KOLKATA/CALCUTTA TUBE: From Environmental Economics to a job in the Urban Transport and Pollution Sector with TERI, New Delhi, Srijit Mukherjee dropped out of his Ph.D. to join IRI Symphony, Bangalore as an econometrician and business analyst. After Bangalore, and a brief stint in Milan, he quit to actively pursue theatre and films. His first directorial film Autograph, has not only won critical acclaim and box office success, it has also made news for its original lyrics and music even before its release. Lines from a song in this film are the favourite ring tones, caller tunes on cell phones across West Bengal. How did this fairy tale story begin?
Is Autograph your first step into Bengali cinema?
As a director, yes. But I shifted from Bangalore a bit earlier. I wrote, directed and acted in Checkmate, a play in English, an account of Byomkesh Bakshi’s last case. I was assistant director, lyricist and actor in both Anjan Dutt’s Madly Bengali and Aparna Sen’s Iti Mrinalini. In 2010, I got my big break with Autograph.
Do you agree with those who say that Autograph is a contemporarised remix of Satyajit Ray’s Nayak?
No, I don’t agree at all. Nayak is a frame of reference as a film-within-a-film. While Nayak deals with one life as seen through the eyes of others and the hero’s conscience symbolized by the female journalist, Autograph is about three lives intertwining through reel and real space. Autograph both counterpoints and reinterprets Nayak at some places when we see decadence in values and ruthlessness of ambition in the hero. Autograph takes a more contemporary look at the persona of a Superstar.
What inspired you to title the film as Autograph?
Autograph signifies fame, power, success and individuality – themes which are germane to the narrative. It is a nice, catchy and smart title which elicits a lot of interest and curiosity. And it has struck the right note as you can judge from the success of the film at the box office.
As a director, what comments do you have about the magical lyrics and music of the film?
There are eight song tracks that are from varied genres in music. I use music for storytelling purposes. I do not use songs for their own sake never mind how beautiful they might be. They must either take the story forward, or be an additional sub-narrative, or have the potential to replace a scene full of dialogues to bring out the emotional state of characters realistically. I am not fond of item numbers or lip sync song sequences. In Autograph, I use songs on the soundtrack in the background. At times, they are circumstantially woven into the ambience, and enrich the story-telling. Debojyoti Mishra and Anupam Roy have together created a magical score.
Why do you think did Prosenjit accept this role in a slightly off-the-track film than the ones he usually features in?
He felt that the script was flawless. He is perpetually hungry for good roles as he is underutilized as an actor in mainstream cinema that has mainly banked on his star value and box office potential. He had never played a superstar before. The character of Arun Chatterjee had the right mix of arrogance and humility, of humour and seriousness, of altruism and vindictiveness to impart a very real shade of grey to the character. This additional layering of playing another superstar, slightly different from Arun in the film-within-the-film, appealed to him.
Shoma A. Chatterji