Sangeeta Dutta, writer, film & theatre director-singer, talks to SHALINI SAKSENA about her documentary feature Bird of Dusk
What is the docu-feature about?
It is largely on the filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh — the artist and the city of Kolkata where he lived, worked and finally passed away. It’s a sort of a personal statement since he was a personal friend from university days. I worked with him as an associate director and collaborated on big projects like Chokher Bali, Raincoat and Last Lear. The sort of films where he started bringing Bollywood talent to Bengal. In a way revived price-ridden Bengali film industry. It was an interesting phase that I went through with him. He was not only a significant filmmaker in from Bengal but India as well. I felt this assessment had to be made about his work and life.
Is the docu inspired from the book that you have written?
The docu was made after I had written the book but it is largely inspired by his memoirs — a first person account — which used to come out on Sundays as a column in a magazine that he used to edit. Later, they were anthologised as First Person.
Why this title — Bird of Dusk?
It is a favourite title for me. Sandhyar Pakhi, which means Bird of Dusk is a reference to a painting by Abanindra Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore’s nephew, who was part of the revival of Bengal School of Painting. He has a got a well-known piece of art called Bird of Dusk. Ghosh and I not only shared love for films but art and literature as well. This painting was a favourite reference for us which finds a mention in Just Another Love Story in which he acted as well for the first time. So the title was appropriate and evocative.
You are a trained Rabindra sangeet singer, writer and film director. How did this transition happen?
There was no transition which people find it difficult to gauge that. It is just that I have been able to multi-task by paying attention to my different interests as the years went gone by. I have a teaching career behind as well. It is not as if I went from one to the other. But one year I wrote a book, the next directing a film and continued to sing as well.
Does that mean you have had to strategise?
I have never strategised my career. Everything happened organically. I have enjoyed doing what I am doing. Sometimes two-three big projects collapse in one year.
You have been working in the UK and India. What is the difference that you see?
Professionally, in the UK, it is the lead time that they take in research and development for any project. The value they give to research is something that we are short of here in India where production houses move quickly which is admirable. But I admire the sharp research that is done in the UK and how it is archived to be accessed later on.
How difficult is it to release docu-features in India?
From my experience, it is not difficult because releasing theatrically is difficult as well given the digital platform today. There are many who are happy watching films on their phone. But the younger people must be reminded of the joy and the awe of the images on the big screen. There is something magical about it and I hope that this remains so. Apart from the shift in the market, it is an entirely new wave of the Indian cinema which is not star-driven and only about song and dance. This is the kind of cinema we recognise internationally. But the fact that Bird of Dusk is now getting a theatrical release in Bengal means that there is an audience who is willing to see such films.
You are the director of an art company — Baithak — in the UK. What is it about?
It is a company that is close to my heart. It is a not for profit organisation that promotes dialogue, debate and create new work. On one hand, it has brought to the fore the legacy that we have of Indian art, on the other, it is important to offer a platform for the young artists and be able to bring him in close proximity with the artist and his art like the Anant — a popular concert series with Javed Akhtar.