After nearly nine years of struggle, director Sujoy Ghosh finally came into his own in 2012, wowing critics and audiences alike with his taut mystery thriller Kahaani. The Vidya Balan-starrer, made on a shoestring budget, grabbed three National Awards and more than Rs50 crore in box-office collections.
It also set the trend for viable women-centric films in an industry that had shunned them for long.
Four years later, Ghosh returns with what he doesn’t call a sequel but a second installment to the franchise, Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh.
In an interview, he talks about finding a script worthy of the Kahaani stamp, why the story should dictate everything including the gender of the protagonist and how his film career has taught him to never give up. Edited excerpts:
Do you feel the pressure of building on and taking forward a National Award-winning film franchise?
There are a lot of ways to approach something. But as a filmmaker, my job is to tell a story. Over the years, we looked for many stories but none of them got us excited enough to put a Kahaani stamp on them. To take a Vidya Bagchi (Balan’s character in the first film) narrative forward was probably the easiest but I couldn’t find anything to say in that film.
Once we found a story we wanted to tell, we just forgot about the first part because our intention was never to better it or do anything to compete with it. We just wanted to tell a story and we felt this one had enough credibility on its own to bear the stamp of Kahaani. Right now, Kahaani is associated with a good, engaging story which hopefully is also entertaining. If we didn’t have a story, we wouldn’t have (taken this forward).
Is that why it took you four years?
I’m not sure. That I took four years to write the script would be the glamorous answer, yes. But you know, a lot of other things also happened. This particular script took a little more than two years to write. I guess everything has its time, place and destiny.
Sequels and franchise films in India are a bit of slippery ground as often there is no connection between the movies. Did this one feel like a completely different realm from Kahaani?
Absolutely. It was completely different. Apart from Vidya, there was no one I had worked with on this unit before. Secondly, yes, sequels are extremely slippery ground because barring that old Bengali Pather Panchali triumvirate (The Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray that includes Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar), nothing ever took the story forward. But what we are hoping today is that Kahaani 2 should be about Durga Rani Singh. Maybe Kahaani 3 could be about Vidya Bagchi again. You never know. That’s how we are seeing it. We just want to associate the Kahaani franchise with good stories. That’s what we are really praying for.
Kahaani was quite a revolutionary step for women-centric cinema when it came out. Do you think things have changed for the better for films with female lead characters since then?
I would like to hope so. To make any kind of film, irrespective of cast or crew, you need money. And anybody who is going to invest would look for certain tick marks so that even if there is no guarantee, he should be somewhat assured of getting his money back. Before Kahaani happened, a film like that, to the best of my knowledge, would be considered an offbeat film. And I think people with money tend to underestimate the audience. If Kahaani today has success or standing, it’s because of the audience. I think after that people were a little braver in investing (in such films). Which is great because there shouldn’t be any difference between a male-centric and a female-centric film. It’s the story which should lead.
Kahaani was rejected by anybody and everybody for financing. I’m sure they had their reasons because on paper, a pregnant woman screaming for her missing husband on the streets of Kolkata, doesn’t make sense. And the same thing happened with Kahaani 2. It was okay (with marketing and distribution). It wasn’t like because I made Kahaani, everything came easy. It was a normal journey. Honestly, I’ve started my life like this. When I did my first movie, Jhankar Beats, nobody believed in it. It took me years to put it together. But the idea is to not give up. If you feel you have a story, if you feel it’s worth telling, don’t give up.
Has Vidya changed as an actor in these four years?
Immensely. She has only grown from strength to strength. What four years does to anybody is give them a lot of life experience, stuff we pick up that allows us to think, decide, see things in a different way. I don’t think either Vidya or I could have handled Kahaani 2 four years earlier. We weren’t mature enough. It took me over two years to write this script but Vidya delivered it in one shot. So I was amazed at the kind of mental strength that she has to do a scene, get out of it and go into the next, because it took me three months to do the same. She has evolved tremendously.
A lot of people would club Kahaani 2 into the multiplex, content-driven cinema category as opposed to mainstream Bollywood. Do you agree with those definitions?
No, I don’t. Why are we creating 900,000 categories? It’s a very subjective view, but for me, it’s good cinema and bad cinema. If my cinema works, it’s good. If it doesn’t, it’s bad. It’s not like something which works for the single screen will not work in multiplexes. If it’s a bad film, it won’t run anywhere. Because the audience is the same.
So will you ever attempt a singing, dancing Bollywood film for the masses?
I would love to. But it all depends on the script. When I had a script called Aladin (2009), I did it. It had a lot of song and dance. It’s the script that gives you that much excitement. Aapko lage ki iske liye main jaan de dunga (You should feel that you could give up your life for it).
The film comes at a slightly dicey time with the cash crunch just in. Are you worried about those logistics?
No. Our movie was born out of chaos. So Durga has fought a lot of battles, this is her last one. Dekhte hain (let’s see). I have faith in her.