In first person: Arghyakamal Mitra

‘We just keep up with the West’

Print edition : October 18, 2013

Arghyakamal Mitra at work in his office at his residence.

100 years of Indian Cinema

Technically, I definitely feel that Indian cinema has taken a great leap. Whatever developments have been taking place globally, India has somehow kept pace with them. But something has to first happen in the West, and then it happens here. Another thing which upsets me is whatever we say about 100 years of cinema, it is telling that there is perhaps not a single technical machine that is made in India—from camera to post-production equipment. Everything we use as tools of cinema is made outside India. This rankles; ours is one of the biggest industries in the world and still we cannot make any tools for our own work.

Regarding my area [film editing], again, anything that has happened in the West, we try and follow up and claim that we have progressed. Keeping up with the West is perhaps the norm. I do not think we have developed anything that is of Indian idiom, either in my craft or in cinema in general. There was a time when a certain kind of cutting, known as “jump cuts”, became fashionable and we started following it; then again there was what was called MTV cuts, even that happened in the West much before. My question is, why can we not do something that is meant for “our” kind of cinema and our sensibilities?

I myself have never tried to break away from the mould even though internally I may have rebelled. I know that my craft does not belong just to me. It has to be supported by the team that I am working with. Secondly, I would not say my craft is subservient, but it has to follow the vision of another person. But I feel extremely ashamed that after so many years in the industry I have not been able to contribute as positively as I should have. I started out with a dream, but I don’t think I have achieved any element of the dream in the sense that I have not contributed anything that can be called unique. I have also followed suit. Direction is the only alternative. I think the only way I can break away from the mould is if I have my own set-up—making short films in which expenses are low but one can express oneself. But here again you are confining yourself to a particular genre of film-making, which does not get much attention. Unless one makes feature films, not much interest is shown in one’s works; and cinema in India is extremely categorised.

There are director-editors who are doing good work. I definitely like Amitabh Chakraborty’s work. He’s done two very interesting films— Kaal Abhirati and Cosmic Sex—he’s also a brilliant editor. But because of the kind of work he does he is sort of marginalised and does not work under the so-called big-industry platform. Another editor whose work I admire a lot is Arjun Gourisaria, who is from West Bengal and has done very little work but is a very interesting editor. When I say an interesting editor, what I mean is that they try and do something beyond what is happening, in the sense they try and bring out a new essence in their work. It is possible because in a lot of cases they are the directors also, like Paresh Kamdar—an editor-director I like a lot.

In a certain way, my collaboration with Ritu [Rituparno Ghosh] had this element of taking things forward, thinking slightly different and putting things together. My collaboration with Ritu began with Dahan (1998), his third film, and from thereon we worked together. I liked what Ritu was doing and he was trying to do something different from what was happening in cinema at that time. He also allowed me to carry on with my very own thought-driven experimentations, which he tried to incorporate during the shooting process so that everything was not left for the editing table. In Dahan, he tried doing a little bit of that experimentation, and he really took it forward in Abohoman (2009) and Chitrangada (2012). We were trying to tell a story without getting into a certain narrative linearity of editing.

I have worked with many directors, and at different points of time you find different people exciting to work with. I love working with Suman Mukhopadhyay, who directed Herbert and Kangal Malsat; and Malay Bhattacharya, whose film Kahini I feel is one of the high points of Bengali as well as Indian cinema but somehow never got the kind of exposure it deserved. It is a brilliant film. Anup Singh is another very interesting film-maker; his first film, Name of a River, which I edited, was in certain ways a biopic of Ritwik Ghatak. Anup is a Dar es Salaam-born Sikh, who was my batchmate in the Film Institute [Film and Television Institute of India (FTTI), Pune] and who made his first film in Bengali. His second film, Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost, is doing the rounds in the international circuit and got a break in the Toronto Film Festival. Another director I love working with is Anik Dutta, who directed Bhooter Bhabishyat. I like to work with him because he works in a very classical mould akin to Satyajit Ray. I find it to be very marshalled and disciplined. I like to work with the extremes—the classical and with a mould where a lot of things can happen. For example, right now I am very excited to work with a new director, Bodhayan Mukherjee, who is making his film with three different stories that are being given absolutely three different treatments and in different time spans. I find this very challenging, where three different kinds of editing practices are required, yet it has to be a unified thing. One director that I would really love to work with is Adoor Gopalakrishnan. But at this stage of my life, I am increasingly thinking why can’t I do it on my own rather than work with other directors. As far as awards go, they are fine, but what interests me is appreciation from peers. When peers come and congratulate me on my work, they are rising above themselves.

I became extremely interested in cinema in my schooldays, and as with nearly every Bengali in Kolkata, it all began with Pather Panchali.I was also influenced by my elder brother who used to see a kind of film that was different from what was going on. When I was young I could only see the films that my parents approved— Pather Panchali, Sound of Music, Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne (a Ray children’s classic), and the yearly two-week event of the Children’s Film Society. Subsequently, I started reading a lot about cinema and started visiting various film clubs, begging them to let me see the screenings. I ultimately left engineering studies to join the FTII. I chose to study film editing because I found the subject intriguing. I found it technical and at the same time very creative. Soon after I passed out, I landed work in Kolkata and things started happening.

Even though I passed out of the institute in 1986, my first feature film came out in 1995, Malay Bhattacharya’s Kahini. For the first eight years, I was occupied doing television work based in Kolkata. I was also doing a lot of advertisement work and corporate work—essentially waiting for the films to come. I realised that I could only get my break in films if the people I was working with on television got into films, because they knew about my abilities. The established people have their own units. Which is what happened with Malay Bhattacharya, with whom I did a television serial. The same was true with Rituparno, who got to know me after I worked with him on some advertisement television work.

As told to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay