One of the most acclaimed film directors of India, Goutam Ghose, never fails to amaze us with his brilliant direction and cinematography. Growing up and building his career base in Kolkata, Ghose has left an extra-ordinary impression on our hearts through his movies. Having worked with so many outstanding actors and winning endless number of national and international awards, he is a living example and an inspiration for movie-makers and movie-lovers.
Working for more than four decades primarily in Bengali cinema, he has given us some of the best movies like Padma Nadir Majhi, Sankhachil, Abar Aranye, Moner Manush, Paar, Kaalbela, Yatra, Dakhal among several others. We have also come across his excellent acting skills in movies like Baishe Shrabon and Chotushkone - films directed by Srijit Mukherji. His movies are not only popular and admired in India but abroad as well. Also, his undying passion for movies makes eagerly wait for his releases.
Tell us about your childhood days...
I was born in Calcutta in 1950, just a few years after independence. As a result, the impact of independence and the partition of Bengal was very strong. I still remember my father’s relatives came from erstwhile East Bengal almost as refugees and my maternal side was well settled in Kolkata. I would visit my relatives who had just arrived from East Bengal with my grandmother. Gradually as I grew up, I realised that although this independence was a great achievement for us, it had caused a lot of bloodshed between brothers. This has a retrospective effect when I think about my childhood days.
Kolkata was very exciting for me. For four years, I was in St John’s Diocesan and then shifted to Cathedral Missionary Boy’s School which was under the same Diocese. As there was really less number of boys in my class, girls used to pamper us. We used to get presents and we would visit their families. It intrigues me to think as to how a nation gets divided on the basis of religion. Despite the division, we held on to the community feeling within us.
What led you to film-making?
I was more interested in all kinds of games. Cinema for us was a rarity. We were not allowed to see all kinds of movies as it depended on our parent’s choice. I remember my parents took me to watch Pather Panchali as they thought it was different from the usual Bengali cinema. Otherwise, movies were quite unknown to us and I never knew my destiny would take me here.
As a young boy, I was quite drawn to magic and theatre. Magic fascinated me and I think cinema has some connection to magic. Both magic and cinema create illusions. Another push was a gift from my maternal uncle, he had gifted me a Kodak box camera on my birthday. I used to look through the viewfinder even when it had no films inside it. For me, that was the beginning of framing.
When did you realise that film-making was your true calling?
As I was growing up, I became fan of Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand among others. Sometimes, I used to bunk school to watch their movies. I was also very fascinated by American and French films that were shown at the American Center and Alliance Française. This phase was more like building up of my interests. In addition, I also had the opportunity to watch European films. I started to realise the unlimited amount of nuances a film could possibly have. Cinema is a very powerful language through which millions of hearts can be touched. The fact that it has so many layers and elements, fascinated me.
Music was also of prime interest. Music, theatre and my interest in photography drew me to cinema. For me, cinema is an intriguing combined art. I started reading up books which dealt with film-making. I still remember borrowing books from British Council Library and National Library as film books were expensive. I never went to a film school as I was the eldest in the family and didn’t want to create pressure on my parents. Although my parents were okay with it, I thought of earning by myself and contributing whatever little I could.
How much did Satyajit Ray influence you as a filmmaker? How closely were you associated with him?
My first association with Ray was in 1962. I was one of the first members of Sandesh and that was sort of my first exposure to Ray as an editor. Gradually I became a fan as I started reading about his work. I was also inspired by stalwarts like Ritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha and Mrinal Sen. I feel extremely proud that I knew these stalwarts on a personal level. Ray used to call me to his place and I used to bombard him with questions. I watched all his movies and we discussed it for hours.
Mrinal Sen gave me courage. He always said, never compromise on your hard work even when your films are not successful and advised me to go on making films. One should not let go of the spirit needed to pursue one’s dreams. I feel movies can partly change the world and bring people close to each other as it depends on the socio-economic system of the society. However, it has the power to record collective memories from different parts of the world.
Name one movie that is very close to your heart.
It’s very hard to choose one as I love all my movies. Each and every movie is like my child. My first movie was Maa Bhoomi, which was shot in Andhra Pradesh and was very successful at the box office. Perhaps, the next one would be my favourite.
Why Kolkata? What holds you back in this city?
I got innumerable offers from Mumbai and have made a lot of ad films as well. However, I have always stayed back in Kolkata as I feel it has some sort of inner strength. Historically, Kolkata was the nerve centre for the entire sub-continent. It’s my comfort zone and I love operating from here.
How could we hold on to Kolkata’s cultural identity?
In earlier days, Kolkata was the cultural hub and was considered the seat of power. As we know, great artists from all over India settled in Kolkata. However as generations passed by, the city lost its cultural identity. It began with the Partition. I believe Kolkata is still very secular and hospitable as compared to the rest of India. It has a long cultural heritage, which we must preserve. It has to be accepted that we are in a transitional period but one should never forget about one’s roots. The kind of diversity India has, needs to be respected at all costs.
