Atanu Ghosh-Journey as a Film Maker
Atanu Ghosh has already earned his reputation for making documentaries and corporate films, telefilms, television series of distinct tastes and sensitivities. In an exclusive interview with the Calcutta Tube, director Atanu Ghosh shares his journey as a film maker and script writer, his thoughts on films and television, struggles and rewards.
Calcutta Tube: After completing masters in Journalism you started your career as a script writer and documentary film director. Why did you choose films?
Atanu Ghosh: I started my career with technical films. My first documentary film was ‘Pioneers Of Indian Science’, a series based on lives and works of the Indian scientists like Satyen Bose, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, Ramanujan. Since I had no prior experience in making fiction-based films, or in acting and theatres, documentary and educational films were the perfect field for me with my background in Journalism.
Calcutta Tube: Did you take courses on film making?
Atanu Ghosh: I took a Film Appreciation Course in Pune which developed my interest in making films on fictions. Then I got the opportunity to make a series for Doordarshan titled ‘Ebong Computer’ which was part educational and part fictional. It was a comedy about a village bumpkin who comes to Kolkata and discovers how people are engrossed in computers. It was made in 1996 when computer was not even that popular in India as it is today. This program gave me some ideas about handling fictions in a film and fictional scripts.
Calcutta Tube: ‘Disha’ was your first telefilm in 2003………….
Atanu Ghosh: I have made some other films for the Doordarshan before ‘Disha’, which were not exactly telefilms. I would rather call them short films. A telefilm has to be at least an hour’s duration. I had made some films whose duration varied from 30 to 50 minutes. ‘Aatanka’ was 50 minutes long.
‘Bangla Swadeshi Gaan‘ was a composite program made in 1997 in the 50th year of independence, commisioned for the National network. It was an interesting episode based on Bengal’s rich heritage in patriotic songs. It was an interesting episode in which a compere in the different episodes transformed into different relations and told a story related to the Swadeshi movement of Bengal and brought in a patriotic song in the context of that story.
‘Chalti Haowa’ was a program about the Bengali bands that had a big impact on the national rock bands and contemporary music which became very popular in the late 90s.
‘Goenda Poribar’ (2001) was a 52- episode serial in which Mamata Shankar played the main lead. It was a comedy where a family plans to spend their vaccation exploring the idiosyncrasies of the people around them – the sides of a human character that does not come to light.
All that work prepared me towards making telefilms.
Calcutta Tube: How well are the short films, documentary films, or TV serials preserved? Before Arin Paul founded the telefilm club the telefilms got lost, too, after being broadcast on the television. What is done to ensure the preservation of the other films and television works?
Atanu Ghosh: The biggest problem with television is that it is not taken much seriously by the audience, mainly because we watch it at home in between our chores. In contrast, a movie theatre has a totally different environment – the dark auditorium, the gradual effects of lights and sound creates an emotional link with the film. And buying the tickets adds to our incentives to watch to the film.
Since everything is larger than life on the big screen, it has a stronger influence. A television has a 21 inch screen – which is much smaller in size, almost a third of a person. And when we watch a programme on the tv, it is hard to come out of the domestic environment. Working with telefilms gives us more scope for experimentation. A feature film has a more commercial aspect and a larger than life impression where the more introspective and personal aspects may get lost. The telefilms are more suitable to work with those subjects, and after some preliminary experimentation in this medium, very good telefilms have been made. They were the best things that ever came up on the television. No other tv programme made a greater contribution than the telefilms which deal with so much of sensibilities and have higher acting standards.
Even an actor of the stature of Soumitra Chattopadhyay said in several interviews that the tv serials do not appeal to him much. Unlike feature films, they do not have proper beginning, middle and end. Telefilms are more like the feature films in that aspect. It is very interesting to hear Soumitra Chattopadhyay, the living legend of the Bengali cinema, say that he anxiously looks forward to work in telefilms.
But as creators of telefilms we were frustrated with the broadcast on the television that lacked a proper environment for the films, and the constant intrusion of commercials made it worse. So we thought of showing them in the movie theatres. It started in Kolkata with the joint endeavor of the artist forum and the Nandan, who organized the Calcutta Telefilm Festival and it became outstandingly popular. The shows and the interactive sessions were jampacked. It proved the popularity of the telefilms among the audience. Some other small efforts have also been made to show telefilms on larger screens. But what Arin did was very unique. He organized a telefilm show on the big screen every month, which gradually got larger with time and developed some dedicated viewers. It was interesting that the audience who had already seen the films on the television came back to see them once more on a bigger screen.
But most of these films are shot in video tapes, and there remains an incentive to erase them and re-shoot on the same tapes. But there are also some films being made these days on the dvds, so there may be some effort made to preserve some of them in future. It is not very economic to preserve every single film. The items made exclusively for the television will always have this temporal side.
Calcutta Tube: What about the archives of the works made for the television then?
