Author turned filmmaker Ram Kamal Mukherjee on his second Hindi film, Season's Greetings
Ram Kamal Mukherjee
When author turned filmmaker Ram Kamal Mukherjee decided to make the big switch he knew that it wouldn't be a cakewalk.Now with his second Hindi film Season's Greetings he emerges as a confident story teller, who can intrigue audience with simple and thought provoking narrative. In an exclusive chat with Midday he talks about his films and beyond...
Probably you are amongst few film journalist from Bollywood who have successfully switched from print to movie making. Was is a pre planned transition?
It might sound like a 'cakewalk' but unfortunately it was not. I had to go through the grind. After my tenure as Editor in chief of a film magazine. I co-produced a finite series Bin Kuch Kahe for Zee TV with director Rajshree Ojha. It was a learning experience for me. During that time, I realized that I would like to make films. But never in my dream I had imagined that I will become a director. In fact it was Esha Deol who literally forced me to become a director with Cakewalk. She said, "It's your vision, and you are doing everything that a director does. I think you will be a good filmmaker!" Esha stood by me and my production house like the Rock of Gibraltar.
You have been a senior journalist, with almost 20 years experience. Did any of your industry friends help you? Or did you approach them?
No. I didn't approach anyone. I wanted to make a film on my own terms and condition. I knew that once I achieve in making a decent movie, industry will support and stand by me. Cakewalk broke all possible records. It became India's first short film to be premiered in a satellite television Cineplex with Colors, the first look was launched in London by Hema Malini, the music rights was acquired by Zee Music, the film was acquired by Viacom18, I was invited at the BBC studios in London for live chat show, it got selected at 21 film festivals and won at 17 film festivals. It also become India's first short film to be premiered at Inox Insignia one of the biggest theatre chains in India. The film was promoted in 6 major metro cities in India and Dubai. We treated it like a feature film, and I give credit to my team and my friends from media and film industry.
Your second film Season's Greetings seems to have created a much bigger news. With United Nation Free and Equal and legends like Amitabh Bachchan endorsing the film it seems to be one of the much awaited movie of this year on OTT?
I am thankful to Mr Bachchan for being so gracious, he spoke so beautifully about the film in his video message. My film is a tribute to the legendary filmmaker Riruparno Ghosh, and I am grateful that Lillette Dubey maam and Celina Jaitly Haag who agreed to be a part of this venture. It was Celina who connected me with the United Nations Free and Equal, and I had to organize special screening for them in Geneva. It took almost two months to bring them on board as our social cause partner. This wouldn't have been possible without our friend and well wisher Charles Radcliffe. Zee5 had initially decided to release it on March but now due to Corona pandemic we had to reschedule everything. But I am glad that we released on April 15, and the film has become the most watched short film on Zee5. The film got selected at seven prestigious international festivals including Cardiff International Film Festival. It won Best Director Jury award at Rajasthan International Film Festival this year. I am eagerly waiting to show the film to all. This film also marks the debut of young and talented actor Azhar Khan. The film deals with LGBTQIA issue in a very subtle manner. The film has been selected at the prestigious Kashish Film Festival 2020 in Mumbai, Asia's largest LGBTQIA Film Festival. I am glad the film is getting appreciated by all, my film celebrates love beyond gender.
Director Ram Kamal Mukherjee with lead cast Celina Jaitley and Lillette Dubey in Season's Greetings
How does it feel when your film gets thunderous applause from media and film fraternity?
I feel blessed. When veterans like Khalid Mohamad, Shoma Chatterji, Nandita Puri, Ananth Mahadevan, Taran Adarsh, Rajeev Masand and Suman Ghosh writes about your film, its a reassurance. But I would like to thank my team for making this possible. My producers Aritra Das and Shailendra Kumar, my associate producers Mohammad Jameel and my wife Sarbani Mukherjee. You might dream big, but you need a producer who will stand by your vision. And of course Celina Jaitly who worked like a team member all the way from Austria in the middle of lockdown crisis. She would manage her household responsibilities and maintain all her work commitment. She interacted with all leading media over Instagram and Skype, she gave telephonic and email interviews. She actively pushed the film on social media. Lillette Dubey maam though she is not on any social media platform, she would record her bytes for channels and send. Her daughter Ira Dubey would record her interview on phone and we would give those bytes to electronic and web media. Azhar Khan supported us from Pune, while Shree Ghatak in Kolkata went all out to spread the word. My singers Sayani Palit and Jaan Kumar Sanu did radio chats and facebook live performance of the song. It was very tough to promote a 47 minute film in the middle of lockdown. But we all need to keep reinventing ourselves.
In a span of two years you have managed to direct almost five films. That's a decent number...
After Season's Greetings, I wanted to make a short length Bengali film. That's when the idea of Rickshwala came to my mind. I am launching Avinash Dwivedi in as the protagonist in the film. It was a tough project for me. We had to do workshops and shoot in the bylanes of North Kolkata in summers. Avinash gave his blood and sweat for this film. Rickshawla already won Best Actor and Best Director at 13th Ayodhya International Film Festival this year. Then we made Broken Frame, which is based on my fiction Long Island Iced Tea. Yet again I was fortunate enough to work with extremely professional and talented actors like Rohit Bose Roy and Ritabhari Chakraborty. The film deals with martial issue and infidelity. After that, I made Shubho Bijoya with Gurmeet Choudhury and Debina Bonnerjee, which is a romantic film loosely based on O Henry's classic A Gift of Magi. Now I am working on my first full length feature film Binodini Dasi, a biopic on Bengal's famous theatre actress. My first attempt to make a period drama.
