February 27, 2019 / 10:18 AM / 6 months ago

Q&A: Sujoy Ghosh on why filmmakers cannot learn from past mistakes

Sujoy Ghosh made his directorial debut with a movie about music and friendship (“Jhankaar Beats”), but he has since moved on to darker themes. His last few films have all been in the thriller/mystery genre and the filmmaker says he gravitates towards the narrative style even when he doesn’t set out to.

Handout photo of Sujoy Ghosh (L) and Amitabh Bachchan

His latest is “Badla” (Revenge), an adaptation of a 2016 Spanish film directed by Oriol Paulo. The film has Taapsee Pannu and Amitabh Bachchan in lead roles and releases in theatres next week. Ghosh spoke to Reuters about the film.

Q: What attracts you to the thriller genre?

A: It’s not the genre. It is the story. Sometimes you get a good story that attracts you. The thriller is more of a format of story-telling, and I personally find it quite effective because in a cinema hall, I am battling for your attention. This format may help or may not, but if the content is good, it will hold your attention.

I started out with “Jhankaar Beats,” then I did “Home Delivery” and then “Aladin”. They are all different films, not one genre. It could be a coincidence, or maybe I tell a story in that way. Even when I tell a simple story like “Ahalya” it becomes a thriller.

Q: So you don’t necessarily set out to make one?

A: No, I don’t. In a “Kahaani 2” for example, it was about a social issue. But I also have to give you some form of entertainment. You are giving me two hours of your time in a movie theatre, which is a lot in this day and age. I should give you something in return, no? Also, thrillers are more of a fun ride.

Q: “Badla” is an adaptation of a Spanish film. You were also supposed to adapt “The Devotion of Suspect X” into a movie. How is your approach to adapting a work?

A: With a book, it is easier. The book gives you a story and it is your job to tell that story. So, you have a lot more freedom, a lot many ways to approach the story. You can start from page 355 or page one, or page 50. But adapting a film is a little more difficult because the story has already been told. My job is to tell a story, but that has already been done. Then the task becomes “how do I transfer this story to my world, my culture, my society, and most importantly, to my audience?”. Then you have to wrap your head around it – what changes can you make and what will be palatable to my audiences?

The tough part though is that something (about the film) is also very good, so you don’t want to mess with that. You can’t look at the Taj Mahal and say “I’ll build something better than this”. That’s stupidity. So, I have to keep the sanctity of the original and add my own two bits.

Q: What are the tools that you use to make the process easier?

A: I wish there was a defined process to this. Every time I start a new film I am groping in the dark – I am groping in the dark throughout the making of it. There is no process to it, but there is a certain amount of intuition and gut to it. That call that you make, the stockbroking call that this share is going to go up and I will buy it. The most important thing that I have learnt as a director is to make a decision and stick with it. If you think a particular scene is good enough or if you think you can better it, either way you have to take a call and live with it for the rest of your life.

Q: Are you able to look back at your past films and critically judge them?

A: No, because this is the only profession where you cannot learn from your past mistakes. Every film is completely different from the rest. By that logic, all films should be a ‘Kahaani’. I will be very surprised if someone says they learnt from their past films, because that is bullshit. If that is true, then we are changing the very definition of art. You cannot learn jack from your past mistakes.

Handout photo of Sujoy Ghosh (L) and Amitabh Bachchan (C) and Taapsee Pannu.

Q: Coming to “Badla”, did you keep the setting out of India for a reason?

A: Yes, it was a very conscious decision. I wanted a world where there was a lot of independence. My characters had to be self-sufficient. In India, I am never alone. If my wife is out of town, my neighbour will send me food everyday whether I like it or not. I am never made to feel that there is no one to care for me. When I am abroad, I make my own breakfast, wash my own dishes etc. I wanted a world where there is no maid, no security guard, curious neighbours. The love you get in our culture doesn’t work for this story.

Q: How do you react to criticism of your films?A: It hurts when someone says they don’t like it. I won’t lie. We’ve all been brought up to think that we should always come first in a race or in an exam. This is how society has conditioned us and I am a product of that.

Editing by David Lalmalsawma. This story is web-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission.

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