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The Arduous Journey — the untold stories of Pankh
Sudipto Chattopadhyay
Posted by - Sudipto Chattopadhyay
Posted in - Pankh
Post Date - March 26th, 2010

Film making to me has always been a burden of dreams that I want to share with kindred spirits. I live cinema, I breathe cinema and I can die for cinema. It might sound a wee bit dramatic but that is the reality that governs my existence. Albeit, I have been a writer first; through the written word I articulate my abstractions, my insights and intellectual concerns. But it is through cinema that I enact my passions. Human drama above all has been my obsession since childhood. Hence I lost it at the movies.

Pankh was born out of my experiences of pain. I delved into the deeper recesses of the human mind to trace the root cause of suffering. In the coming days I will try to articulate what I went through in realizing my dream. I hope it resonates it in your hearts and becomes your own story.

I wrote the film several years back and could not find a backer for this project. In 2006, a production company signed me on for this Film and we were all ready and rearing to go. I cast two newcomers after months of auditioning several aspirants. We were all set to roll when suddenly my producers developed the ‘heebie jeebies’ for completely warped reasons and turned turkey. I was virtually left high and dry without even a shoulder to cry on. I felt doomed but thankfully did not wallow in self pity. I was determined to make this project work. After all, this was the first Hindi feature film I always wanted to make. I wanted to make a statement. I wanted to make cinema that confronts reality and stares it in the face. This was a film about angst, about madness, about human suffering! Here I was left suffering. But I had my team intact. My two newcomers and my entire team standing behind me solid as rock.

Rohit Roy, the actor is a dear friend of mine. He and his wife Manasi Joshi Roy heard about my predicament. They offered emotional support. Rohit told me he would get this project together no matter what. He was completely convinced about the subject. He told me that he would introduce me to his close friend, Sanjay Gupta, the famous producer and director. I thought it was a mad idea. Sanjay Gupta makes these slick action thrillers about ‘men and guns’. How could he even dare to endorse such a daringly audacious film? A film that delineates the psychological trauma about sexual identity.

When I asked Sanjay how long he would give me to narrate the film to him, he said very cursorily, “at the best twenty”. I started narrating and Rohit left the room. Sanjay sat engrossed and heard me out for about an hour without any interruption. At the end, he asked me a pointed question, “do you want to make this film exactly the way you narrated it to me?” Coming from a producer of commercial films that meant, “You must be out of your senses”. The question hung over my neck for around 15 seconds. But my inner self spoke out and I said, “yes I want to do it exactly they way I narrated it to you”. Sanjay just jumped off his chair and vigorously shook my hand. He told me,“ I am doing this film”. I almost could not believe him. Here was a commercial film producer who wanted to back my film. Not only that. He launched a new company called Whitefeather Arthouse Films to support this endeavour. That was indeed a new beginning!!!!

While writing the script, the only actor I had in mind for the most intriguing role was Bipasha Basu. I felt she had the right oomph and daring to give visual shape to the idea I had in mind. She heard the script and commented, “I was not hearing a narration; I was seeing a film”. Contrary to popular perception, she did not play any star power game and immediately agreed to do the film. She gave the film its face on the popular platform and has helped it reach out to larger number of people. I think the Bong Connection worked here to a minor extent.

Casting Maradona Rebello and Amit Purohit (both newcomers) was the more trying task. I was sure that I wanted fresh faces without any image package for these two roles. The process of casting for my protagonist Jerry was the most harrowing experience of my life. Either guys would not fit the bill or they did not have the guts to test for this complex character. There was a time when I wondered whether this film would eventually be made if we did not find the main guy. I chanced upon Maradona’s pictures by sheer accident and called him for an audition. The moment I saw him, I knew he looked correct for the role. He has a boyish charm and innocence. Moreover, he bore a striking resemblance to my favourite actor in the world, Gael Garcia Bernal. He auditioned right and I knew the rest I would take care of by doing rigorous workshops.

Maradona chickened out on hearing the subject. He was just a nineteen year old kid without any experience in acting per say. He had done a few plays in college. But his Catholic upbringing combined with his perception about Bollywood made him say a resounding NO. He had heard horror stories of the casting couch and freaked out when told about workshops. He thought that was a ruse to seduce him. I had to speak to his teacher and both his parents to convince him. They took a shine on me and assured him he was in ‘safe hands’. Once convinced, Maradona surrendered unquestioningly.

Amit was referred to my friend Debasrita, a casting consultant. One look at his pictures and a meeting later I knew he was the guy to play Salim, the stuntman in the film. He was also raw and had no prior exposure. But he was willing and obedient to a fault. Thus the magic circle was created. (I will talk about this later)

Lillete Dubey loved the first narration and came on board. So did Mahesh Manjrekar, Ronit Roy, Kiran Karmakar, Sanjeeda Sheikh and others. I wanted Asha Sachdev to stage a comeback and she too was elated to be a part of the film.

With the cast in place, I was ready to begin my film.

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