January 16 2018
‘Filmmaking is a collaborative art’
26 October 2017

From student films to Rukh, director Atanu Mukherjee and cinematographer Pooja Gupte, on working together as a married couple

Creative collaborations can be tricky, more so if it is with the person you’re married to. Filmmaker Atanu Mukherjee and cinematographer Pooja Gupte’s upcoming film Rukh, which will release this Friday, is only the latest in their longstanding partnership, one that finds its roots in their college days. Now a married couple in their early thirties, Mukherjee and Gupte first met at Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, where he was studying editing and she was studying cinematography. “It was never love at first sight,” says Gupte. The two became friends and worked together on several academic projects. It was only a matter of time before they realised that their cinematic aesthetics are compatible and so is their working style, which they bank on till date.

After graduating, the two worked on several short films including Stray Dogs(2014) and The Gatekeeper (2014). While Gupte has experienced working on a feature film, Crossing Bridges (2013), Mukherjee makes his debut as a director with Rukh. “On a set, there are times when your director doesn’t understand you’re unhappy but you still do something out of obligation,” observes Gupte. But for the cinematographer, working with Mukherjee is like working with a friend who can read her mind. “That can only happen when you’ve worked together from the inception of learning cinema,” adds Mukherjee.

The duo agrees that conflict resolution comes easy them, more so because they are married. But differences in any creative collaboration are inevitable. In that, case who wins? “I would like to say I do,” chuckles Gupte. “But men have their way of getting around,” she laughs, while Mukherjee nods in agreement. Contrary to popular belief, Mukherjee says, carrying work home from the sets has its advantages. There are times when the two are cooking and the conversation drifts towards Rukh. “So when you have already done all the background work at home, you’re prepared on the sets,” explains Gupte.

Team spirit

Rukh is special for the duo for more reasons than one. A large part of their core team, including the film’s editor Sanglap Bhowmick, are Mukherjee and Gupte’s batch mates from film school, who have worked together with the duo on almost all their previous short films and documentaries. “We cherish these collaborations, and wish to keep at it no matter how many films we make,” shares Mukherjee. “After all, filmmaking is a collaborative art,” adds Gupte.

The central theme of Rukh is one that strikes a chord with the duo on a personal and emotional level. It’s a story about an 18-year-old boy, who is away from family in a boarding school, unaware of the personal crisis unfolding back home. He returns after the sudden demise of his father to hear various accounts of his death. “All of us have stayed in a hostel and when you go back home, all your friends have moved on. You can’t relate to your parents or your grandfather any more,” recalls Gupte. The script found its genesis in this innate inability to relate or belong as you stand on the cusp of adulthood. “It is our understanding of life,” adds Mukherjee.

As students of cinema, both Mukherjee and Gupte have been drawn inspiration from a range of filmmakers, especially Akira Kurosawa. Mukherjee has been deeply fascinated by the multifaceted idea of truth in the Japanese filmmaker’s 1950 film, Rashomon. In Rukh, Mukherjee tries to explore the conflicting multiplicity of truth, where the protagonist hears contradictory accounts of what really happened to his father. “When you appreciate certain work, there are inspirations you draw, even if it is life or art,” says Mukherjee.

Gupte was Mukherjee’s first audience when he finished writing the script in 2015. He submitted it to Drishyam-Sundance Screenwriters Lab, where Akash Mohimen joined him as a co-writer. The script got green lit when Drishyam decided to produce it. “For a first time filmmaker it was a big deal,” beams Mukherjee. “It is so surreal to see your first film being made at an age when people are still struggling,” adds Gupte.

Casting a wider net

Unlike the tried-and-tested formula of making the rounds of film festivals before a commercial release, Drishyam Films decided to take Rukh directly to the cinemas. According to Mukherjee, several festivals including the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival expressed interest but the commercial release was scheduled close to the festival. “So we might as well [have] focused on a better release,” says Mukherjee. According to the filmmaker, with Drishyam producing the film, Manoj Bajpayee playing the lead role and Amit Trivedi composing the music, made it easier for Rukh to make it to the big screen.

Looking back, Mukherjee and Gupte claim that making Rukh was a smooth process, unlike what a debut filmmaker would expect. But the biggest challenge for the two has been in detaching themselves from the film during the last couple of years. “Being husband and wife, even if we made a conscious decision to not talk about the film, after half an hour we would come back to it,” says Mukherjee. After completely immersing themselves in the project, the couple hopes to escape the city after the release and head someplace where nobody around would discuss cinema. It’s a much deserved holiday for the two, one, they hope, also doubles up as a reward for making a commercially successful film.



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