20 June 2016

Lights. Camera. Cannes

               "There are two kinds of people, one who drink Espresso, and the rest!"

His movie is a homage to the long gone era of Parisian Utopia. A symphonic ode to the state of existence, romantics, cinephiles, and lovers want to be in. For the cinephiles specifically, the French New Wave Era of directors has been romanticised by many, while many have drawn inspiration from it. Abhiroop Basu falls into that list. A movie abundant in Truffaut's, Godard's and other French directors' references is the product of it. As a topic, it's neither preachy, nor a very introspective one. But a simple regular conversation between two lovers, Anthony played by Samadarshi Dutta, and Julia, played by Neha Panda, where they share their respective illusions about life, and their deepest fantasies. Ample references from Jules et Jim, Band of Outsiders and the Red Baloon have ornamented this movie, and one cannot skip the reference to  Woody Allen's classic "Midnight in Paris" when Julia talks about that crazy night where she stood in front of Trinca's waiting for her Uttam Kumar to take her out for a romantic ride, but was mistaken for a whore by two hippies, and asked to accompany them. Much like the movie where the French innovation, the fourth wall, has been conveniently broken, at the end of the movie its quite hard to distinguish yourself from reality of the characters portrayed in the movie, and the neat jump cuts, have been more than just successful in this case.

The essence of a short film is felt much after the film has actually ended. That's the harmony the camera wishes to strike, and Abhiroop Basu's film "Afternoon with Julia" will leave you at your wit's end gasping for an emotion to react with. The director's love for cinema, has intertwined with his love for Paris quite subtly because you know,

      "What's Paris without cinema, and cinema without Paris?"

Neha Panda and Samadarshi Dutta from the sets of
"Afternoon with Julia"

Q: Who is your favourite director among the New Wave lot?

I love Truffaut, and Resnais. But then it has to be Godard. If you look at the person, his stylistic changes, and the daring attempts he made, was path breaking. Every film of his has something different to offer us cinematically. Has to be Godard, any day.

Q: Some critics say that Godard's influence is going down by the day, he is losing his appeal. What would be your take on that?

Although, I do not personally feel any levity in such arguments, I do happen to know certain critics and cinephiles who feel Godard's implementations are a tad bit unnecessary to a certain level. I believe someone has to do that constant experimentation. Someone has to innovate, and change things continuously so that we get something new every time we go for a movie. Godard is that director. In a world full of filmmakers who're contented with their safe zones, we always need a Godard.

Q: Why does French New Wave appeal to you so much?

One word. The audacity.
Francois Truffaut made "Jules Et Jim" in 1962. That says it all.

Q: Where did you draw this concept about "Afternoon with Julia"?

Samadarshi Dutta, and Abhiroop Basu (right) from the sets of
"Afternoon with Julia"

Everyone is so fast these days, even when it comes to love. You go out with a person for a few days, it doesn't appeal to you and you start dating someone else. People are so judgemental these days. If one listens to Honey Singh, he/she is crass, and if one wears a kurta and flaunts a cigarette while talking about Camus and Sartre, he/she becomes a pseudo-intellectual. My point was to go back to that age where the characters were free. In a world, where people weren't so judgemental about every action you take. A film about two people, lovers or acquaintances, we don't know, just two people who are fond of each other, two cinephiles who'd just talk..talk about Paris, Godard, life and illusions! And that's how the film should begin and end, just a conversation.

              .  "We are a part of this dream, as a part of this grand illusion that is life."

Q: Tell us about your trip to Cannes?

Cannes was... oh! (GASPS), An experience of a lifetime, yes! I never thought I would be able to reach this point, even while I was making this film. I was in awe of Cannes,! It's an Utopian dream. Cannes is THE place for fashion. Everyone looks like a Hollywood star, dressed in their best. And as a matter of fact, everyone is dressed in their best, always! Day and Night! The best thing about Cannes is probably their hospitality. Everywhere you go, anywhere you go.. be it a cafe or just random streets, people will always greet you and help you if you need anything! They are very approachable people, who love the fact that you are there. That's the vibe I got in Cannes.

Q: The most breathtaking moment?

There was this movie "Cinema Travellers", which was selected for the "Cine Classic" section, a documentary, by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya which went on to win the Special Jury Cannes Award. You do realise how big a thing this is, I hope? So after the screening they were invited to speak, and in front of the audience Shirley broke down into tears. I still have goosebumps whenever I think about it, and you know, I could relate to every emotion she went through while making this film. I started crying myself. I could feel the efforts that she had put into this movie, and this is why we make films, to be there in that platform. I have barely seen such good movies, and this is the only movie after "Cinema Paradiso" which moved me so much. Although it's pretty disappointing to see such paltry media coverage about it.

Q: So how was being in Paris finally like?

Well I think my illusion about Paris was a better one than what it is in reality. The very first day I landed there, someone robbed me off 200 Euros. But yes, I loved the place. The city has an essence of its own.

