Noted filmmaker Srijit Mukherji returns to the UAE for the Bengali film festival Abhijaan with his latest film Chotushkone. He pulled off a coup of sorts by casting five directors in the film. His next project marks the Bengali-film debut of the former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen. Mukherji tells The National why he enjoys the Dubai and Abu Dhabi film festivals, and talks about his Bollywood plans.
Your first film Autograph was an official selection at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Film Festival while your second film Baishe Srabon screened at the 2011 Dubai International Film Festival. How has your UAE film scene experience been?
I think both Abu Dhabi and Dubai host some of the most vibrant film festivals. The film scene here is quite multifarious and versatile. Also, I feel very refreshed when I travel to Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
In Chotushkone, you have cast acclaimed filmmakers Goutam Ghose, Aparna Sen and Kaushik Ganguly, and actor-directors Parambrata Chatterjee and Chiranjit Chakraborty. Why choose filmmakers to act? Were you at any time intimidated by their presence?
I wanted to fuse reality and fiction. I wanted actual directors to play the role of four directors in Chotushkone. That gives additional layers to the narrative and I believe strongly in layered narratives. The question of getting overawed or intimidated didn't arise since all these people are such brilliant professionals. Being directors themselves, they know there's only one captain of the ship and that works wonders for me.
Like your past films, Chotushkone found box-office success in select theatres outside West Bengal, in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, breaking the language barrier. To what do you attribute this popularity?
I have a loyal national audience outside Bengal. Also, my films are an extension of myself. I was in Delhi for five years, in Bangalore for five years, had a short stint in Milan and I keep travelling to Mumbai so I have a cosmopolitan way of treating cinema, which is why even non-Bengalis enjoy my films. In fact, we are thinking of a Bollywood version of Chotushkone very soon. A lot of producers have shown interest.
So will we see you dabble more in Bollywood from now on?
Not just dabble, I will go full-fledged into Bollywood. I shifted from theatre to films in greed of a greater audience and this will drive me from Bengal to Bombay because I’ll have a newer, bigger audience – I want more people to see my stories.
Your next film Nirbaak, which comes out in April, marks Bollywood diva Sushmita Sen's Bengali film debut. Why did you decide to cast her?
She's got a fantastic personality. Also, there's a lot of mystery and enigma attached to her. We have so far seen only her glamorous side. Nirbaak will be out of the box and will see her play an unconventional role.
You started off working as a social scientist in Delhi, and later as an economist in Bangalore. While you were actively involved in theatre all along, what made you become a full-time filmmaker?
An inner calling, you could say. I always had the storytelling bug but it was tough pursuing it while working as an economist or social scientist. It was better to take the plunge sooner than later and I wanted to die without any regrets.