Revisit 10 Years of ‘Parineeta’ with Pradeep Sarkar

Filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar revisits his debut film ‘Parineeta’ 10 years after its release

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In a tête-à-tête with Ranjib Mazumder, director Pradeep Sarkar talks about making his debut hit, Parineeta

Pradeep Sarkar’s adaptation of Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1914 Bengali novella Parineeta turns 10 today. Sarkar looks back with the dreamy eyes of a lover, not the objective view of a bystander. Excerpts from an interview.

The First Hurdle

A child of advertising, Sarkar was trying to figure out his first film. Chattopadhyay’s classic was always at the back of his mind, but he wasn’t sure. “I never understood the main mudda (issue), so I never attempted it,” he says. Though his mother-in-law advised him to make Parineeta, he could never imagine how a relationship that began with a doll’s marriage could get into such an emotional high. “For the longest time, I couldn’t understand how a rishta (bond) could be made because of just one moment.”

Filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar revisits his debut film ‘Parineeta’ 10 years after its release

After much deliberation, he made the character sketches, but one issue continued to loom large. Even after extensive viewings of Bimal Roy and Ajoy Kor’s Hindi and Bengali versions of the classic, Girish’s character (Girin in the novella), motives, actions, and reactions, remained unfathomable.

Convincing Vidhu Vinod Chopra

When Sarkar narrated the story to Vidhu Vinod Chopra, he was in for a surprise. “He told me it was bullshit.” VVC then suggested that they should read the novel again, separately, to figure out the mudda.

While revisiting the novel, a new realisation dawned upon Sarkar. “I suddenly realised that Girish, an apparent third character was actually the hero.” And everything fell into place.

Dutt’s the Way

Filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar revisits his debut film ‘Parineeta’ 10 years after its release

“I hadn’t worked with Sanjay. I didn’t know him at all,” he says remembering how he had just shot a song, ‘Chhan Chhan’ for Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. But one meeting with Dutt sealed Girish even further as the true hero for Sarkar. “That absolute dil khulla banda jiski jhappi mein really jaan hai (open hearted fellow who breathes life with an embrace), a person who is so big and so naturally nice, Girish is that guy,” says Sarkar with a smile.

Rock It Till You Drop It

Sarkar’s most interesting anecdote from the film is about divine intervention. While shooting a scene in which he wanted the boat to rock on the waters of the Ganga according to a certain rhythm, he was left exasperated. Despite sending divers underwater to rock the dinghy, the movements just refused to match the musical beat. More than 18-20 takes were done. The divers called it a day. The crew was ready to leave, when the DoP Natarajan Subramaniam requested Sarkar for one last take. And something magical happened. The boat rocked exactly like he wanted. “You won’t believe it, it fell into place! And then I realised what happened. A steamer passing by on the other side of the river sent ripples, and that’s how the boat rocked. I am genuinely fascinated by this story, because it made me realise that every little moment in our life moves in a rhythm,” he says.

Lolita, Light of the Film

Filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar revisits his debut film ‘Parineeta’ 10 years after its release

Sarkar always had Vidya Balan in mind for Lolita’s character. But when Sarkar told VVC about her, VVC was utterly shocked and entirely unconvinced. This led to numerous tests, photos and shoots with Balan and cinematographer Binod Pradhan. But VVC wasn’t convinced. “He told me, very good, and now why don’t you make the film yourself and show me. How could I, where was the money?” Sarkar reminisces.

And then Sarkar was given one last chance. “Binod was close to VVC, so he knew what I was going through. I never told Vidya what was going on, that VVC didn’t want her. And I couldn’t dream of directing Parineeta without Vidya in the titular role,” he says.

And then luck smiled. Another chance photo shoot turned out near perfect. “Vidya gave a fantastic take. She looked so beautiful I have not seen her like this, never so beautiful. She was glowing from inside. I don’t know about the lighting, but there was perseverance in her eyes.”

When the edited version was shown to VVC with music, he started clapping. He exclaimed that he had found his Lolita. “He was overjoyed. But I was relieved. Finally I could face the world and Vidya.” VVC wanted Sarkar to call Vidya right then and inform her. But the actress was at an Enrique Iglesias concert. Sarkar grins as he remembers: “VVC told me this girl’s life is getting made. Call her now.” And the call was made. “She just collapsed with the news,” Sarkar says laughing.

Dancing Diva

Filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar revisits his debut film ‘Parineeta’ 10 years after its release

For the ‘Kaisi Paheli Zindagani’ song, it was VVC who suggested Rekha’s name. VVC made the call to the yesteryear diva, Sarkar went to her house with the storyboard. Within an hour, she gave her nod.

Rekha designed her own gloves, did her own hairstyle, make up, and turned up. “She sketches very well. She wowed us with her final look. Even during rehearsals; she would suggest little touches like climbing the steps. Her individual style made the song so beautiful. Moulin Rouge was brought to life,” he exclaims.

The Train Trouble

Filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar revisits his debut film ‘Parineeta’ 10 years after its release

The grand old train used in the ‘Kasto Mazza’ song didn’t come easy. The crew was shown an engine, but there were no compartments. The production team thought about making their own compartments, but the cost would escalate. After an intense search, two compartments were uncovered near Sukna, near Darjeeling. “We got the permission to take them, but they had to be refurbished. I give full credit to West Bengal government and my team for getting the compartments and the tracks ready. The process took over six months. After pre-production, we waited long for this to get done, because this song is very important in the narrative. It drove us crazy but it but it made the film work,” he adds.

The Last Day

On the 93rd of the shooting, just before wrapping up, Sarkar took Saif Ali Khan aside. “I told Saif, as soon as I say ‘pack up’, all the characters would die. He looked at me, and said, ‘Dada, you’ve gone mad’. Now when I look back, I think whatever has been captured on celluloid will be there forever.” Many filmmakers speak of the enthusiasm in the initial phase, and later, the exhaustion to finish a first film. Sarkar disagrees. “This is the nasha (intoxication) of the first film, everlasting. Like your first love,” he adds.

Melodrama Much?

Filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar revisits his debut film ‘Parineeta’ 10 years after its release

While the film was praised for its drama, the melodramatic climax drew much flak from critics. But a call from Rituparno Ghosh gave him assurance. “He told me that he really found it beautiful. Though breaking the wall scene wasn’t there in the novel, but Sharatbabu spoke of it metaphorically. That’s where I realised that it would touch people,” he says.

Looking Back

Sarkar was 51 years old when the film released. Ten years later, does he wish to alter anything in the film? “It’s too delicately embroidered. Why should I? Everyone’s got a Birdman, Satyajit Ray’s Charulata was his Birdman, and I thank God that I got my Birdman. There are so many directors who are still trying,” he says.

(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise.)
Twitter: @RanjibMazumder

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Topics:  Vidya Balan   Saif Ali Khan   Sanjay Dutt 

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