Q: You met Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Anurag Kashyap and Q over there? How did the interaction go?

Nawaz Sir is a very calm and composed character. I didn't talk to him much. Anurag Sir,on the other hand,is one of the coolest and sweetest person I have ever come across. He's really funny and witty.
The very first thing he told me was, "Now that Cannes has happened. Forget it and start afresh."
 His insights into the film business was a revelation for me. Q is again one of the sweetest guys I have ever met. Honestly, you can't locate this person with the eminent filmmaker that he is.

Anurag Kashyap and Abhiroop Basu, as a part of the panel meet

Abhiroop Basu with Nawazuddin Siddiqui at Cannes.

Q: How did you approach Neha Panda and Samadarshi Dutta for the movie?

Neha was quite impressed with my movie "The Day after Tomorrow" (click on the text to watch the movie), and when I approached her with the script, she became interested in the project. When I read it out, the interest was only confirmed. I happen to be friends with someone who knows Samadarshi da. Ironically, he had never been in a short movie prior to this, and I doubt he'll ever be so in the future.  Both of them were very cooperative as soon as they heard the script.

Neha Panda and Samadarshi Dutta from the sets of
"Afternoon with Julia".

Bits and pieces from a conversation with "Mach Mishti & More" and "Hawa Bodol" starrer Neha Panda :-

Q: Your first reaction when you heard that your film has been selected for Cannes?

I was very proud. Super proud of Abhiroop. The first thing which I checked was the ticket fare from Kolkata to Cannes. (Smirks).

Q: What is your take on the character Julia? How much can you relate to her?

Julia is a random, animated, and a very dramatic person. I am not so well acquainted with French cinemas, so I couldn't be very sure of the in depth characteristics. Abhiroop helped me out with it. However, as a person I could completely relate to her.

Neha Panda

Q: We have an Utopian version of Paris. How would you define an Utopian Kolkata?

Don't ask me that, I will be very sarcastic. Every single thing needs to change. I do not even know where to start.

Back to Abhiroop Basu :-

Q: What was the reaction at Cannes after your movie was screened?

I really like to watch the audience while a movie is being screened. What gave me immense pleasure was to watch them enjoy it thoroughly. And it was so rewarding to see people of different backgrounds, some French, some Romanian, some American or Korean.. all irrespective of their cultures, tastes connecting to Julia and having fun while watching it! I guess that is the power of Cinema at the end of the day, it breaks barriers. And the only constant feedback that I kept receiving was that 'Your film is very international, it does not seem that it is made out of any specific country, especially India'. What more could I have asked for?

Q: I came across a story about Rajat Kapoor. He had this independent venture that was coming up, with a budget of 5 crores, and apparently the producer backed out in the last moment. Now he's not even getting a couple of crores to fund the movie, for which he is really depressed. Most eminent directors start off with Indie-films, yet unfortunately the platform for this category is very limited. How do you think this would change?

The situation is very unfortunate in India. When I went for Masaan and Waiting, the hall had a very paltry audience. Similarly when I went for a commercial flick, it was a packed auditorium. There is no need to reiterate this because everyone is quite aware of these stats. India has a very poor market for Indie-films, but fortunately globally the situation is different. So Indian filmmakers who are into such independent ventures need to capture the global market. They have to look for foreign production houses, taking the path of movies like "Masaan" and "Lunchbox", so that they don't have to depend on the Indian platform to cover their costs. Anurag Sir gave me this brief info, that "Raman Raghav 2.0" has already recovered its costs even prior to its release in the Indian market. One also has to target various film festivals, which makes your scope more flexible. Aditya Sengupta's "Labour of Love" had adopted such means, had won ample international awards, and eventually became very successful. Aditya Sengupta's "Memories and My Mother" is an official selection at the Cannes L'Atelier. It is a programme in which the Cannes Film Festival selects 15 of the most promising projects from around the world that are in the various stages of development. Various other film festivals have such screenplay competitions, where the best projects are funded. So one has to target these festivals. As soon as your film gets an international acclaim, the national press covers it. This automatically results in your audience becoming interested in the movie. It's also a journey about finding your audience. That's very important.

Q: What are your next projects?

The director himself.

Projects? Well I don't know how many projects I can manage, because I will be leaving for Prague in September. I am going to work on another short film soon, starring well known actors from Tollywood. It will be a big project, so I am quite excited about it. I am also working on a music video for a band named Project Maya. It'll be a Ramprashadi song. They are doing something very interesting and unique with Shyamasangeet. Their sound, it just touches the soul. I became immediately interested in the project as soon as I heard about it.

Afternoon with Julia cast :-

Samadarshi Dutta.

Neha Panda.

Priyadarshini Mukherjee.

Sharonyo Banerjee.

Abhikendu Deb Roy.

Reported by :- Anubhav Chakraborty

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