Interview: ARINDAM SIL - Director of the Celebrated Bengali film ABORTO, Noted Actor and Producer

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Washington, DC / Fremont, CA / Kolkata, India (Washington Bangla Radio): Arindam Sil likes to try to live his life on his own terms, and despite of his myriad achievements in the performing arts, wonders if he has really done much. Thus starts off his fascinating conversation from the heart with Sayantanee Dutt of WBRi, over the course of which you will get to know the man, his life, philosophy, beliefs and of course the story of the making of his landmark Bengali film Aborto.

Bangladeshi Actress Joya Ahsan, Director Arindam Sil, Tollywood Actor Biplab Chatterjee in Shooting of KOLKATA BANGLA MOVIE ABORTO 2013
Jaya Ahasn, Arindam Sil and Biplab Chatterjee on the sets of Aborto (Bengali, 2013)

Aborto is a rare Bengali film that has received universal appreciation - there has virtually been zero negative feedback about the film. Right now Aborto is the most, if not the only, talked about Bengali movie in Kolkata.

In the course of the interview, Arindam shares a whole lot of fascinating anecdotes from the making of Aborto. For example, true to the title, there are myriad references to circles or boundaries in the film - if you look for them. Or when actor Tota Roy Chowdhury was required to portray deep concentration on his iPad - and Arindam found the perfect thing to put on the iPad so that Tota would have to spend no special effort to concentrate on the screen. Or the time when the elevator of the building they were shooting in broke down, resulting in the entire cast and crew having to climb up and down 19 floors every day, along with equipment and supplies.

Bangladesh BD Actress Joya Ahsan and Director Arindam Sil
Arindam Sil explaining a scene to Jaya Ahsan

Arindam's love for cinema is reflected faithfully by the name of the Kolkata-based production company he founded and heads: "Nothing Beyond Cinema" ( More than love, cinema is his obsession, his passion. That is why Arindam, a brilliant student, chose to forgo lucrative career choices in the corporate world and academics, including an opportunity for graduate research in a renowned school in the United States. Instead he pursued his inner calling and became an actor. "I am absolutely happy about every decision I have taken in my life. I am proud of having chosen my path", says Arindam. His intuitive ability to consistently take fast decisions in any urgent situation - a trait tempered by his management training and corporate experience - has served him well.

From the very beginning of his career as an actor, Arindam has automatically and subconsciously tried to pick up technical and broader aspects of film-making, be it for television or for the silver screen. There was no specific goal to become a director in those early days. But life often takes it own course - there was a time when Arindam had contemplated spending his life as a professor in an American school, but also on the day he tore up his I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students) Arindam was driven by a deep belief that there is too much in Bengal to leave behind for another land.

Bangladesh BD Bangladeshi Actress Joya Ahsan, Director Arindam Sil, Tollywood Kolkata Bangla Movie Hero Abir Chatterjee
Abir Chatterjee, Arindam Sil and Jaya Ahsan

"I firmly believed that I did not have to leave Bengal to rise to the top", says Arindam, admitting that an ambition to reach high has also been a driver for him. "The crux of Aborto is also about this desire to climb up", he says.

Today, after making Aborto, Arindam is realizing that the desire to direct his own film must have been in his subconscious for quite a while. In fact, he now wonders if he should have directed a film earlier. Especially since his friends like Anik Dutta - the celebrated writer-director of Bhuter Bhabishyat - have jokingly chastised Arindam for waiting this long to make a film.

The outline of the story of Aborto coagulesced in Arindam's mind around two and a half years ago while working with a Telefilm titled Choukath about student politics in West Bengal. Being acutely aware of the social and political environment around him, Arindam did not agree with the kind of politics the students were engaging in which was not conducive to moral growth and did not encourage qualities of social responsibility and patriotism, but instead was constricting the mind-sets on the college campus and degrading students to fighting their own friends. Arindam attempted to take a sarcastic and satirical look at this situation with Chaukath. Subsequently, Arindam had the idea of moving from student politics to corporate politics, sowing the seeds of Aborto. He also realized that there has been no proper Bengali film on corporate politics since Satyajit Ray's masterpiece Simabaddha from 40 years ago.

Watch Arindam Sil's Bengali Telefilm Choukath

Arindam started with the story of two General Managers of a multinational corporation competing to get promoted to Vice President. Influenced deeply by Satyajit Ray, Arindam realized his characters were starting to have shades of Ray's characters from Seemabaddha (which was based on a story by Mani Shankar Mukherjee), and decided to reuse the names from Ray's films as a tribute to the master film-maker. Listen to the fascinating story of how each character in Aborto came into being in Arindam's own words in the interview. "I wanted to dedicate the story of my first film to Satyajit Ray, since Ray has shaped my thinking and very being", says he. Indeed Arindam hopes Aborto will inspire viewers who have not watched Ray's films to do so, the same way his daughter has been moved to check out the Ray masterpieces.