Like in case of movies, there is a distinction drawn between national and regional movies but I feel that’s the incorrect way to term them. I believe each and every film is a national film and sometimes it can also be categorised as an international film if need be. It is very fascinating to see so many centuries exist together in our country.
A film, which is a powerful medium, is made within the realms of the social world and interpretations may vary. So, how do you think a film should be made, with a strong social message, underlined message or simply open interpretations?
Cinema is a language which can be used for various reasons. It can gather news, documentation of people, and create fiction. There are more than hundred ways to use this medium. For some filmmakers, cinema could be mere entertainment and for some, it may give away a message. However, I think people go to the movie theatres to experience time. For instance, I can a tell a story of 1000 years in 2 hours or a story of 2 hours in 2 hours or a story of 10 minutes in 2 hours. Hence, cinema has the power to squeeze or expand time. By watching movies, people get to experience what time actually is and in the process you either get entertained or educated.
Movie reviews and critics have increased in number because people voice their opinions on social media platforms. So in such a case what happens is that before you actually watch the movie and interpret it in your own way, you are already informed by someone else’s opinion. So does that affect the aura of the movie?
One cannot really ignore what is happening in social media. It has its own dichotomy. It’s open because of the technology and in the process you lose the fun. If you already know what the movie is about even before watching it, it becomes less interesting. People go to movie theatres to experience something new and unexpected, without having any pre-occupied notions, but if it’s not the case then sometimes, I believe, the perception about the whole movie changes.
Think about what happened 15 years back. A movie review came about a week after the release date but now it happens within an hour and also not to forget about the ratings that are given. This affects the moviegoers in a way. However, on a positive note, if the movie has strength, it will enter your mind, doesn’t matter what the opinion is. It has to strike a chord in order to linger on.
How do you think documentaries and short films can be made more acceptable or acknowledged by this generation, apart from long reel cinema?
It’s very unfortunate that they still aren’t, because there are hundreds and thousands of documentaries and feature films that are made around the world. It is really disturbing to see that there are no dedicated TV channels to broadcast them.
Documentaries are like the mirrors of a nation as they document socio-economic conflicts, ethnic situations, lives in faraway places and people’s lives with different perceptions. I think we need a similar channel like Discovery in our country or any dedicated channel; otherwise many talented documentary film makers would remain unnoticed.
How important is the language of image, besides actors and dialogues. Of course the story’s thread is tied with the images and has to have sync but otherwise when you are photographing, what plays on your mind?
Cinema is primarily the language of images. For nearly two decades, movies were silent. It has to be kept in mind that cinema is a visual medium and sound is just a dimension. Visuals have the power to narrate a story and that is what makes a film. Sound gives impression to that certain expression.
Being behind the cameras, I believe through visuals you can move your audience and you don’t need conversations, or dialogues or music. However, the new language along with sound makes it more creative. It’s not necessary that sound has to be synchronised. It is important to note that each and every element of cinema moves around the visuals. Hence, they do not necessarily have to be complementary to the visuals.
It is also very important for a filmmaker to keep himself updated with the new technologies because cinema is heavily dependent on it. As you use advanced systems, you learn about the sense of proportion as to how much should be used and to what extent. The main idea behind it is how you apply it and that’s very important.
How do you perceive the future of Bangla cinema?
Well, the market of Bengali Cinema is rather small. I would say that Bangladesh is a potential market as I have done some Indo-Bangladesh productions like Padma Nadir Majhi, Sankhachil and Moner Manush. I believe that’s one way of expanding your market. Besides, Bengalis are all over the world, there is a potential market out there, but still we are not tapping those markets. In case of Bollywood and Telugu movies, you find them to be more widespread.
New generation film makers are trying to capture the taste of the new audience. Perception of audience has changed and it’s quite natural in this era of electronic media. Filmmakers like Kaushik Ganguly, Arindam Sil, Srijit Mukherjee and Shekhar Das among several others try to capture the niche audience as well they try to break away by trying to reach the larger audience.
However, this change in perception has taken place, especially, in the urban and the semi-urban areas. People residing in rural areas still prefer movies similar to those produced in 70s and 80s. It’s a matter of concern that the market is shrinking and theatres are closing down. We need to make our industry economically viable and I’m hopeful because new generation distributors are also thinking of spreading Bengali films in metro cities. They are also trying to release them abroad like in North America, UK and Australia.
Bengali cinema is not so acclaimed on the international front as compared to Marathi or Malayalam films. Somewhere down the line, we have been trailing behind. New generation must make films which will be recognized at the international level.
What are the deciding factors for a filmmaker while casting actors for a movie?
