“As far as plausibility goes, I can find more loopholes in Kahaani now than anybody else. No script is fool-proof. But you must make certain allowances in your first viewing of a film. When you enjoy something a lot, you think, ‘Why did I enjoy it so much?’ You start to find faults in it which is absolutely fair. But then what was your instinctive reaction? You enjoyed it.”
[S]ujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani, now in its second week, has already been declared a hit. The film has earned more than twice its budget at the box office. Kahaani is the fourth film by Ghosh who made an assuring debut with Jhankaar Beats in 2003. The box office success of Kahaani has shown that a film without a hero and a heavily pregnant heroine in long gowns can change the rules of the game. Sujoy Ghosh talks to Nandita Dutta about his film:
What kind of a role did you want Kolkata to play in Kahaani?
I wanted Kolkata to play a character in the film, the character of a stranger. It is a stranger for both people living in the city and outside it. Even for those who have lived in Kolkata all their lives, I wanted to show them a Kolkata that they might have never seen before, the little nooks and corners of the city. I wanted them to have a sense of discomfort with the Kolkata they were watching on screen. It’s like they have been in the city, but they never knew that there is a sinister side to it. I also wanted to portray it as a city of contrasts. If you see a seedy guest house, you will imagine seedy characters inhabiting it. But here a seedy guesthouse has warm people. The city evokes contradictory emotions, of darkness and warmth at the same time.
Why Vidya Balan as the protagonist?
I wrote the script for her. Vidya and I had always wanted to work together.
How did the idea for a thriller with a pregnant woman originate?
It began as a story with a pregnant woman which later developed into a thriller. I was always fascinated by ‘mothers’. When a girl gets pregnant, she undergoes a huge transformation in those nine months and prepares herself for a tremendous responsibility. I wanted to take a woman in that mental state and place her in an environment that is alien to her. Gradually the thriller aspect came in, as one bit led to the other.
How was the journey—from writing the script to making the film?
This was the toughest journey of my life. As per the rulebook (I don’t know who writes them), Kahaani is everything that a film should be. My heart was set on it. We didn’t want to make any compromises on the film.
Nobody believed in the film to begin with, and rightfully so. There were no songs in the film, no hero, only a heroine who is covered from head to toe. So the making of Kahaani proved to be an incredible journey against a set mentality. I found the money after a long struggle and began shooting in Kolkata. We shot everything in real time. Neither did we have the money to create sets, nor would that have done justice to the feel of the city.
Vidya was a rock solid support through the process of making this film. She saw me through the inception of Kahaani and the failure of Aladin to the completion of this film. I would also mention my line producer in Kolkata, Shoubhik Das. He instilled lot of confidence in me.
So Kahaani’s script was ready before Aladin?
The final script took shape in 2009 after Aladin came out. But I had been working on the script before it.
The music in the film is interesting, the ‘Ekla Cholo Re’ bilingual rendition by Amitabh Bachchan, ‘Aami shotti bolchi’ by Usha Uthup—what was your idea behind it?
One thing was clear to me that in a thriller you can’t have lip-synced songs. So we wanted to have an album that would reflect the sentiments of the film and the emotions of the characters. So independent of the film, we created these soundtracks. For background, we used the varied sounds of Kolkata: the evergreen radio and the horns.
Now that so many questions about the plausibility of the plot are doing the rounds, what do you think? Were you totally convinced about the script, did you think it was fool-proof?
I would say that the script was a good journey. As a writer, you can take certain creative liberties. Creativity isn’t bound by any definition; it depends on your design. I was quite certain that what I had on paper made for a good journey to keep the audience captivated.
As far as plausibility goes, I can find more loopholes in Kahaani now than anybody else. No script is fool-proof. But you must make certain allowances in your first viewing of a film. When you enjoy something a lot, you think, ‘Why did I enjoy it so much?’ You start to find faults in it which is absolutely fair. But then what was your instinctive reaction? You enjoyed it. Anything that evokes a reaction is art.
The inspirations were ‘maa’ and Vidya. It follows the structure of a standard thriller, the kind of stuff we read as children. The mood and everything is of the Kolkata that I witnessed while I was growing up. It may not even exist now. So it may be difficult to place it today.
What was the thought behind the characterizations of Satyoki Rana, Bob Biswas, Khan and the actors you cast?
What I look for is a visual match and then take it from there. Parambrata Chatterjee as Rana and Saswata Chatterjee as Bob fitted the bill. The only exception here was Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Khan. Instead of someone with a big built, I wanted someone who looked more fragile, whose strength was in his head. His power and arrogance comes from the chair he sits on. The idea behind Bob Biswas was to make a normal, average person look like a killer. He is not your typical assassin with a leather jacket. He is one among the crowd. That is why Bob is always shot amid crowd, if you noticed.
What is your next project going to be?
I don’t know.
Yes, seriously. I am not working on anything right now. I have received lot of love from people after Kahaani and I want to hold on to that love till the time I make my last film in the industry. I don’t want to misuse it. I will have to make a film as good as Kahaani.
Tell us about your background.
I was working with Reuters when I got interested in films. Then I wrote a script to teach myself to write. Just like everyone and his uncle in Mumbai who has a script. But whoever read my script said it was good. So I decided to make a film out of it. I realized that I couldn’t simultaneously work and make a film. So I chose to make the film.