Q - The Non-conformist
Q is Kaushik Mukherjee's self-designed acronym for his original name. It marks his breaking away from every socially imposed fetters we are chained by. He extends his unique stance to his sexually explicit films. Bishh (2009, meaning Poison), his first film, drew near-empty theatres. He did not blink before he made his second film Gandu (the most used expletive loosely meaning The Loser in English) that has not been screened in India because Q did not bother about a censor certificate. His new film Tasher Desh is his personal take on Rabindranath Tagore's Tasher Desh which was first staged in Kolkata's Madan Theatre in 1933.
How do you look back on Bissh?
Bishh, which means 'poison', was originally titled 3X which was changed when the Censors had problems with it. They felt it would negate the seriousness of the film. But as a filmmaker, I really do not 'look back'. I ask my audience to accept my filmmaking polarities where I make films like Bissh as much a real part of myself as is Gandu and now Tasher Desh. I do not disown the one for the other. Gandu could not be screened here but thanks to its international recognition, my name became familiar and I got to know Anurag Kashyap. You might have to watch Gandu secretly on your mobile app in the toilet. You will watch Tasher Desh in a theatre. Both films are cinema.
How do you define yourself as a filmmaker?
I think I have learnt a lot about the concept and ideology of cinema from the West. I consider the making of cinema not to be a profit-making business but a political process. In Europe and in other Western cultures, cinema is looked at as 'culture' and not as 'business' like we do in India. But we do not have a subsidy system in our country and we must subsidise our own films if we want to make films at all. State functioning is important to allow the cinema to flow freely. I am trying my best to do what I can and I have had great help from the NFDC thanks to the tremendous push Anurag Kashyap gave NFDC to back Tasher Desh. Then there have been international collaborators. In the West, cinema is a cultural idiom treated with the liberty of expanding the definition and the parameters of cinema and not throw away a film because it could not fetch the money invested in it.
You see, as part of the Bengali identity, as children, we are burdened with certain icons without being told why they are considered icons. This was a 'burden' I had to live with. It is like your parents telling you to bow when the car passes a temple and as a child, you just bow without knowing why you must bow. Tagore is like that for every Bengali child. We are shown his bearded portrait or are made to listen to his songs and taught to consider him somewhat like a God. To me at least, it was a burden I had to understand. I did not agree with this blind adulation and I had to find out for myself what Tagore meant. I found some of my answers in Tasher Desh.
Why Tasher Desh?
Tasher Desh deals with a universal theme. It is one of the most fluid and flexible among Tagore's performance dramas that he kept on changing from one performance to the next. If Tagore was a burden for me, he is also elastic and this elasticity gives me the freedom to play around with Tagore's original creation. It is about a prince and his friend who get shipwrecked on an island and discover that they are in The Land of Cards where the subjects, the King, the Queen, the pillars of the media, are humanised symbols of cards. They lead strictly regimental lives where even organically spontaneous functions like breathing, yawning, laughing and crying are done by the rules of the land. The prince and his friend bring change in their lives not through physical violence but by appealing to their emotions through nature, poetry, music and dance that weave in the larger message of freedom and harmony. The lead within the kingdom, however, was taken by the Queen of Cards. Tagore dedicated Tasher Desh to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
What about your version of Tasher Desh?
My version of Tasher Desh uses the original Tagore text like the Bible with all the songs intact and committed to Tagore's lyrics and music. But my approach and interpretation through visuals and characters is different because I picked on the post-Modern elements present in Tagore. He deconstructed his own play every time he staged it. The text is contextual and topical and this is what struck me. But my film is fully a commercial film aimed at the masses. It does not have the niche audience Suman Mukherjee's very out-of-the-box Kangal Malsat (a rather bold Bengali film released recently) has. For me, it is an improvisation.
Where did you shoot and how did you get around the costumes of the soldiers in your film dressed in red and white with the card symbol drawn in bright red on their lips?
We shot the film within a 25-day span on the beaches of Sri Lanka and in a series of ruins in Bengal. The costumes were easier than they were for Tagore. Tabasheer Zutshi did the costumes for my film. What appealed to me the most is that Tasher Desh is the first creation in which Tagore attempts fantasy and blends his romantic Utopian sensibilities with a modernist approach in the three-act structure. He does not use a single protagonist but allows his composition to shift from one character to the next which then becomes the protagonist. It is not what one would normally associate with Tagore. He had seen the rise of Hitler and I think this was his response that made him think of a scenario of how the ultimate liberation movement can happen and what is needed to make it happen.
You have an international technical crew. Did that help?
That is right. We have had an ideal collaboration with some of the best artistes and technicians I have been a huge fan of. The fact that they knew nothing of the text or the context I think was necessary because I wanted them to enter into a space they are not familiar with. Among them are musicians like Asian Dub Foundation, Sam Mills, Susheela Raman, Anusheh, Eric Truffaz. Manu Dacosse is our Belgian DOP. This gave me the objective eye that would be a perfect counterpoint to my subjective one.
( IMAGES: Stills from Tasher Desh / Photo of Q by Avishek Mitra)
(Posted on 18-08-2013)