Goutam Ghose has been enriching us with his extraordinary films and documentaries in a creative career spanning almost five decades. With world class films like Paar, Antarjali Yatra, Padma Nadir Majhi, Moner Manush and outstanding documentaries like Hungry Autumn, Meeting a Milestone, Beyond the Himalayas he has brought International critical acclaim to India and Bengal. His films and the sheer human aspects of them have put him and his work in a separate league altogether while establishing a benchmark of their own. In the flagship segment of Cybertalkies, Speaking of Cinema, where we Interview eminent film personalities and speak about their body of work, we got hold of Goutam Ghose and asked him numerous questions covering his illustrious career. Excerpts from the Goutam Ghose’s interview with Anindya.
Edited Excerpts from the interview:
Anindya: In 1984, you made ‘Paar’ with Nasiruddin Shah and Shabana Aazmi. Though Paar was a serious film, it was not only a critical success but was a commercial success as well. In contemporary times, we have seen that serious cinema is getting less and less commercial success. When you compare that time with now, do you feel serious cinema has distanced itself from masses? Or is it the other way around?
Goutam Ghose: Actually this was always there. In the case of Paar, when we made it, we made it with passion. We decided on the first day of shoot to cross the river, and Nasir and Shabana just jumped into the water. Many people have asked me why Paar was a commercial success. One of the reasons was that the structure of the narrative was interesting, it holds people’s attention.
Another reason, which is extremely important, the audiences were experiencing something new. Paar told the journey of two people who migrated from village to city, cast war and their subsequent struggle afterwards in the city. Perhaps audiences did not see this subject before on the big screen, barring the exception of Do Bigha Zameen may be. So, many people told me then that this was a totally new experience for them.
A woman in Japan after screening of Paar told me that if a man and a woman contribute equally we can achieve true progress in society, instead of that we see division between these genders in our society. These experiences, I believe, helped Paar make a mark on the Box Office. Not just Paar, but Ardhyasatya by Govind Nihlani and some films by Shyam Benegal managed to do this as well.
Apart from that various factors like advent of consumerism, mediocre daily soaps, etc have contributed in distancing people from good cinema. But, there are people and groups who are working to produce something that will come out and keep surprising us every now and then.
Anindya: Apart from your Documentaries, your other movies like Paar, Antarjalir Yatra, Patang, Gudiya, Dekha, Abar Aranye, etc have all received awards at National and International Levels. Gudiya and Antarjalir Yatra, even secured their place in Un Certain Regard section in Cannes Film Festival. How does this International acclaim affect your filmmaking process? Does it add in any way to your creative pursuit?
Goutam Ghose: Of course it does. When I first went to an International festival I was able to understand how well I did or did not do. It opens your eyes to the outstanding work that is being done elsewhere in the World. Also, it does feel good to get Awarded, it’s not just me who feels good but my crew, my actors, they also feel good. But what has been a real achievement is that this has helped me interact with Great Filmmakers which has been truly inspiring. Be it Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak…all of whom saw only one film of mine then ‘Hungry Autumn’…..or be it Tapan Sinha, Rajen Tarafdar or Asit Sen ….even abroad…I met numerous filmmakers and was inspired from them….all because of Film Festivals.
Another thing that happens is that it broadens your vision at an International level. I have noticed self containment even in some of my friends. They make a moderate film, their friends say you have made an amazing film, you are a genius, and then the filmmaker gets complacent and self contained with that kind of work….they get stuck in the well. Only when they realize that our films don’t stand a chance against the kind of movies that are being made Internationally, will they be able to step up their game.
Anindya: You were doing research on Lalon Fakir much before you made Moner Manush. Does that mean you were thinking of making a movie on Lalon for a long time? On the other hand Sunil Ganguly, author of the book Moner Manush had said that you called him and got the movie rights for the book half an hour after the book was released. Its certainly not possible to read the book in 30 mins, so how much of it is true? How did that book help you with the screenplay?
Goutam Ghose: Sunilda loved me so much. He was not just like a brother was also a friend. My wife always reads the Desh magazine before me in our home. One day she said that you were thinking about Lalon but here Sunilda has already written a story on him. I didn’t even read the book, but my wife did. As soon as I heard this, I called him up for the rights and he immediately agreed! But, I did start work on Lalon much before that, right after Babri Demolition. I thought, if I make a movie on riot I’ll have to show riot, violence, etc. Why not instead make a movie with someone like Kabir or Lalon, who were great thinkers, folk singers and philosophers, someone who can help people understand where the core of peace and religious harmony lies in our country.
So in between other projects I kept gathering facts on Lalon. But, when you use the writings coming from a champion writer like Sunil Ganguly, that helps you create your material. Though me and my friend Shahzad Firdous co-wrote the screenplay, Sunilda’s book helped us immensely. As there are so little details that are known about Lalon, we had to rely on Sunilda’s imagination on certain parts of the story. As a result, moner manush was made with the combined efforts of my experience and Sunilda’s creativity.
Anindya: Satyajit Ray once said that he would feel uncomfortable to go and make a movie in a milieu that he is unfamiliar with. But, we have seen Iran’s Asgar Farhadi going to Spain and making ‘Everybody Knows’, Majid Majidi came to India and made ‘Beyond the Clouds’ with you and even you in the beginning of your career went and made ‘Maa Bhoomi’ in Telugu. What kind of challenge does a filmmaker face when making a film in a world that is unfamiliar to him/her?
Goutam Ghose: Well. I always wanted to make an unfamiliar world familiar by exploring it. I was always curious since childhood about other parts and cultures of the country and the best way to explore more was to mix with the people who belonged to those cultures. If we only mix with people of our strata of the society then we won’t be able to know or understand anything about the world that they inhabit.
When I made Maa Bhoomi, I didn’t know Telugu at all. But, I had help from colleagues there. It took us a lot of time to research, we travelled from one village to another to find out what exactly happened during the Telangana peasant uprising. Finally when it released, it was a huge commercial success. Similarly, when I made Paar, it started with an article written by MJ Akbar on cast fewd, so I went to Bihar with the intention of making a documentary. But, then I felt if I make a documentary, no one will watch it. So I decided to make it into a feature film with Samaresh Basu’s story as the climax. But, here again, it was the research I did that helped me become familiar with an unfamiliar world.
And, there is nothing wrong in it. When I made Dekha or Abar Aranye, those worlds were known to me, but there is a world outside of that as well…..shouldn’t I explore them?. These worlds, particularly rural India, have always fascinated me. The writings of Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, particularly ‘The Robbery of the Soil’ too have a contribution in the inception of that fascination. These reasons have always pushed me to explore unfamiliar worlds more and more.