Atanu Ghosh: It is very difficult to keep records of everything made for the television, mainly because they are so huge in numbers. There also arises an evident controversy about which of the works is worth preserving.
Calcutta Tube: What about the dvd releases of the television series?
Atanu Ghosh: Some efforts have been made for the dvd releases. The ‘Tara’ television channel has released some dvds of their telefilms, which were very popular in the USA ‘Bongo Samaskriti’ or the ‘Rainbow Film Festival’ in the UK. But there has not been any sustained effort in that sense.
Calcutta Tube: It is very sad if these works are lost forever in time. As a member of the audience I think there have been some brilliant creations made for the television.
Atanu Ghosh: Some of the Bengali telefilms have been really brilliant in their subjects, which have never been dealt with in the Bengali feature films. But as they are made just for the television and stored in video tapes, nobody cares much for their preservation.
Calcutta Tube: When in the middle of a shooting, how often do you have to change the script or make alterations in the story?
Atanu Ghosh: The main story does not change, but certain subtle improvisations may have to be made depending on how the whole thing sounds when the actors enact it. But the main script does not change, however.
Calcutta Tube: I do not have a very clear idea about a short film and a corporate film? How would you define them?
Atanu Ghosh: A corporate film is a one that you make for any company to help promote its business, by approaching a group of people who are interested in the business, like the financiers, the share holders. The audience of the corporate films are much smaller and there are more technicalities involved in the films. In an ad-film we are interacting directly with the general public.
A telefilm is basically a film made for the television, that is more than an hour’s duration.
A short film has the duration of less than an hour, like 30 to 40 minutes usually. They can be of even smaller duration like 10 minutes, depending on the subjects. They can be based on fiction or non-fiction. There are many short film festivals where we want to deal with certain things that cannot be made into larger films. The non-fictional short films can be documentaries. But documentaries can also be of much larger time durations, like the Tamas.
Calcutta Tube: You have made 23 telefilms till now and all of them are your stories and screen plays, except for one. Which one is that?
Atanu Ghosh: ‘Kanta’ was not my story. It was by Nimai Bhattacharya. The script was mine, though.
Calcutta Tube: You have made so many different kinds of films – documentaries, short films, telefilms being some of them. Which, according to you, is your favorite medium?
Atanu Ghosh: Corporate films are my mainstream. I have made more corporate films than any other films. But I personally enjoy making telefilms the most, because they give me the scope to tackle many such issues that would have not been possible otherwise.
‘Disha’ was about a girl whose life is motivated by the diaries of a person who is lying in coma.
‘Sumitra Online’ was about a 44-year old lady who starts chatting on the net using her daughter’s user-ID, which changes her whole life.
‘Megh Brishti Roddur’ was about a woman who is married to her second husband when the memories of her first marriage with a schizophrenic patient come back in her life. The situation gets more acute when she discovers that her ex-husband and her present husband have developed a friendship.
Telefilms gave me the experience of dealing with all these complexities of modern life.
Calcutta Tube: Does the art of acting vary in the different kinds of films, other than the documentaries where acting is not involved?
Atanu Ghosh: Acting does not vary as much for films, no matter whatever kinds they are, as it does in the plays. In a play an actor is at the same stage all the time.
Acting in front of the camera involves a dimension factor. The audience sees the actor as indicated by the director; it is confined to the parts that the director wants it to see. Acting is more subtle in front of the camera.
In a play, the spectators see the actors in their real dimensions. The actors at the same time may have to exaggerate certain acts – for every single emotion – in order to ensure communication with the spectators seated far away.
For example, in commercials, timing is very important. You have to do everything with 30 seconds. The expressions have to be very to be rapid. In a feature film, you get more time to show a particular expression. But the acting remains more or less the same.
Calcutta Tube: Does the script remain the same too for the telefilms, tv serials or in the feature films?
Atanu Ghosh: The script is of course very different for television works and feature films since the screen varies in size.
When writing scripts for any television programmes or telefilms, the dimension of the tv screen has to be kept in mind and certain rules have to followed to get the most impact. In a feature film, the script varies accordingly because it is a larger than life medium.
Calcutta Tube: You have written a script for the play ‘Ru Ba Ru’ for the National School Of Drama, which has been directed by Koushik Sen. How different is the script of a play?
Atanu Ghosh: It is very different. Koushik urged me to do it and I had a real hard time with it!
The main difference between any medium of acting that involves the camera and a play is the portability factor. You can take the camera anywhere you need to. In a play you have to confine every action within a stage of 40 feet by 25 feet. There are so many things that are not technically possible in a play. Since it was my first time, I has quite some trouble writing it.
Calcutta Tube: Do you or anyone in your direct family have any backgrounds in theatre?
Atanu Ghosh: Not at all. I come from a family of academicians.
Listen to the complete Audio Coverage Exclusive at CalcuttaTube ONLY.