Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s new film, The Voyeurs: Ami, Yasin ar Amar Madhubala has just had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was screened as part of the Masters’ Section allotted exclusively to films made by the 15 top filmmakers across the world. This is no new achievement for Dasgupta as all four films he has directed in the recent past have already been screened in this section. The films are – Uttara, Mondo Meyer Upakhyan, Swapner Din and Kaalpurush. Produced by Anurradha Prasad of BAG Films, Delhi, The Voyeurs is slated for an all-India release with English sub-titles by the end of this year.
“I find myself getting increasingly involved with ordinary people because my experience has shown that very often, something unique and extra-ordinary emerges out of the ordinary. The Voyeurs: Ami, Yasin ar Amar Madhubala, based on my story and direction, is no exception. The three things that form the spine of my films are – dreams of ordinary men and women, the sense of loneliness ordinary people live through, and now, the concept of the individual who the world would consider a failure. The concept of failure attaches to the one who fails to succeed – success here defined by common sense perceptions of material status symbols or recognition through reward, fame and glory. My early films – Dooratwa, Grihajuddha, Phera,Andhi Gali, Tahader Katha, Charachar portray men who the world would consider failures. They keep chasing me all the time, and the best way I can present them is through my films,” explains Dasgupta.
One is tempted to get to the dictionary meaning of the word ‘voyeur.’ The word ‘voyeur’ is a noun that refers to a ‘person who derives sexual gratification from observing the naked bodies or sexual acts of others, especially from a secret vantage point.’ Another definition says, a voyeur is ‘an obsessive observer of sordid or sensational subjects.’ So who are these ‘voyeurs’ in Dasgupta’s new film?
“A voyeur is not born. The social environment he lives in and the lifestyle he has got accustomed to can turn an ordinary man into a voyeur. I have tried to explore how a man who has had very little communication with real people in his life, teaches himself to communicate with his favourite dream icon – the actress Madhubala in this case – and later, with his computer and his camera. The story of this man Dilip (Prosenjit), the ‘ami’ of the title from whose point of view the story unfolds – is also the story of how the opening up of high tech communication has made Dilip lose the ability to communicate with real, flesh-and-blood people,” elaborates Dasgupta. Can Dilip be dubbed a ‘failure’? “I have not looked at Dilip’s predicament in terms of success or failure. I did that in Swapner Din and Kaalpurush. Here, my sole focus in on the terrifying consequences of his failure to express his inner feelings to the girl (Sameera Reddy) he falls in love with. When he is caught peeping at the girl who moves in next door secretly and for photographing her without her knowledge, all hell breaks loose. His friend Yasin, (Amitabha Bhattacharya), who joins him in this voyeuristic ‘game,’ finds himself in a bigger mess in a case of mistaken identity only because he is Muslim. All young Muslim men today are looked at with suspect across the world. The two are chased by the police not as much for their voyeurism as for their being looked at as terrorists in flight. All three characters therefore – Dilip, Yasin and the girl-next-door are helpless victims of the socio-political environment we live in.”
So what about Madhubala? Dasgupta has several interesting anecdotes. “I fell in love with Madhubala and I saw Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi seven times. I even wanted to marry her when I was a boy of ten or eleven. The crush did not last beyond three years but the impression of one-sided love born out of hero worship stayed with me. Then, around two years back, I had gone to stay with a family where a 15-year-old girl had recently lost her father. One morning, I saw her touch a photograph she held to her forehead before stepping out for her exams. I naturally thought it would be a picture of her deceased father. But when I asked her, she said it was a picture of Amitabh Bachchan. The ‘Madhubala’ in my film is a symbol of this hero-worship and one-sided crush we harbour at some time or another when we are young. Dilip has this crush on Madhubala. He actually ‘builds up’ a fictitious relationship between the actress and himself. Then one day, life replaces ‘his’ Madhubala with a flesh-and-blood girl who moves in next door. He falls in love with her but cannot express it. His other object of communication is with his computer and his camera – both inanimate objects where once again, two-way communication is pure fantasy. He unwittingly falls into a trap of his own making. Trying to find an outlet for his desires – he begins to peep at her in secret, and then uses his camera to photograph her, not realizing that he is actually doing something he should not, and that it could lead to dire consequences if he is caught..”
Madhubala is thus, a passive ‘character’ seen through her photographs collected by Dilip; she is a symbol of hero-worship and one-sided infatuation, and she is a metaphor for dreams, illusions and fantasy that make it possible for unsuspecting men like Dilip and Yasin get on with the business of living.
“Two incidents that gave me the push to write down the story were – one, two young men were caught in Santoshpur in south Kolkata for having placed a video camera in the room of young girl they were capturing through clandestine photographs; two, a young man who was badly beaten up by the London police who suspected him of being a terrorist involved in the London bombing last year. He was later proved innocent. I put the two incidents together, wove a third dimension weaving in the fictional element and that is how The Voyeurs: Ami, Yasin ar Amar Madhubala was born,” Dasgupta sums up.
Dasgupta is very happy with Prosenjit’s performance in the film. “He is an actor prepared to give 101% to his role. But I have to keep talking to him to get him out of his masala films demeanour and mannerisms. I have to draw him out of his usual roles with stories from my life and wait till he is ready to slip under the skin of Dilip,” says Dasgupta. “As for Amitabha, I had to almost threaten him all the time to bring out the expression I wanted from him which I felt, would come out only when I threatened him. I never manipulate my images. I do not try to consciously construct the real and the unreal – it happens naturally and then just falls in place.”
Most of Dasgupta’s editing is done during the shoot itself and there is little to do when the film reaches the editing table. The film was largely shot in the streets and lanes of Kolkata apart from Baripada in Orissa and some studio shooting. Sameera Reddy was picked “because I was satisfied with her dedication and her performance in Kaalpurush and felt her face lent itself to the character she had to play. We finished shooting over a period of 45 days at a stretch,” he informs. Anup Mukherjee has done the sound design for the film, Sunny Joseph has photographed it, music is by Biswadeb Dasgupta, Indranil Ghosh is art director and Swapan Kumar Ghosh has done the production design.
The Voyeurs: Ami, Yasin ar Madhubala has also been screened at the London and Vancouver Festivals in 2007.