Tete-a-tete with filmmaker Kripal Kalita
By Dipankar Sarkar | ASSAM:
Kripal Kalita's 2020 feature film "Bridge" added another feather to the crown of Assamese cinema by winning the Jury Special Mention Award in the competition category at the 51st International Film Festival of India, held in Goa this year.
Previously, in 1998, at the 29th International Film Festival of India held in New Delhi, Santwana Bardoloi's maiden venture Adajya (1996) won the Special Jury Award, in the Asian Competition category.
"Bridge" narrates the plight of teenager Jonaki, who lives with her mother and younger brother in a village affected by annual floods. But undaunted by the tragedies, life begins anew with optimism and positive expectations.
Here is a conversation between Dipankar Sarkar and filmmaker Kripal Kalita:
What aroused your interest in the world of filmmaking?
As a child, I had always wanted to be an actor, and it was all because of a film titled 'Bohagor Dupariya' (1985) that I had watched in a theatre.
The performance of two child actors in the movie caught my attention, and I instantly developed an interest in acting.
But I was a shy person, so I did not give thoughts to acting even though my family was involved in cultural activities. The real boost in my confidence came in high school when I bagged the best singer award in a cultural competition.
I formally stepped into the world of theatre after my admission into the School of Drama, Assam. I worked with many directors before becoming a director myself.
National award-winning music director (L) Sher Chowdhury, (L) Dulal Saikia and Jahnu Barua were my mentors in my filmmaking journey.
I also played a character in 'Kuhkhal' (1997), directed by Jahnu Barua, where I had keenly observed him as a director and tried to understand his collaborative process with the cinematographer.
In 2004, I debuted as a director in Karendra Basumatary's two hour-thirty-five-minute long 'Agnibristi'.
Since they shot it in a U-Matic format, they did not release it in theatres.
However, it was widely released on the digital Video CD format - a popular trend in the pre-internet era.
How did the genesis of making the film occur to you?
After directing television serial, videos, and short films for a long time, I took a plunge into directing a feature film, but due to lack of funding, I could not execute my ideas.
I had directed a serial for the popular Assamese entertainment channel Rong, for which I took money from a financier named Rama Kumar Das, and he is the same person who eventually sponsored my feature film.
I drew my inspiration for the film from a newspaper article in 2017, where a girl from rural Assam had requested the government to build a bridge in their village because the young girls there could not get married due to lack of a proper passage.
I added a few other news stories to it to form the final structure of the film.
What was your experience of working with the cast of the film?
Ninety-eight per cent of the characters in the film are newcomers. They had never faced a camera before in their life. I conducted a workshop with all of them. During the first stage of scouting for actors, I took screen tests.
The protagonist of the film "Jonaki" played by Shivarani Kalita was selected for the role after I came across nearly 300 girls. She was a college student, and I had trained her in acting for three months.
For the rest of the characters, I had chosen them through the casting process and trained them to get accustomed to the activities and mannerisms of individuals living in the interior parts of the green valley.
Where was the primary location of your shooting, and how many days did it take to complete?
The primary location of the film was Sonari Chapori in the Dhokua Khana area of Lakhimpur District, Assam.
We shot for thirty-two days, spread over fourteen months. I had shown all the six seasons in Assam through the film that includes the times when the flood hits the region and when the land is ready for farming.
Why did the journalist Prag marry Jonaki despite a vast difference in class between them?
It was to provide a twist to the story. Prag is an individual whose humane qualities outweigh his profession as a journalist.
He visits the family of Jonaki because he is sympathetic towards the condition of her mother, who is suffering from epilepsy. A journalist in general or in real life would never revisit the family. So, Prag marries Jonaki out of humanity.
In the meeting that takes place in Namghar, we see that Jonaki is innocent, yet she is penalised. What is the significance of this scene?
First, I wanted to show that we exist in a male-dominated society. Period.
Second, I wanted to portray another bitter reality of our society where the powerful section dominates and exploits the people of the lower rung.
Manik had attempted to rape Jonaki and is the son of Mahikanta, an affluent person who influenced the mukhias or village chieftains.
However, Jonaki is a weak woman in the village, a fatherless child with nobody to speak in her favour, and so she was penalised.
The scene is an example where the people from the upper section of society dominate the lower class.
Tell us about the most emotionally powerful scene in the film, the one where Jonaki crosses the river with her family.
It was not a river, but a flooded road. It was a very challenging scene to shoot. Even though the screen time of that scene is approximately two minutes, we had to shoot it for seven long hours.
We encountered many difficulties during the shoot, and one of them was the proper placement of the tripod, and second, we could not predict the shallowness of the flooded area.
We had people from the village who could swim on standby, in case an accident occurred.
At the end of the film, why does Jonaki apply vermilion on her forehead?
The scene is open to interpretation, just like a poem. Vermilion is a powerful element for Hindu women and signifies marriage.
In a previous scene, when Parag is about to bring his parents to the village with the marriage proposal, Jonaki had dreamt of wearing vermilion.
She longed to get married despite her responsibility towards her family. By applying vermilion on her forehead, she fulfils her desire and wears a sign of protest against society.
By doing so, she also provides herself with self-protection. But again, it is up to the audience to decide upon an explanation for the scene.
How was it to win an award at the 51st International Film Festival of India?
It is a positive sign for Assamese cinema. I have been associated with filmmaking for a long time, and such recognition is encouraging.
It is like an acceptance from people of the film fraternity that even I can pursue a career in filmmaking.
Are you planning to release the film theatrically?
I am happy that there is a craze amongst the people of Assam to watch the film in a theatre.
It is a matter of pride for me. I am planning to release the film on October 1, 2021.
(Edited by Aparmita Das)