About casting Bangladeshi actress Jaya Ahsan as Charu, Arindam tells us in the interview how Jaya fits perfectly into his very specific vision of the role. Charu needed to be portrayed as a woman in her mid thirties with a degree of beauty, innocence and warmth that Arindam found it difficult to essay with Tollywood and even Bollywood actresses. He was pointed to some videos of Bangladesh TV serials starring Jaya, and though the productions were terrible, Jaya's powerful acting stood out and caught his eyes. "There is now a dearth of actresses like Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi who consider the character they play much more important than their star status", says Arindam. Listen to how Arindam and Jaya had a series of meetings to exchange ideas and how Arindam took Jaya on a tour of North Kolkata until eventually one day Jaya appeared on the sets looking exactly like the Charu in Arindam's mind.

But Jaya Ahsan is from a different country and religious background, and Arindam recollects with fondness having to show her a few ethnic North Kolkata customs, like that of "dhuno deoa" - powdered incense put on burning coconut shells in an earthen pot resulting in a fragrant thick white smoke that spreads around the house, spiritually uplifting residents as well as having a herbal deodorizing and sanitizing effect.

The casting of Reshmi Ghosh as Tuli is also interesting. Tuli is a complex character - her parents had to leave their family because her school teacher father had married her tribal mother. She and her brother grew up in hardship. Today Tuli has established herself, but in this male-dominated society she is the object of much lusty glances. Arindam tells us about the dedication and attentiveness of Reshmi and how carefully she listened to what the director wanted of her, resulting in a spectacular performance. (Paoli Dam was initially identified for playing Tuli, but due to unforeseeable circumstances that led to delays in her shooting schedule for Vikram Bhatt's "Hate Story", Reshmi Ghosh was cast instead).

Kaushik Ganguly, Arindam Sil
Arindam Sil and Kaushik Ganguly

Noted percussionist Bickram Ghosh has directed music in Aborto. Arindam and Bickram are buddies going back to their college days and have great respect for one another, and no friend of Arindam is prouder than Bickram about Arindam finally making Aborto. Arindam feels Bickram's experimental percussion music is far ahead of it's time in Kolkata. In any case, Arindam - who is a great fan of composers like Gustavo Santaolalla (Argentina) and John Williams - wanted music for Aborto to be "very flesh and blood", created with direct human physical interaction. Bickram understood perfectly what Arindam had in mind, coming up with perhaps the most original soundtrack of any recent Indian Bangla movie. Arindam sites as an example a scene where Charu gets an abortion done - the scene is accompanied by the sound of heartbeat, created by Bikram Ghosh purely by thumping his chest.

KOLKATA BANGLA MOVIE Aborto (2013) - Arindam Sil
Arindam Sil

Arindam talks about the times a couple of decades ago when Bengali cinema had hit the bottom but great work was being done on Television. He points out that some of today's greatest actors - Saswata Chatterjee, Rajatava Dutta, the late Kunal Mitra and so on - have actually worked in those days of great TV productions, thus silencing pundits who predicted that TV actors cannot really make it big on film. The scenario has reversed itself today - fabulous work is being done in Bengali cinema while Television productions have become "absolute trash". Arindam has, as a result, drastically reduced his involvement in TV serials.

Arindam discusses extra-marital affairs and one-night stands in the context of Aborto as well broader society and human relationships. He feels no relationship can be put into a category - each relationship is unique. Also a person does not live only for his or her own self - one lives for others too that he has relationships with, as well as for society in general.

INDIAN BANGLA MOVIE Aborto (2013) - Arindam Sil

Sharing some of his most relished moments from the making of Aborto, Arindam talks about nostalgia while shooting in North Kolkata, a couple of other scenes that he himself is very fond of, and the fact that he somehow had scheduled and budgeted correctly, completing shooting in 64 shifts in 30 days against a planned schedule of 65 shifts in 30 days in spite of being a first-time director. (He does admit to have never overrun a budget during production of other films, too).

Arindam Sil has a distinguished career in film, theater and television acting for around 27 years. He is also an accomplished producer. With Aborto, he has arrived as a director with a bang and it is but natural that we should now look forward to more great work from the writer-director Arindam Sil in the coming days.

Bengali, 2013
Cast: Jaya Ahsan, Tota Roy Chowdhury, Reshmi Ghosh, Abir Chatterjee, Kaushik Ganguly, Saswata Chatterjee, Ritwik Chakraborty, Barun Chanda, Locket Chatterjee
Directed By: Arindam Sil
Written By: Arindam Sil
Screenplay By: Atanu Ghosh, Arindam Sil and Padmanava Das Gupta
Produced By: Globsyn Media Ventures, CineMine Entertainment, Maple Productions

Sayantanee DuttAn ardent recitation and elocution enthusiast, RJ Sayantanee Dutt lives in Fremont, CA and writes and anchors Pashchimi's popular Bangla radio show "Robibarer Ashor" on Radio Zindagi 1550 AM broadcasting in the San Francisco Bay area. Some of her wonderful recitation recordings have been featured on WBRi available on-demand in this post

Article by Supratim Sanyal, Washington, DC.