Ram Kamal Mukherjee and Esha Deol receiving Society Iconic Award for Cakewalk from Ramesh Sippy, Kiran Sippy and Krishika Lulla
Do you feel that any of your skills as a journalist comes handy when you are donning the hat of a director?
Yes it does! My writing skill helps me in fine tuning my screenplay and dialogues, my editing experience helps me in keeping the scenes precise and save the cost of extra shifts and shoots. My photoshoot experiences helps me in visualizing a character, their costume, hair and makeup. And my nose for news, helps me in creating content that people would like to see on screen. I guess we all use our past experience to enhance our future endeavors.
You have penned five books and directed five movies in a span of three years. You are extremely active on social media, you also conduct special classes for film students and talk shows with celebrities. How do you balance every act?
Huh! Now that you have spelled it, I am feeling breathless. But frankly speaking, I have learnt multitasking from Hemaji (Malini) She inspires me a lot. I think if we can focus on our work then we can distribute our time evenly. Now that we are locked down for almost 40 days, I will be finishing the draft of my Bengali film, work on the story board and first look. I am also working on two non fiction with leading publishers, so my research and drafting is on. I am also working on my Hindi feature film, which will hit the floor by 2021. I don't like to waste time. Even when I am not doing something, I am watching a film or a series. The hunger should never die. And now with lockdown and quarantine, we all have learnt how to multitask, because when you are pushed to the edge then you either learn to fly or you die.
Why do you call Season's Greetings a homage to director Rituparno Ghosh? And how is it different from any other tribute?
Well, this is a different kind of homage to any director. Mostly when we pay tribute, we tend to either make a biopic or remake classics. But I thought of giving him a tribute through multiple ways. Suchitra Bhattacharya was Ritu da's favorite author, veteran Tagore vocalist Suchitra Mitra acted in his film Dahan, so I decided to name Lillette ji's character Suchitra. Celina's character Romita was Rituparna Sengupta's name in Dahan, which was a popular novel written by Suchitra Bhattacharya. The house where they stay is called Utsab, which was yet another film by Ritu. The househelp is Chapala inspired from his film Aarekti Premer Galpo (he acted), where he played a transgender filmmaker and enacted life of theatre actor Chapal Bhadhuri. Transgender actor Shree Ghatak plays the role of Chapala in my film.
There is a sequence between Lillette and Celina where they talk about fragrance of a particular perfume, which is inspired from Aparna Sen and Debasree Roy's kitchen scene from Unishe April. Lavish display of food and characters talking over dinner table has been Rituparno's favourite narrative style, which is a part of preclimax sequence.
Tagore music and Maithili language is yet another aspect which Rituparno had often used in his films. Infact there is a portrait of Tagore used in the film from Balmiki Pratibha, which was prominently used as a metaphor in his film Ashukh. Then references like Banalata pishi is from Bariwali, Abhirupa is again Rituparno's character name from Chitrangada.
Rabindranath Tagore's song Gahana Kusum Kunj Majhe, was used in his film Abhohoman, which has been recreated in the film by singers Jaan Kumar Sanu and Sarbani Mukherjee.
In a scene we see Suchitra is reading Devdutt Patnaik's novel Shikhandi. That's again referring to Rituparno's film Chitrangada, a character from Mahabharata. In fact we have also shown the exterior of Rituparno's house Tasher Ghar in Kolkata which only very few people will relate. There are shots of Ardhanarishwar, that depicts the presence of bisexuality since vedic age.
The entire character graph of boy child Chapal undergoing sex change and becoming Chapala also talks about his films like Memories of March and Chitrangada. But none of it is underlined, everything is subtle. You need to be a Rituparno fan to appreciate or understand. The scene where Romita talks about unexpected rains and letters from her mother is a fleeting reference to his film Tithli.
And of course the climax that would jolt you as an audience, and will remind you of Rituparno in a much prominent way.
In fact the first day and first shot of the movie between Celina and Azhar was shot in Grand Hyatt Presidential suite. After the shot the manager came to meet me. He said, "It's irony that Rituparno had shot Sob Charitro Kalpanik scene with Bipasha Basu and Prosenjit in the same room!" We knew that Rituda is blessing us from the word 'action'!
This film marks return of Celina Jaitly after motherhood, why did you opt for her since she was away and settled in Dubai?
I wouldn't have taken effort if she would habe settled in Mars or Moon, but to not consider an artist for geographical reason in an archaic thought. I knew that she would be my perfect Romita, for three reasons, she never got an opportunity to play a role like this. She shared a very close bonding with her parents whom she lost recently, and she has been associated with LGBTQIA movement for last two decades. I remember Celina broke down before shoot. She went to severe depression and I guess this film was her fulcrum to spring out of the situation. Ritu da once mentioned, every artist comes with their own qualities, as a director you need to utilize that aspect and mould them into your narrative.
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