Sujoy Ghosh is the director of Kahaani and Kahaani 2, both with Vidya Balan, and played the sleuth Byomkesh in Satyanweshi, directed by Rituparno Ghosh. His new film, even though Bollywood mainstream, deals with the difficult subject of child abuse. He speaks to Dola Mitra. Excerpts:
Today’s Hindi mainstream cinema seems to be dominated by Bengali film directors.
I think this is incidental. In my case, its reflection is limited to the settings of my films, which are very often either in Calcutta or other areas of West Bengal. This is because I know the place so well. Other aspects, like local language or the clothes people wear naturally seep in, or else it will be incongruous.
But the fact you are highlighting themes of social concerns has been attributed to Bengali intellectualism.
It is very important that I deal with issues of concern because at my disposal is a medium which has so much reach. It can convey so much, it can stir up emotions and bring about changes in social mindsets. I don’t want to waste that opportunity.
But the milieu is commercial cinema.
Exactly. Commercial cinema is entertaining, that is why people watch it. I don’t like to forget that I have a responsibility to my audience and can’t bore them to death. But that doesn’t mean I can’t discuss serious topics. On the contrary, if ideas are packaged palatably, it will be more receptive. For example, we often remember the text of a book we enjoyed reading more than some of the lessons we were forced to mug up.
How difficult was it for you to film dialogues in Kahaani 2, where you had to have child actors talk about physical, sexual abuse?
It was a very sensitive area and it had to be handled extremely responsibly. It required thought. We wanted to ensure that we don’t cross any lines without compromising the script’s need. The child actors were marvellous. And Vidya put them at ease. Otherwise, scenes such as the one in which she points to her body parts and talks about being touched inappropriately with a child would have been extremely difficult to do.
Why did you take up the difficult issue of child abuse?
It is a social ill that often remains hidden because there is so much stigma attached to it. Families don’t allow it to come out into the open because often the very members are perpetrators. And yet it is one of the gravest social evils. My wife is a psychiatrist and she has spoken to me about the kind of trauma that sexually abused children suffer. It deeply disturbed me.
Kahaani 2 isn’t exactly a sequel. Why didn’t you do a continuation of the earlier, engaging story?
It was a conscious decision not to. We—including Vidya (Balan)—discussed many different ideas for the story. Eventually, we wanted to work on something that went beyond Vidya Bagchi (protagonist of the first Kahaani) and her investigative assignments. We wanted to raise important issues through the character and their poignancy had to be felt through personal involvement. But at the same time we wanted to retain the Kahaani feel.
So Vidya Balan is also a part of the decision-making in your films?
Oh, absolutely. I cannot think of taking a single decision without her when it comes to films like Kahaani or Kahaani 2. I dared to venture into these because I knew she was there. Only she could pull it off. She does what it takes. Going makeup-less if she has to. Looking drab if she needs to. She has been the biggest support and strength.