‘Times are changing for middle class, but problems aren’t’

Director Kaushik Ganguly revisits Mrinal Sen’s classic ‘Kharij’ after 41 years in his new film ‘Palan’ with the aim of capturing the essence of the legend’s life philosophy

‘Times are changing for middle class, but problems aren’t’

Kaushik Ganguly flashed a wide smile when he was congratulated on the success of ‘Ardhangini’. The Bengali film, starring Churni Ganguly and Jaya Ahsan in the lead, has been running for over 100 days in Kolkata’s theaters and the director looks content. As he sat down to discuss his next film, ‘Palan’, Ganguly quickly mentioned that box office numbers don’t matter to him this time. “ ‘Palan’ is extremely close to my heart,” he said.

Palan, which revolves around a dilapidated house in Kolkata, is a tribute to the veteran filmmaker Mrinal Sen on his birth centenary. Based on Sen’s 1982 classic ‘Kharij', which won a jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the film revisits the characters and narratives weaved 41 years ago. “I remember I had so much angst against Anjan Dutta and Mamata Shankar’s characters in ‘Kharij’ when I first watched the film. I was crestfallen when Palan in ‘Kharij’ died. Now, as I’ve grown older, I understand Anjan and Mamata’s perspective better. ‘Palan’ is my way of paying homage to Mrinal da. I’m not concerned about how the film will perform at the box office. I guess Mrinal da never cared about the business of his films,” said Ganguly.

On the birth centenary of the legendary filmmaker, two more films are in the works, one by Srijit Mukherji and another by Dutta. Ganguly, however, wanted to capture the essence of Sen’s life philosophy in ‘Palan’.

“Palan is an emotion. I have never met Mrinal da. We spoke only over the phone and strangely, most of the time, Mrinal da used to call. I only went to his house after he passed away,” he said.

“Why did you choose not to meet the legend?” he was asked and Ganguly explained his preference for keeping a distance from grandeur. He shared an anecdote about how he felt overwhelmed when he first saw the majestic Kanchenjunga from Dow Hill and immediately called his wife-actress, Churni Ganguly, to stand beside him. “Beauty carries an aura and so does talent,” he said.

Ganguly went on to cite his relationship with the late Rituparno Ghosh. “I had a close association with Ritu da, but after ‘Arekti Premer Galpo’, I only met him once. When ‘Shabdo’ won a National Award, I sought his blessings. Similarly, with Mrinal da, he exudes such magnanimity that I chose to keep my distance,” said the director of ‘Lokkhi Chhele’.

‘Kharij’ was an adaptation of Bengali author Ramapada Chowdhury’s 1974 novel of the same name. Coincidentally, it’s also the centenary celebration of the renowned writer.

Ganguly emphasised that for those who haven’t watched ‘Kharij’, it won’t make a difference, but for those who have, they will uncover a new layer to the story. “I made the film with Mrinal Sen in mind, keeping today’s middle-class audience in mind. The story of ‘Palan’ resonates with the experiences of all houses in Kolkata. Every film can be revisited at different stages of life and I believe that while times are changing for the middle class, their underlying problems remain constant,” said the National Award-winning director of ‘Bisorjon’, ‘Nagarkirtan’ and ‘Jyeshthoputro’.

Interestingly, all the actors, including Anjan, Mamata, Sreela Mazumdar and Debopratim Dasgupta, were introduced to the world of cinema by Sen. So, when they reunited on the set of ‘Palan’, it stirred up a flood of memories.

While Ganguly is pepped up for ‘Palan’, he’s equally delighted about Churni’s success. She played one of the lead roles in ‘Ardhangini’, which has emerged as one of the biggest Bengali hits of 2023. Ganguly also loved his wife’s exceptional performance in Karan Johar’s mega directorial ‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani’. In Bengal, Churni has mostly collaborated with Ganguly on his projects.

When asked whether he feels Churni hasn’t been fully utilised, he said, “Both her films - ‘Ardhangini’ and ‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani’ - found success in Kolkata, the city where she primarily works. Strangely, directors in this city don’t feel the need to cast her. However, I don’t see this as a loss for Churni at all. It doesn’t matter to Churni who casts her or not. She’s in a happy and secure space,” said the proud husband.

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