Ribhu Dasgupta on adapting 'The Girl on the Train' for India: 'It's not an easy film to make'
Dasgupta is currently shooting 'The Girl on the Train' adaptation in London, and his new film 'Bard of Blood' premieres on September 27
You’d expect Indian director Ribhu Dasgupta to be a bundle of nerves considering his next directorial venture, Bard of Blood, premieres on Netflix tomorrow. An adaptation of the espionage thriller novel The Bard of Blood by Bilal Siddiqi, who has also worked on the screenplay, it is produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s company, Red Chillies Entertainment.
Indian shows haven’t had the greatest luck on streaming platforms so far, apart from Sacred Games, but Dasgupta believes it’s just a matter of time before the Indian content industries – Bollywood, et al – catch up with western sensibilities and quality. “It’s all new for us, and we’re still figuring it all out,” he says. “But in a year or two, there will be more shows making dents in the global arena.”
Netflix [and others] are the greatest gift to mankind. We are now catering to a content-driven audience.
Dasgupta is in London shooting the Indian adaptation of The Girl on the Train with Parineeti Chopra, and he has managed to squeeze in a few minutes to talk to me. He started working on the film the day after Bard of Blood wrapped, and he’s on a roll with more projects lined up right after. But there’s not a jaded bone in his body; if anything, he’s on a cresting artistic wave, basking in the boom that streaming platforms and cross-country collaborations have created for edgy filmmakers. “Netflix [and others] are the greatest gift to mankind,” Dasgupta laughs. “We are now catering to a content-driven audience.”
At 35, Dasgupta’s career reflects his love for thrillers, although he doesn’t want to be boxed into that space. “I would love to make a simple film set in just one house if the story is exciting, because that’s when the narrative flows,” he says. Having moved to Mumbai about a decade ago, he assisted directors such as Anurag Kashyap – India’s version of Quentin Tarantino, whose crime epic Gangs of Wasseypur just made it on to The Guardian’s list of 100 best films of the 21st century – before debuting with Michael in 2011.
A gritty psychological thriller starring powerhouse actor Naseeruddin Shah, it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival that year. Dasgupta then went on to direct Yudh, a television mini-series, and the thriller Te3n, both starring Bachchan. Bard of Blood is a slight departure in that it’s an out-and-out action show, but with The Girl on the Train, Dasgupta is back in his zone – producing psychological whodunnits.
India is experiencing a surge of suspense and mystery-based programming; most shows that have made it to streaming platforms are of the genre, especially on Netflix. It is the kind of content that sells most readily and is in keeping with global shows that are trying to redefine edge-of-the-seat dramas. On one hand, this opens many doors, but on the other, it makes the writer or show runner’s job much harder to stay ahead in the race. “One shouldn’t carry that pressure,” Dasgupta says. “Of course, competition is important to push oneself, but that’s it.”
Dasgupta comes from a family of filmmakers from Bengal, including his father Raja and his brother Birsa, who is well-known in Tollywood, the segment of Indian cinema in the Telugu language. He attributes his ability to handle this fast-paced life to his previous career as a sportsman.
“I wanted to be a cricketer, but I realised that I love making films, too – it comes naturally to me,” he says. “Sport taught me to persevere; it developed character and strength in me, all of which are crucial if you want to survive in this ocean-like industry. You’ll never be afraid of failure.”
One of the greatest challenges that Dasgupta is navigating as a director is creating content both for streaming services and for the big screen. “The approach is entirely different,” he says. “A film is easier to write and make, but a series takes a lot of time to develop and write well. One needs to frame shots differently as well; after all, you’re watching shows on phones or iPads, as opposed to across 70mm. The grandeur has to be retained. It’s all about learning – and just watching content on Netflix helps me so much as a filmmaker.”
Dasgupta is especially relieved that writing is finally getting its due. “Writers are now prominent – they’re developing shows, becoming show runners,” he says. Actors, too, are being given the space in which to shine. In an industry that has been star-driven and less talent-driven for decades, the virtual world is an alternate arena in which to thrive, grow and shatter the labels they’re given. For instance, in The Girl on the Train, Parineeti steps out from the shadow of her cousin, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, having hitherto been largely typecast in romantic films.
“This is not an easy film to make, especially because it’s already a bestseller and an iconic Hollywood movie,” he says. “But working with Pari has been more than satisfying. Every actor needs that one film to catapult them to a different level. And she does it all so casually!”
Ditto for Emraan Hashmi, who was once dubbed a “serial kisser” for his racy films, and who leads the show on Bard of Blood – an excommunicated spy on an off-the-books mission that goes horribly wrong. A hugely underrated actor, Hashmi completely surrendered himself to me. “That’s a director’s dream. He’s also humble and supportive – he was right there beside me as we shot in the freezing temperatures of Ladakh. Nobody could have played this character better than Emraan.
“As a filmmaker, I always tell my actors, ‘I don’t want you in my film’. I want the character. It’s the characters that are remembered.”
But even being a serial director isn’t enough for Dasgupta. Moving forward, he wants to master writing.
“Of course, I love all the classics – films by Bengali stalwarts like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak, as well as stuff like Taxi Driver. But with time, your taste changes along with your sensibilities. And you see that you’re actually growing.”
Published: September 26, 2019 09:00 AM