Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From a Director's Mind – An Exception To The Rule

Sumanta behind the camera for a recent ad-shoot he directed
Indrani Halder smilingly gives the ‘Best Director for Drama’ trophy to him in the photo frame adorning the wall.  As Sumanta Chanda looks at his picture with pride he realizes it’s been five hours now, and yet he can’t think of the next twist in the story he is currently writing the script for.  He tears the page down and smiles to himself; it’s not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last time either. A  25 year old Mass Comm. graduate , and a short film-maker, Sumanta intends and desires to enter the world of cinema one day, hoping it would give him the chance he so desperately seeks to explore. But the dream that he nurtures isn’t quite new. There are lakhs like and around him.What is so special about him then one might ask?

Film-making of a different kind

Firstly, the unique thing about the films Sumanta makes are that they are made on zero- budgets and shot on normal digital and handy-cams that he manages to borrow from friends. Added to this is the fact that he has no formal education in film-making ; he has created a new dimension in this field all by himself. Hence teaching us all that no matter what hurdles you might have to face, if you truly love something deeply, you will always find a way.  Sumanta has already made a name for himself as ‘Mr. Director’ in his social circles. The story-line covered in each of the films he has made up until now, is different from one another; from horror, to thriller, to sentimental and to one based on religious sentiments, he has covered nearly all genres.  He writes, directs and acts in his films and with genuine help from a couple of friends of his, has managed to break the rule that cinema people generally tend to believe; i.e. to make films you have to be a pass out of a good film school, you have to have the backing of a good production house and you have to have good sources and contacts to survive in the industry. Sumanta did not have any of these. Says Mrs. Aishwarya Chaterjee , his HOD from his college days, “ Sumanta always had a spark, and an acting bug which I could sense in his initial days in college, and now when I see his films it makes me immensely proud that I taught him once.. I am sure he will go far. He has what you can call a director’s mind.”

Sumanta on his part is quite submissive to these praises and just wants excel in the thing he loves the most.  “I have never read any good cinema books, neither have I seen any Satyajit Ray films or any breakthrough international films. I want to create my own style. I don’t know whether or not I will succeed, but at least I will try.” It is this unique line of thought he carries that makes Sumanta different from today’s young generation of directors who are generally following the same procedure to get into this line.

The Beginning

 He has been making short films for two years now, and has decided to make it into his profession. While others around him went on to get lucrative jobs, Sumanta stayed put on his decision. Family members raised eyebrows initially when he declared to drop out from B. Com Hons. and get into Mass. Comm., from School of Management,media and Technical Research  (Smmtr) Ballugunge, Kolkata , as that he believed was the only way he could have a chance of getting into the film world . Even then he wasn’t sure of which way to go, he just wanted a chance to try out some talents he has, i.e. mimicry and acting. He however, had no inkling on what course life was making for him.
Sumanta receiving the award from actress Indrani Haldar 

Direction happened to him by chance, as while acting and mimicking on a few stage shows in college he caught the eyes of his seniors who then wanted him to direct a few plays. That is how the direction bug first caught him.  He went on to direct a number of successful plays and some of those went on to bag the first prize in college fests. Incidentally there was a time when Sumanta had worked as a junior artiste in the 2004 Hindi film ‘Yuva’ . It was his love for just being part of a Hindi Film crew that drew him there.
Born and brought up in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, Sumanta’s father Salil Chanda, a government official, soon came back to his roots in Kolkata with his family. Sumanta then 14, was awestruck by the mega city and found it quite hard to cope initially.  At the age of 17, the year of his class 10 board exams, tragedy struck his life, when he lost his father due to a sudden bout of heart attack. With the head of the family gone, it was extremely difficult for him to cope with the situations thereon what with the responsibility of the mother and his sister on him.

Sumanta however got things slowly back on track with the help of his sister and mother.   He even passed out class 10 and 12 with flying clours, and in the process became the head of the family managing the whole day to day affairs of the household efficiently.

The Film Bug

All this while the cinema bug still kept growing inside him and slowly he decided to give his long cherished dream of acting a chance, and as he laughingly says, “Since no one was willing to give me a chance I casted myself in my own films, living my acting and directing dream in the process.”

In a still from his recent film 'Mehnaaz aur 1947'
Film-making though is a tough and pain-staking job says Sumanta, especially scripting them, as he had to write all his stories keeping the budget in mind. There were many things he wanted to show, many beautiful scenes that he wanted to depict but those required budget, which he didn’t have. He has to constantly work under restrictions, which sometimes makes him frustrated for nights at large.  But that made his determination even more robust. Friends though are really impressed by his work as his Bhutanese friend Pema Seldon says, “He is a very talented actor, something which I instantly realized in his college plays and now as a film director he is even more impressive and has touched new heights... Even while I stay here in Bhutan, I wait anxiously for all his new projects, and my family and friends out here are already becoming his fans..."

All he wanted was to explore. His last film Mehnaaz aur 1947 deals with religious battles and love at the time of war.  “I could have easily based the story in the 1992 riots, but I chose a bygone era as I wanted to test myself, to see how I could create those days without any budget at hand.” He had to spend many a sleepless nights to sketch out the characters, hunt for locations and pen the script. It took all of his energy and devotion to make this 30 minute film.

The struggle

Praises however, do not feed the belly. For the entire name he has earned, he still has to run his family, which he manages by getting a nominal amount now by renting two small flats he has.  That’s his problem with Indian cinema, there’s no platform as such to showcase your talent and be in the eyes of the bigwigs of the industry. He has taken his films to various Bengali producers and directors. One Bengali producer, who doesn’t wish to be quoted, says that talents like Sumanta should be immediately sent to Bollywood to better hone his skills and for better opportunities. But that’s that, nothing further, no one wants to take in any fresher or unknown face. “I don’t mind struggling and slogging it out. But where do I start. Everyone wants to have film- school pass outs or others having impressive contacts.  I don’t even mind working for free. Take me as an assistant; just let me learn this craft.”  That is the problem today, as every profession has sort of an entrance exam or other means of entry of sorts, but as Sumanta says he has created his own entrance exams by making these films and just wants people to see his work. “If you think I am useless throw me out, no issues. But at least see my work. Give me a chance. “

The hope...

Frustration brings in negativity, as nothing moves and time just passes by, but somehow he manages to direct his negativity and converts it into positive energy by making films and writing scripts for new ones, as he is currently doing.  His love for films is what keeps him going and not for a minute does he intend to give up.  Coming this far and earning so much accolades has determined him that there’s no looking back.  He will keep fighting until he gets the chance he wants. 

Relatives who had earlier raised eyebrows on him now look at him with new found respect.. Things have turned around for Sumanta Chanda in ways he had never imagined. Now all he has left are his passion for his films and friends who keep him motivated through their relentless support.  And now, he has tasted success, howsoever small it might be, after getting the chance to direct a couple of local Ad-Films. That might very well be the stepping stone to enter the big league he so desperately desires to enter.

Mr. Salil Chanda would be a proud man today, boasting in heavens about his only son, whom he used to chide for his studies, for watching films and for nearly everything.  If only he could come and see how things have changed. Clearly the last has not been heard of the very talented Sumanta Chanda. The final shot is yet to be taken. Perhaps this is like they say, just the beginning...  And Bollywood waits.

1 comment:

  1. What can be a better tribute and gift to a friend than expressing how much you appreciate what he does and motivate him all the more..very well written article and i've fortunately seen your dear friend's short film and wish him all the luck and success in life.
    and for you, keep doing the good work that you are doing..!! kudos..!