarised reactions, mostly from those who have held on to Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay and his book, Byomkesh, as a fetish. Fortunately, we had anticipated something like this because we knew the animal we were unleashing. The surprise is that the audience, which goes to the theatres to watch a film, has come out saying that it's been an experience. I expected the curious reaction, but not the euphoria over the film.

Dibakar Banerjee and Sushant Singh Rajput
Sushant Singh Rajput (left) and Dibakar Banerjee. Pic/Nimesh Dave

But hasn't this happened with all your films?
No, this time everyone was saying that Dibakar would sell out. But the opposite happened. This is the best thing to happen because I have gone out of the slot again. Being slotted is my nightmare. With this film, I have avoided the slot at least for a year or two. For the next couple of years, no one will trust me.

But then great filmmakers Manmohan Desai and Basu Chatterjee also worked within a slot...
Mercifully or unfortunately, Manmohan Desai had a short career. God knows what would have happened to him if he had gone forward at that time. With the failing star power of Amitabh Bachchan and other actors in the '70s, it wouldn't have been a good space to be in and that would have been a direct consequence of the slot he was in. But times have changed and we all have to earn respect and money by making films. I am trying to do that so that I can pay my EMIs and for you to keep calling me.

Dibakar Banerjee and Sushant Singh Rajput at the mid-day office.
Dibakar Banerjee and Sushant Singh Rajput at the mid-day office. Pic/ Rane Ashish

Many have said that it's difficult for a normal audience to understand your film?
Who is the normal audience?

The audience which goes to watch 'Kick'...
Maybe, but I know you can understand it. I also know that you and I are not necessarily more intelligent than the person walking on the road who goes to watch Kick. It's just that we have more time to read and think. Their life is unfortunate and they want an escape. They watch a film to derive the same entertainment which you and I will get from watching a play, or going for a picnic, a night in the company of a lover or music, or perhaps, a trip to Goa. All these are not accessible to them, so they demand those pleasures from one film. So when that film comes, they watch it. But today India has an audience which will get one film Rs 25 crore in a weekend — they belong to our group, people who have time to think. They might watch a film which will tell them they are not dumb. That's all what we are trying to tell the audience through this film.

Did you tell Aditya Chopra (boss of YRF, which produced 'Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!') what kind of a film you will be making and that he may not get the kind of returns he usually does?
The only thing we discussed was that the experience would be drastically different. He said he was game for something which shakes up everything and makes one per cent contribution in changing the taste of this country's audience. Because that's what a Dibakar Banerjee film with Sushant Singh Rajput and YRF production banner may hope to achieve. He feels that today's niche is tomorrow's mainstream.

Would you say this has been your toughest film?
Physically, yes. But fortunately I have been adapting this (Sharadindu Bandopadhyay's book) for the last six-seven years. Urmi (Juvekar) came in and added a valuable layer to the film. The toughest part was writing the script.

When can we expect a sequel to Byomkesh?
I will not make the sequel right now though we have the material for it. Byomkesh has already got a lot of marks for being unexpected, so the sequel has to top it and go beyond the audience's expectations.

Sushant speaks...

Your performance was understated and totally suited the character that we had in mind about Byomkesh. Was that difficult for you to play?
It was deliberate. A lot of people asked me why I was not looking confident in the initial part of the film and I said that was precisely the point. It is so easy as an actor to be confident in front of the camera, but the role required me to be not that confident initially.

We have seen different portrayals of Byomkesh in films and on TV. Were you sceptical about the role?
First, I had convince  myself that I can play this character from the 1940’s. Then there was a sense of responsibility to tell the audience who Byomkesh is. I met some people in Kolkata during my prep and they had very strong opinions about Byomkesh. Although I was sceptical, I was resolute about not letting them down. We got a lot of calls appreciating Byomkesh’s portrayal.Post the film, the biggest changes that I see in myself is clarity of thought and being aware of what  I want.

Do we see you turning producer soon?
Why not? I have been discussing with a few of my close friends about how to sell a film, just for fun. I have nothing worked out as of now.

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