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Big B Agreed To Be Part Of My Documentary When Half Of The Bengali Film Industry Said No: Director Kankana Chakraborty

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Kolkata: Kankana Chakraborty is here to stay. The Bangur girl from the City of Joy is slowly and steadily stamping her authority in Hollywood with her documentaries and shorts. A person not to mince words, the filmmaker-actor does not refrain from making a statement through her works. Guess what, within a short span she roped in none other than the megastar Amitabh Bachchan to air his views for her documentary on the plight of females – Women Prayed & Preyed Upon. She has also directed Sabyasachi Chakraborty in Anurup and shared screen with the likes of Rajat Kapoor and others.

Daughter of doctor couple Dr Chandan and Chitra Chakraborty, the alumnus of Shree Shikshayatan and the New York Film Academy chats with The Lateralz. Excerpts:

Let’s head to it at the very outset – what is that one thing you have learnt from Amitabh Bachchan?

Respect for other’s time. Despite the schedule and stature, Amitabh Bachchan never takes other’s time for granted, which is the root of his discipline.

You are a filmmaker, obviously you would love to cast him one day…any plan or special role you want to conceive of…

I am lucky enough to have worked with him on my very first project as a director. Half of the Bengali film industry had said no to a newcomer, and they didn’t even bother to know the subject of the documentary. This legend said yes to my project, Women Prayed & Preyed Upon. He asked me to send him the synopsis, and I did that. The next thing I know is I am getting an opportunity to direct Amitabh Bachchan. In the future, if I have a story that has a character where he can do justice, I will most certainly approach him. I don’t want to write a character for him and then fit a story around it, and I don’t think he would appreciate that either.

We learn you are a Big B fan, if you are to remake one film of his, what would that be and why?

I don’t believe in remakes. I feel every film has its journey. A director tries to tell a story from his perspective. Even if a handful of the audience gets that perspective, the outcome is a success. Why bother the journey? Yes, on the other hand, one can certainly be inspired by a story. There are only seven kinds of stories, and William Shakespeare has said it all. Certain films of Amitabh Bachchan Sir inspire me, and I want to take them as a seed idea and tell a story from my perspective – films like Abhimaan, Do Anjaane, Main Azaad Hoon, Aks and Nishabd.

Having worked in the West, what according to you, is that perceptible difference between the Indian film industry and Western?

The most significant and most noticeable difference is STRUCTURE. We lack a structure here. In the West, there is a guideline, a system. As an actor, you go through an agent. Your job is to show up for auditions, give your best and then move on to the next audition. Here we have the concepts, but we don’t have the depth to execute those concepts to the fullest. There are some casting directors and managers in India who are trying to bring a change. Hopefully, it will work out for the better. The other difference is that in the West, the story is the King. Actors become a part of the storytelling process.

Actors from here make a beeline to gain ground over there, is it worth it?

I don’t know if it is worth it, but fortunately or unfortunately, there is a norm now in our industry. Suppose a Bengali does something significant in Bollywood. In that case, he is suddenly given more importance in Kolkata, and if someone does something significant in Hollywood, suddenly his reputation grows for the Indian film industry. I feel that this should not be the sole reason to be in that beeline. There is a lot to learn from the West, especially in terms of discipline. But stories can be told from any part of the world. We need to stop the hierarchical positions. They are created by us. There are beautiful and powerful stories coming out from other parts of the world. How much are we trying to be involved with those industries? So be in the beeline if you want to better yourself, not because you want to chase after fame because that is temporary.

Who according to you has or has it in him/her to make a mark in Hollywood?

I am not the right person to answer that. But I think you can make it anywhere new if you don’t want to get saturated or comfortable in what you do, if you constantly want to challenge yourself and want to unlearn and learn. One such name is actor ATUL KULKARNI. He is growing as a human being every day, and he challenges himself. He doesn’t shy away from accepting what he doesn’t know, and he is open to learning. Also, I feel his screen presence can be a pleasant surprise for the West.

Coming to your volume of work, it is commendable because you dwell on reality which is reflected in your films…is it innate in you?

I am an observer, and I am a listener. I like to tell stories that affect me as an audience because then I have been able to see a perspective. That is the starting point for me to create my stories.

You have worked on women-related issues, do you agree portrayal of women needs to undergo a sea of revolution on the Indian screen?

Yes, I agree. We are still way behind. We are not yet confident of seeing a woman rule the screen. Often, my stories have been rejected by Indian producers because they felt that my women characters were too strong for the Indian audience. They have also suggested that I try to pitch my stories to the West instead. If that can be the sole reason for rejection, then yes, we are way behind. But, again, the problem is age-old. It is cultural and it is rooted in upbringing. We are, after all coming from a patriarchal society. The change has to start at the base. I want to sound hopeful. So I hope there will be a change… but it will take time.

Now give us a scoop we can go berserk over…a special project as director or actor on the anvil…

I don’t know if you can go berserk over or not. I am now focusing more on acting. I have some projects lined up in the West (Benched, Pretty Ugly, Perfect Brats, and others). And as a director and writer, I have a feature and a web series ready to start the shooting process, provided I find a producer who doesn’t think my female characters are too strong for the Indian film industry. But, on the other hand, I don’t mind waiting, because I don’t want to make movies for a specific group of people. Stories are universal and each story, I believe, finds its team.

What is your general take on the Bengali film industry and the changes you would like to envisage…

Bengali Film industry………. It is high time we prioritised the stories. We need to let the story be the King and not otherwise. Break out of the stereotypes. It is the land of (Satyajit) Ray and (Ritwik) Ghatak. We are a talented bunch. Let the talents flourish. Don’t tie them down. Again, some are trying to bring in change. Hopefully, it will work out.

Finally your message for aspiring filmmakers

Start by telling the stories you know. You will be clear with your perspective. If you doubt yourself, you can’t convince the audience as a storyteller. Also, understand the process of filmmaking. Understand an actor’s approach, and actors try to understand the process of filmmaking. Do not take any position in filmmaking for granted. If you are on a film set, irrespective of your position, you are all storytellers.

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