Filmmakers Must Stick To Their Gut Feeling-Bauddhayan Mukherji

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on January 05, 2015

Directed by Bauddhayan Mukherji, Teenkahon (Three Obsessions) is a Bengali film that narrates three love stories set in different eras. The film which features Dhritiman Chatterjee, Ashish Vidyarthi, Rituparna Sengupta amongst other well known actors was recently screened at the Mumbai Film Festival and IFFI, Goa. The film has also been screened at multiple international film festivals and won at some of them including at the Seattle South Asian Film Festival and The Bridge Film Festival in Kosovo.

We recently interviewed Bauddhayan who is one of India's leading ad filmmakers and has made many popular ads including the famous 'Bell Bajao' series of ads against domestic violence that won the Cannes Silver Lion Awards in 2010.

He spoke about the challenges he faced while making this movie, shared insights and lessons from his filmmaking journey and spared some advice for those looking to build a career in filmmaking.

Published below are some excerpts from the interview

1. What motivated you to become a filmmaker?

The stifling TIE!!! The classical symbol of the white-collar worker – so that I don’t have to wear it ever in my life. But jokes apart, I knew at the age of 11 that I would become a filmmaker!!!

I think I was in grade 5 when my dad gifted me a book by Satyajit Ray called “Ekei Boley Shooting” (This is what shooting is about). It was Ray’s memoirs of the behind the scene stories of his children’s films – Sonar Kella, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Joy Baba Felunath and others. Such was the impact of the book that I decided to be a filmmaker. Living the dream started that very day.

 2. How did you finalise the subjects for Teenkahon? What was the inspiration behind doing an anthology of short stories?

I was holidaying in Sri Lanka a few years back and I had taken a collection of Bengali short stories to read. One story that blew my mind was Swami O Premik (The Husband & the Lover) by Syed Mustafa Siraj. It was quite a complex single room drama and I decided to make a film out of it. But at the same time it dawned on me that it can at best be made into a short film. Incidentally, it was a story of obsession. So my search began to find similar stories of obsession in Bengali literature. The next one I found was a story by Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyay which was set in the pre independence era. That’s when we decided to find a story that’s set in the modern era so that I could see the progression of obsession in Bengali life over a hundred years. So, three stories of obsessions which was spread over hundred years where we capture the degeneration of values, the vanishing morality and the increasing pollution of the spoken language and thus Teenkahon was born.


3. Since you’ve co-written the movie, could you tell us a bit about the writing process?

Co writing has its sweet moments and its own share of nightmares. Writing solo means you have to overcome your writer’s block yourself. Co writing means you can squarely put the onus on your co writer.

Teenkahon was more of a dream than the nightmare, thankfully and the credit should go to my co writer Abhinandan Banerjee. He was a dream. Translating an existing piece of literature to a screenplay means one has to be very sure when and how to introduce language cinema in the storytelling. I got in the cinema, Abhinandan brought in the story. Whenever we had a collective block we would just hung our boots and not discuss for over a month. Shelve the screenplay, go back to making commercials. Then after a month we would bring it out again and very surprisingly find answers to most of our questions. When one writes we are so much into it that our sense of judgement suffers badly. We constantly kept doing this all through. And honestly if you ask me, writing a film never gets completed in life. It continues while making it. It continues even after making it, you watch the final film and think how differently you could have written it. As writers it is absolutely impossible to move on, there’s so much of emotion attached to it.

4. While making Teenkahon, what was the biggest challenge for you? Could you tell us a bit about the production of the film?

The challenge of not being an ad filmmaker while making the feature. It was a demon which I was taming within me. I was constantly talking to myself asking me to hold on to shots, not to over cut , not to shoot an edit, not to be the perfectionist the way we are while making commercials, it was a constant battle. In a longer storytelling format I don’t think moving the background prop 3 centimetres to the right while you are on a 16 mm lens makes any sense. But that’s precisely what we do while making commercials. And I was battling myself. That was the biggest challenge - how to learn to tread the middle path.

