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What is the story behind Kahaani? Filmmaker and writer Sujoy Ghosh tells CNBC-TV18's Anuradha SenGupta that this film was pretty much a do-or-die effort.
If you are a movie buff it comes as a huge relief when a film you like has been liked by a whole lot of other people and that’s because it means that your kind of cinema has a greater chance of getting made.
Kahaani gives a different kind of Hindi cinema a shot in the arm. The sharp taut thriller set in Kolkata has earned more than seven to eight times the budget it was made on and the TV and DVD rights are yet to be sold.
What is the story behind Kahaani? Filmmaker and writer Sujoy Ghosh tells CNBC-TV18’s Anuradha SenGupta that this film was pretty much a do-or-die effort.
Below is an edited transcript. Watch the accompanying videos for more.
Q: You live to die another day isn’t it, thanks to Kahaani.
A: Correct until next Friday. Thank you so much for liking Kahaani. Like what you said just now it actually was a do and die because if Kahaani didn’t work I would have had to pack my bags and go away.
Q: The question is - is the story telling a direct result of the story or can the story actually be completely different from the story and elevate the story to a whole new level?
A: Directing is all about story telling. My job is to tell a story and the story could be told in different and various manners. A story has to be the germ but the storytelling does not necessarily have to follow the story because if you are writing a story like a screenplay then you are totally losing the charm of a story. It doesn’t make sense. You are just redoing what you just did. So a story should be a separate entity on its own and then you as a director and your team come in and say - okay this is the story and we will add a little element to it, may be subtract some element from it and we’ll tell it in this manner.
Q: A budget of less than Rs 8 crore. Would I be right in saying that those constraints actually now in hindsight were things that contributed to making the movie perhaps better than it was. Would I be right if I said that the choice of Kolkata was because of the budget? It's a city which is cheaper.
A: Definitely but yes and no because my choice of Kolkata was predominantly because I knew the city. When we were growing up we didn’t have video, we didn’t have TV and we didn’t have the internet either. We were just heavily banking on those little slim mystery books and if you look at most of these mystery books whenever you read a thriller especially when we read a lot of Satyajit Ray, it was always the place and the adventure.
From what I have learned by reading thrillers and by reading books around the world, the world is very important to a thriller, where you set the world and I knew Kolkata. So I could only set a thriller in Kolkata because then I could incorporate Kolkata as a character in the film. I knew the emotions of Kolkata, I knew what time Kolkata woke up.
Q: Because the way the story is told, it could actually be any city anywhere?
A: Could be, you are absolutely right. She could have been an English woman going to Brazil. It could have but I don’t know about Brazil.
Q: Are you saying that it is your familiarity with that city and it's pulse and the budgetary constraints which gave that city such an important role in Kahaani?
A: Absolutely and the budget did help because doing it in Kolkata I could accrue a lot of favours. Right now I am totally indebted to Kolkata and anybody at anytime can come and ask my favour back because on paper Kahaani is a very expensive project. If you read the script and you did an independent evaluation of the budget, its an extremely expensive script but you cannot do that; you cannot make a solo Vidya Balan film with a director who has two colossal flops behind him for that kind of money.
So we had to be more pragmatic, we had to be very real and Kolkata was by far the best choice. I went to Kolkata few times and I met a lot of people and they really kept telling me Kolkata has some unique technicians, we tend to ignore regional cinema but the discipline they imbibe, the kind of technicians they have are on a national level and Kahaani is a living proof.
Q: The atmospherics of the film is that design, is that constraint, sometimes a handicap becomes an advantage, it’s the way you play it and see it because there were so many long montages of the city. I am wondering what your script must have looked like and she is in the car, Rana and Vidya are in the car…
A: Yes, and it was a tough call to make because we took a very ad hoc approach to making this film because each film comes with its own demand in terms of storytelling. Since I wanted to involve you in the journey of Vidya therefore a lot of rules we set right in the beginning of the whole film where we set a lot of rules with my DoP, Setu, he is also from Kolkata, my school, we set a rule for example the camera will never leave from inside the car…
Q: Which is why you had so many shorts from behind Rana, of his back, of her profile, very often in shadow?
A: Because I wanted you to sit in the backseat and this is a technique which I have learned from Ray because Ray did that in ‘Aranyer Din Ratri’ because he wrote about this, on the journey they go off to ‘Palamau’ and the camera is always inside the car which is incredible because there are four of them, here there are two of them but there they were four and the camera was always inside so you fell like you are sitting with them in the car and it works beautifully and this is design, because the hardest thing to do on screen is to invoke emotion.
Since Vidya is going to take me, she is my tour guide I am going to follow Vidya, as a result you will see what Setu forcefully did he always followed Vidya. So to a certain extent there were times we said Vidya you do whatever you want and let the camera follow you, as a result you will see a lot of shots which are out of focus and so it takes that slight minute second to get back into focus.
I will give another example that journey which Rana and Vidya takes from Kali Ghat to the first time she was to Mona Lisa is a transition. I didn’t believe that in Hindi cinema you could have an evening, like day becomes night; its either day or night, so Setu had a huge argument that we cannot do evening, so he took the short and you can see a transition slowly dusk comes, dark, gradual; so that gradual process happened and these kind of things we jumped in, we didn’t know whether it was going to work or not but Setu was convinced and I said let’s go for it.
Watch the accompanying videos for the full interview...
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