At times, casting big actors matters and sometimes it does not. In the Mumbai film industry, If you can get SRK or Aamir or Salman for your movie, you already get some kind of assurance of the movie being a hit. It remains undeniable that to cast big stars gives us some assurance. However, there are movies for which you don’t need stars at all. You just need a new face and something fresh.
While making movies, I always think whether the image of the character will go away from the mind of the audience if a big actor is cast. Next, if that actor becomes the character, the audience gets an idea of what is being portrayed and it’s the same with non-actors. This is what makes a cinema credible. To earn credibility, any actor has to become the character. Like in my last film, Sankhachil, I cast a new little girl who had no previous link with acting.
I have handled all kinds of actors, starting from big stars to non-actors. So, it’s a different experience to combine trained and untrained actors. One has to be flexible while handling actors. It all depends on the content and the kind of film through which I want to express myself.
I have worked with great actors from Bollywood like Shatrughan Sinha, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Mohan Agashe, Nana Patekar, Rekha, Deepti Naval, Sharmila Tagore and Tabu.They never behaved like stars but have given their best to become my characters. So was the case with our greats like Utpal Dutt, Mithun Chakrabarty, Soumitra Chatterjee, Robi Ghosh, Samit Bhanja, Shubhendu Chatterjee, Rupa Ganguly, Debasree Roy, Prosenjit Chatterjee and many others.They all have enriched my films along with many non-actors. I love this combination of professionals and non actors.
You are a member of Shyam-Benegal committee that has been set up by the Government to look into the functioning of the Censor Board. Tell us about your experience as a member.
The committee, which was an initiative of Arun Jaitley, was led by Shyam Benegal. It was formed to revise certain code of laws of censorship or rather film certification. We recommended a more liberal certification system under the ambit of 1952 Cinematograph Act and could not go beyond a point with our suggestions as they had to be in accordance with the Act. It’s a known fact that one cannot control the Internet and I hope that the Government would come up with new regulations.
We also recommended dropping of the idea of scissoring and just going for gradation. I personally believe there is no need for certification as well. There is no certification needed for music, theatre, literature or even for serials. So, why only on cinema, remains a big question to me. I feel it’s redundant to have two laws on one thing. However, it’s self-contradictory. For instance, there can be a movie which might showcase communal disunity or might preach values that are contrary to our secular fabric, so in that case, there is some control needed as we cannot allow anyone to instigate others on the basis of religion. This issue is so complex in nature that it can’t be dealt with overnight. You have to find a middle way to match the new age with regard to monitoring.
How well do you think is the State Government working?
The changes are quite visible in the last four years. Many welfare schemes have been formulated and implemented to benefit the underprivileged. Our interim budget is very positive as the Government has not curtailed fund on the welfare schemes for the less privileged, despite financial constraints and huge debt. The Government has provided new infrastructure for the industries, restored old infrastructure and given respect to senior members. In a way, it is very encouraging. However, four years isn’t very long. Bengal is thriving as new industries are coming up. Despite all the odds, Bengal has potential and is doing pretty well.
Tell us something about your future projects that we are likely to see.
I’m starting a new feature film. It’s an Indo-Italian co-production and is a multilingual movie. The language is primarily Hindi and English and partly Italian. The movie deals with the encounter between an Indian boy and an Italian writer. It shows how they create stories from different perspectives, which finally merge at one point. I’ll start this movie by October and shooting will be mostly in Madhya Pradesh and Mumbai and partly in Gujarat and South Italy. The Indo-Italian bilateral agreement is in place.
You have also acted in films. How does it feel to be on the other side of the camera?
I have been acting right from the beginning because when you direct your actors you also act on their behalf. Acting has always been a major part of my system. Also, I had practical training in theatre by Prithwish Bhattacharjee, from whom I learnt about the technicalities of acting. It is not a big deal for me but I have absolutely no plans to become a professional actor. I have acted on the requests of directors and I still get them.
How does it feel to be the winner of so many national and international awards?
Well, of course it’s a great satisfaction because it acts as a recognition of your hard work. Awards give recognition to the entire crew. I feel happy to see my entire crew happy. Although the director is the captain of the ship, the crew is equally responsible for the success.
How can film studies be made a popular subject at the college and University level?
It’s a very interesting subject. Although there are many universities which have film study courses, I think it should begin from senior school level. You should know that cinema is an independent medium and in order to pursue it in the future, one should have full knowledge about the evolution of the cinematic form. Cinema changes perception and learning about the basic technicalities should start from senior school level.
What would be your message to young filmmakers?
Keep your eyes and ears open. Spread the word of tolerance and keep the secular fabric of the country intact. On one hand, we have technology and on the other there is terrible intolerance. Filmmakers should work towards spreading tolerance. New filmmakers should bring a sense of peace because peace is the way to reach such a level of tolerance.