'Understanding' is more significant than 'mercy': Bratya
You are directing a film after 10 years. How has direction and acting through these 10 years enriched you or motivated you to direct films again?
I like making films. I have always been an ardent follower of films. I was in the habit of seeing films from a very young age. Among my contemporaries who took to film-making, I was the first to make films. So, it was expected that I would come back to film-making. The process got delayed by 10 years because I was busy with my political responsibilities and my cultural commitments in the period from 2011 to 2020. It is only now that I could manage time to make a film again.
You wrote scripts of the last three films that you directed. Why did you not write the script for 'Dictionary' alone?
I was the story writer of my first three films which were written in the form of a script. But this is a literature-based film. I have collaborated successfully with Ujjwal Chattopadhyay on theatre scripts based on Bengali literature like Athai Jal, Byomkesh and Adya Shesh Rajani. My experience of working with him has been good. So I thought it will be worthwhile to repeat the collaboration here as well.
You are starting the film with a statement (Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another) of the noted philosopher and anarchist Emma Goldman who faced a lot of violence in her life. Did that influence your choice of the quote?
Emma Goldman has had a turbulent life. I think she must have forgiven those who had been unjust to her. But my focus was on the characters of my film. In the film, the son forgives his father and the husband forgives his wife. The wife understands her husband and the father
too understands his son. The quote by Goldman I used refers to the 'understanding' which is much more significant to me than 'mercy'.
How has casting theatre actors in your film helped in its making?
Good theatre actors will definitely do well in films. Since I make both theatre and films and am a long-time theatre practitioner, I am committed to exploring them in films. Also, many film actors have worked in my theatre, so why should theatre actors not work in films. So creating this divide is meaningless. I choose actors based on their acting potential.
Why did you choose Mosharraf Karim, a noted film star of Bangladesh for your film? Was this a step to strengthen Indo-Bangladesh cultural ties?
Improving Indo-Bangladesh cultural ties is one aspect of it. But given the communal aggression in our state, it will be valuable to look at the amazing combination in my film. The producer of the film is Muslim while the director is Hindu. The hero of one of the narratives is Hindu, the heroine is Muslim. The protagonist of the other narrative is Muslim and his wife is Hindu. This exemplifies how art and artists finally move beyond petty barriers created by religion and state. Those who do communal divisive politics should learn from this. I have cast Musharraf because of his extraordinary acting prowess.
Silence has played a very important role in your film.
Silence is a very important factor in films that I like, which belong to a particular genre. For example, Ingmar Bergman has created silence through words in his film 'Silence'. Again, silence observed in the films made by Krzysztof Kieslowski has influenced me a lot. When a man goes against the state, another kind of silence is produced which is clearly shown by Kieslowski in his films. Silence is taken to the level of philosophy by Andrei Tarkovsky in 'The Sacrifice'. So, silence has always added a different dimension in cinema for the evolution of cinematic language. During the Nuvelle Vague period of France, silence earned a new dimension in cinemas. How can we forget that beginning of cinema was silent in the film of the Lumiere brothers? It was somewhere necessary to explore silence in my film as well; maybe that is why there is a lot of silence in it.
The male characters of your film counter the powerful and hegemonic notions of masculinity of our society. What is your thought on this?
The male ego that constitutes us since our youth is strongly evident much more in Mosharraf's character in the film than in Abir's character. What should I say… it was there in me as well…maybe it is still there. I felt that there was a need to deconstruct it. These egos enter into our subconscious mind right from childhood through our families. But it is really difficult to be able to frame a resistant narrative to it. This difficult task has been attempted by the characters of Makar and Ashok in the film.
Smita (NusratJahan) craves love and a soul-mate and gets refuge in Suman (Arna Mukhopadhyay). But ultimately both of them embrace gender stereotypes of society. How do you describe this?
Smita is an educated woman in the film but because she got married at an early age she did not get the chance to face the pretense and aura of intellectuals. Suman deliberately creates an intellectual aura in the film by quoting Shakespeare, Sartre and Shankha Ghosh to impress Smita. She does get carried away by it. Ashok is not only far better-looking than Suman, but his professional and economic status is much better than Suman as well. In such a situation, people have asked me, why should Smita develop a weakness towards Suman? I would rather ask, does this mean that women are attracted only towards good-looking men and those having economic affluence? This is the patriarchal mentality that this film has tried to question. The film tries to break these gender stereotypes. One of the objectives was to reveal that the big talk of characters like Suman was pretentious and ornamental. And that they were incapable of leading the colourful life that they claimed.
Ultimately in a third-world country like ours, contrary to big claims we comfortably enter the typical middle-class realm of existence.
Do you think you being a Minister of a political party affects the evaluation of your work?
Yes, evaluation definitely gets affected. But interestingly, the parameter of evaluation here is monetary, which is borrowed from Mumbai. Success is solely determined by one's economic gains due to which Salman Khan is deemed more successful than Om Puri or Naseeruddin Shah. The hero who gets more money is more successful. The situation of those who work in the regional domain is worse. Till they get acclamation from the west, as was seen in the case of Rabindranath Thakur and Satyajit Ray; their community and region do not understand their value. This is natural and I have learnt to accept this.