Interview: Film-maker Bipuljit Basu.

‘What they need is recognition’

Print edition : April 10, 2020

Bipuljit Basu with Abhijit Dutta, his producer, between shots. Photo: Debasish Bhaduri

Interview with the film-maker Bipuljit Basu.

THE film-maker and musician Bipuljit Basu has tried a unique experiment by making a “participatory film” for the first time in a red-light area of Kolkata. He discovered a group of young amateur film-makers, all children of sex workers, and roped them in as line producers for his upcoming short film, Midnight Blues. In an exclusive interview with Frontline, Basu talks of his experience working with the youth from Kalighat. “They have the capability to go a long way. Now what they need is recognition from the Indian mainstream film industry,” he says. Excerpts:

Tell us something about “Midnight Blues”. Where do you plan to go with the film?

Before starting my career in film, I used to work as a music composer. In 2008, I got in touch with the brothel children through a media project in Kolkata, and soon I developed bonhomie with them. I saw there the women receive “customers” in their tiny rooms to earn a living; the little children have no space to stay till midnight. Be it monsoon or winter, they roam around the roadside, and so many untold stories are born there every night.

It affected me so much that I scored a song for the children in 2008. It was recorded in 2013. You can find it on YouTube as “Tor mukh” [Your face]. That song had been lingering in my ears for years. In August 2019, I conceptualised the film project on the red-light area children in Kalighat and started writing the screenplay. If I hadn’t written the song, the film Midnight Blues wouldn’t have happened.

I am planning to float the film on every conventional and non-conventional film domain, including the international film festival circuit, national and foreign universities, film institutes, chambers of commerce, social clubs and consulates and finally on OTT [over-the-top media services]. I have entered into a partnership with Independent Film Circle [United States]. I have spoken to Surjyodoy Chatterjee, Film Division, Goethe-Institut, so that the film can reach audiences in the U.S. and European film circuits. The French actress Tiphaine Mayran has acted in this film. I don’t want to leave any stone unturned to let the audience know the children’s story, which is unknown to the rest of the world, and the unique film production process that happened in India for the first time.

How did you come across Cam-On (the group of young amateur film-makers)?

I wanted to make it a completely participatory film. Otherwise, there was no point in making it. My young, energetic producer, Abhijit Dutta, and I agreed on this. But we couldn’t find a way [to do this]. Because it [the red-light area] is an overtly sensitive area, and we hardly got a chance to enter there with my unit. With a small team, we started spending time in the Kalighat red-light area from October and started speaking to various people, local clubs and NGOs. But we were not getting any response from them. Then, an unprecedented incident took place. During our meetings with various people in Kalighat, we identified a group of young people who happened to be sex workers’ children, and all of them are creative amateur short-film makers who upload their videos on YouTube. I started motivating them to collaborate with us as a technician team. Soon, their mothers also joined them. They belong to a vulnerable group, and keeping them motivated and focussed to join a mainstream film was my initial challenge. Abhijit Dutta supported me wholeheartedly to form the group, giving every effort and resource.

What was it like working with these young people from Kalighat?

Let me tell you an interesting incident. I always found the deconstruction theory of Jacques Derrida very difficult to understand. I am not ashamed of admitting it.

In a script-reading session, I read the screenplay to the sex workers, mothers and children, and asked them to get back to me with their perspective. One week later, when they got back to me, what a transformation they had made! On that day, I understood what “deconstruction” is! What I couldn’t understand from reading hundreds of pages for years, they taught me in just an hour.

They have groomed and trained the actors to act like them. The actors—Manosree, Sylvia, Prabal Bhadra, Sania and Deep Sarkar [child actor]—themselves spent week after week with the sex worker community, and I thank them for it.

The women worked on the costume and make-up, sharing their knowledge and the way they dress up every day. The Cam-On team and the community have been involved from location hunting, art setting and production controlling to acting, casting finalisation, assisting in direction and editing. They are also making a documentary on the entire process of how they have emerged as a film production house, the first from a red-light area in India. My entire team is astonished with their performance. I must thank my team: My producer Abhijit Dutta, DOP [director of photography] Pravatendu Mondal, art director Ranajit Garai, editor Anirban Maity, sound designer Partha Burman, associate director Mousumi Bilkis. Without their spontaneous support, the Cam-On formation wouldn’t have been possible.

Working on this film with you has given the youngsters a lot of hope. Where do you think they can go from here?

It’s a mainstream film, and they have designed a mainstream film’s production. So, it shows they have the capability to go a long way. Now, what they need is recognition from the Indian mainstream film industry. They need to get a technician card from the cine employees’ association so that they can work on other film productions.

Do you plan to work with Cam-On again?

My next feature film will be based on 10 tribal Muslim girls who challenged religious patriarchy in their mohalla. I am looking for collaboration for it, and I will want the Cam-On team working as a line producer unit. I want to see a marginal group like them designing another sublime story creatively on the screen. In Indian cinema, this approach has also never been experimented with. Only mainstream cinema can bring about such a social impact.

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