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Re-opening the debate on Dhananjay's hanging

In an exclusive interview with Nandini Guha, Arindam Sil, director of the film based on one of the high profile criminal case of Dhananjay, talks about why he chose this particular case.

Actor, director and producer Arindam Sil has just received the Mahanayak Uttam Kumar 2017 from the West Bengal government for best film director. He has also bagged the best director award for Byomkesh Pawrbo and Egoler Chokh at the IBFA(International Bangla Film awards)held at the Silicon Valley earlier this year. A marketing whiz who took to celluloid in 2009, Sil is known to be one of Bengal's finest line producers before he took to film direction. A slew of hits like Ebar Shobor, Har Har Byomkesh, Byomkesh Pawrbo, Egoler Chokh followed, even as the audience now waits with bated breath for his August release, Dhananjay, based on one of the most high profile criminal cases of Bengal that led to the hanging of Dhananjay Chatterjee. Sil opens a whole new debate about the crime committed, the investigation process and whether capital punishment was justified in this case.
Why did you choose this very difficult subject for your upcoming film, Dhananjay?
It is the most difficult film among all the seven films I have directed so far. I must say that it all began with director Atanu Ghosh's suggestion that I should make a film on the story of Dhananjay Chatterjee, a liftman who was hanged to death for rape and murder of a teenage schoolgirl, Hetal Parekh in Kolkata in 1990. Chatterjee was hanged in 2004 after serving a life sentence and all pleas for Presidential pardon were shot down. My plan to direct a film on this story was followed by a year of painstaking research where my team spoke to all the stakeholders of this case like Dhananjay's family, especially his father, his wife, the cops and so on. We could not however trace Hetal Parekh's family even in Mumbai. Then several unknown aspects of the story tumbled out to the extent that producers SVF Entertainment confidently felt that this was their next celluloid project. Now the film is ready for release on August 11.
So what does your film depict? Dhananjay the criminal or was he someone who didn't deserve capital punishment?
I did not go into whether Dhananjay was guilty or not guilty. I merely started a debate. I'm not questioning the Court in any way. However, the investigation leading upto his death may not have been foolproof. Someone else may have been guilty of the act. If after watching the film, the case reopens, my entire crew and cast will breathe a sigh of relief. Dhananjay's family is alive but the stigma remains with them life-long. As a director I was stepping out from any comfort zone and handling the naked truth with the maximum integrity and humanity that I was capable of.
What did you find on visiting Dhananjay's family?
They live in utter seclusion from the rest of society. We visited them many times. I spoke to his father, his wife on several occasions. It was painful.
What was the most challenging aspect about directing this film?
Recreating reality was the toughest part of the film. Enacting the court room scenes in such a sensitive case was the most difficult part. Then there were torture scenes too. In one such scene, I show the father's moustache being ripped off after the crime. Then the last scene of the film where I use magic realism as a technique, was challenging. But sometimes, one has to break conventions and step beyond the ordinary.
How did you line up the cast for the film?
Some of the actors actually bore resemblance with real characters linked to the incident. Veterans like Paran Bandopadhyay, Kanchan, Mir, Kaushik Sen, Sudipta Chakraborty, Mimi Chakraborty have put up fine performances. Anirban Bhattacharya who plays Dhananjay and Anusha Viswanathan who plays Hetal Parekh are also brilliant in the film.
What are your marketing plans for the film?
The film has been acquired by Amazon Prime. It is the first Bengali film to be acquired by Amazon Prime. We are also targeting international film festivals. The film is also likely to be screened at the Indian Panorama section of the national film festival.
Your next film after Dhananjay?
I am beginning to shoot Shabor from September 7.
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