Interview: Film-Maker Ribhu Dasgupta on MICHAEL (Hindi, 2011) - Directorial Debut Premiering in TIFF 2011

By Supratim Sanyal
Host: Esha Basu Roy

Click Play to listen to Ribhu Dasgupta - WBRi On-Demand Audio Broadcast

Ribhu DasguptaWashington, DC, September 13, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio) Ribhu Dasgupta, "Bilbo" to close friends and family, did not really plan on any particular genre when he started thinking about and writing down the beginnings of the script for his first film Michael. It is usual for a writer-director to first come up with the outline of a story he wants to tell - and slowly as the story takes shape, some sort of classification in terms of the genre may become apparent. Such was the case with Michael which eventually became, in the writer-director's own words, a "character-driven psychological thriller", which would turn out to be set in the noisy and rainy backdrop of the metropolis of Kolkata.

Michael is a 98-minute Hindi-language movie - a father-and-son story about an ex-cop dad and his son. Indian acting powerhouse Naseeruddin Shah plays the title role of Michael the dad. The young actor Purav Bhandare from Mumbai plays the son. Other important roles in the film are played by Mahie Gill who plays a nurse, Sabyasachi Chakraborty and Irawati Harshe Mayadev. Somak Mukherjee was the cinematographer.

Michael is completely shot in Kolkata. As Ribhu puts it, his thriller required a certain kind of urban environment with some degree of a decadent feel to it - and north Calcutta provides the ideal location for his story.

Michael has been selected for screening at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) where it will have it's world premiere on Thursday September 15, 2011 at the Visa Screening Room (Elgin) at 9:00 PM. The film is produced by Anurag Kashyap, and Ribhu believes the film will be sent to quite a number of other film festivals before being released in theaters, though, of course, Anurag also has a big role to play in charting the course of the film.

Still from Michael
A still from Michael

Ribhu is no stranger to Anurag Kashyap, having assisted Anurag during the making of the 2009 Hindi film "Gulaal" (DVD release). Working with Anurag is always a challenging and exciting experience, says Ribhu, especially for a young aspiring film-maker like him who can always learn a lot of things partly because Anurag sometimes tends to work instinctively and spontaneously with not much of a predetermined method or planning.

Michael - Trailer

Ribhu completed writing the first draft of the script for Michael shortly after Gulaal was wrapped up. He visited Anurag in his house looking for his opinion of the script. The script then was just an outline of a few pages which Anurag read through right then. Ribhu fondly recalls the first comment Anurag then made - if Ribhu does not make the film, he will. Anurag then asked who was producing the film.

Encouraged by the initial reaction of his mentor, Ribhu then expanded on the draft and came up with the detailed script - an endeavor that took him another eight months. Anurag subsequently became fully involved with Michael when Ribhu took the completed work back to him.

When our host Esha asks Ribhu to touch upon his experience of working with Naseeruddin Shah, Ribhu's excitement is palpable across the intercontinental phone lines as you will hear. He had never imagined he would have the opportunity of working with Naseer bhai. Ribhu credits Naseeruddin for agreeing to work with him, and point out Naseeruddin Shah has been known to work with many debutant film-makers before. Naseruddin read and liked the script and subsequently Ribhu and Naseer did some script-reading sessions. This helped Ribhu in reaching a fair degree of comfort in directing Naseer by the time they started shooting in Kolkata.

As for his current projects, Ribhu is working on a couple of scripts in various stages of maturity, including a comedy and an action thriller. Esha puts a rather difficult question to Ribhu asking him to pick the genre he likes best - Ribhu believes he is slightly biased towards the thriller, but is not averse to comedies or other genres either. He says it is sometimes more challenging to work in areas which one may be less comfortable in, and by now, we all know Ribhu Dasgupta is a film-maker who is not intimidated by challenges.

Ribhu Dasgupta is the younger brother of Birsa Dasgupta whose debut film "033" (Bengali, 2010)  is considered one the films that brought in a resurgence in Bengali cinema, and whose upcoming 2nd feature film Jodi Bolo Hya (Bengali, 2011) is eagerly awaited by Bengali movie lovers. Birsa and Ribhu are sons of director Raja Dasgupta and television personality and Tagore enthusiast Chaitali Dasgupta (interview), and grandsons of the acclaimed film-maker Harisadhan Dasgupta.

The following is the programmer's note written by Cameron Bailey on Michael from the TIFF official web-site:

Producer/director Anurag Kashyap (who also exhibits his acting skills at this year’s Festival in Trishna) is leading a whole new wave of vibrant independent cinema in India. With Michael, Kashyap’s latest collab­orator, first-time director Ribhu Dasgupta, takes on a slow-burning, character-driven psychological drama.

In the film’s opening shots, Michael (Naseeruddin Shah) stands paralyzed as Kolkata traffic swirls around him. The film then flashes back to a younger Michael, in the days when he was a police officer. We find him nervously surveying a swell­ing crowd of protesters. When the order comes down to open fire on the peaceful demonstration, Michael shoots low to avoid causing death. Nonetheless, a ricochet strikes and kills a twelve-year-old boy. At this point Michael’s life begins to unravel. His eyesight worsens, he loses his job and he struggles to care for his son. When Michael finds work illegally pirating Bollywood films, he starts receiving phone calls from the father of the boy he accidentally killed, threatening to kill his own son when the boy turns twelve. Michael is sent into a paranoid race against the clock.

Dasgupta uses intricate camera move­ments, angular framing and hazy point-of­-view shots to explore Michael’s psychological and physical deterioration. Kolkata’s rainy, hectic streets, captured in mesmerizing detail by the late cinematographer Somak Mukherjee, provide the bleak and progres­sively nightmarish backdrop. Performing with strength and subtlety, Shah (Monsoon Wedding, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) carries the film. Opposite him, Mahie Gill (Dev D) delivers a gentle and sympathetic performance as the nurse who becomes Michael’s companion. As Michael’s sight weakens, so too does his grip on real­ity, resulting in a heart-wrenching tale of a father on the cusp of losing everything. 

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