We produced Teenkahon ourselves. Mona (my wife and also co owner of Little Lamb Films) had said a beautiful thing when we set off making Teenkahon. She said, “I do not want you to be answerable to anyone while making this film. Good, bad, ugly... it should be yours... it should be ours”

So Mona decided to produce it herself under the banner of our production house Little Lamb Films. The process took longer than usual as I was also doing commercials in order to fund Teenkahon. We shot for about 42 days in and around Kolkata and Shantiniketan, spent a whole lot of our own money and were clearly marked stupid in our friend circle!


5. Teenkahon has been a success at film festivals. How has the festival journey been and what have been the high points of this journey?

 I won’t call it a huge success. Yes, we have been the official selection in 13 festivals in India and abroad as of today. We have won 9 international awards but there have also been some near misses, some heartburning rejections. But that’s what life is. Teenkahon was never made with a particular ulterior motive in mind... whatever we have achieved is a plus. We are deeply humbled.  Each festival is special in its own way. IFFI and MAMI were two big high points in India. The Bridge Film Festival in Kosovo where we had our world premiere was extremely special because of the festival itself. It would possibly be the highest point of my filmmaking career yet - to feel and see cinema trying to bridge two warring communities! Zimbabwe was also special as it was our African premiere and Seattle was unforgettable since it gave us our first Audience Choice Award.

6. Since you’ve done both now, how is directing a feature film different from making an ad film? Especially in terms of the skill sets and temperament needed.

Ad filmmakers are spoilt to the core. The best of technicians, every conceivable equipment, every single post production facility at our disposal, we do not know the constraints in which independent and regional filmmakers work in order to bring their stories to life. Possibly the big Bollywood directors are equally spoilt. But I would limit this discussion to independent filmmakers and the struggles of their lives. After being a successful ad filmmaker, making a regional film was like starting from scratch. This journey has been quite interesting. From the king to being the pauper – where one thinks about every single rupee spent, every shift that one shoots, every equipment that one demands - it was a different discipline altogether. One had to do away with the numerous options that we have in advertising filmmaking from costumes to props, from offlines to graded looks, the culture of options had to be done away with.

Also, on a feature you have the freedom to exercise your ability to think on your feet. In advertising though we improvise on set/location, we do that within the periphery of a given structure... a given storyboard... a given shot breakdown that has been sealed and signed. I remember a particular instance while shooting one of the sequences of Nabalok, the first story of Teenkahon, when it suddenly started to rain and we lost a lot of time. I had a shoot structure in mind for that particular sequence and the time that we lost forced me to come up with a new way of creating the mise en scene. Had it been advertising we possibly would have called off the shoot and come back the next day to shoot the pre decided set of shots.

7. What are the skills needed to be a good filmmaker? What advice would you like to give to aspiring young filmmakers?

The ability to conceive a story and then tell it to an audience is what makes or breaks a filmmaker. I have never been to any film school so I do not know if one can be taught to become a filmmaker. I have my doubts. I would advice every aspiring filmmaker to rely on their gut feeling. I pretty much do that. If you believe this is the way to go about, then stick to it. Be ruthless when it comes to your own film. It’s your baby... no one knows your child better than you. Read, look, watch, see – soak in every bits of life. There are stories hidden everywhere. Keep your eyes open. There’s always a story waiting for you! And very honest. Honest to the story, honest to cinema. And believe me, honesty still is the best policy.


8. Which are the films and filmmakers who have had the biggest influence in your life ?

Satyajit Ray for sure. He has been the single biggest influence in my life. I make films because of him and the first story of Teenkahon is my tribute to that person who singlehandedly (and unknowingly) changed the course of my life. But I would possibly be wrong to say that he was the only one. When I was a child, my aunty - who is quite a film buff-  used to tell me that film as an art is dead. Any art form where new theory has not been developed should call itself dead. Then I discovered Dogma and discovered Lars Von Trier. Ever since I have been in complete awe of him. I wish one day I would be as courageous as him.  Then there’s Fassbinder, Herzog, Welles, Peckinpah, Kurosawa, Polanski, Miyazaki... at different levels each one of them have influenced my thought process, my love for films.

9. What are you future plans ?

I am going on floors with my next in April, which as of now we intend to produce ourselves.  Casting has just begun.  Also, there is a biggish Hindi feature which we (me and my co writer Arpita) have just finished writing. It’s being produced by an established and respected banner. I am quite looking forward to both.  But making commercials carry on. I honestly can’t live without them.


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