Vishal P Chaliha, a young Assamese filmmaker is in the news for all the right reasons. His first feature film Sijou is being admired by both critics and audiences wherever it has been screened.
Sijou is based on the feudal land tenure system prevalent near India and Bhutan border areas until 1958. It is a historical drama film, which is being produced by Preeyam Kherkatary (National Film Award Winning Producer) and Omprakash Kherkatary.
The film tells the story of a young monk named Sijou, who lives in a monastery along the Ind-Bhutan border. Sijou recalls his life which he spent in his village and then as a slave.
Bijit Basumatary plays the character of Sijou. Asutosh Kashyap did the cinematography, editing by Bishal Sarmah, Music by Dhrubajyoti Patgiri and Sound Designing by Debajit Changmai and Bulganin Baruah.
Vishal P Chaliha began doing theatre in 2014 and he performed at various theatre festivals like Jashne Bachpan at the National School of Drama, New Delhi, and Assam Natya Sanmilan among others.
In 2017, he made his first documentary, Sabdhan, which was screened at the Golden Tree International Documentary Film Festival in Frankfurt, Germany.
On their way back from the Bangaluru International Film Festival, Utpal Datta and Vishal P Chaliha spoke about various topics under the sun. Here is an excerpt of that three-hour-long chat.
Utpal Datta: Where do you see yourself in the storyline?
Vishal: Well, I believe that the extreme form of nationalism has become the root cause of wars, battles, brutality, etc. As a whole, we have forgotten that nations, countries, continents don’t exist scientifically. It’s an intersubjective reality that we humans have created and because of such creation, we have exploited ourselves.
In Sijou, I have taken a stand for not going for the extreme form of nationalism. We all should love our country, but when we become so selfish, we forget that we are humans and that’s where the problems start to arise and that is where I see myself in the story. The entire thing I have said is what I have tried to say throughout the film.
Utpal Datta: Film making is always a combination of two types of problems- creative and the other being financial and infrastructural. What were the issues you faced and how did you overcome those?
Vishal: Well, I got the necessary budget which I need for this film. From the financial side, I was pretty happy. Things happened most of the time according to my vision. About the creative challenges, when I was recruiting or building up the team for the film, I recruited most of the people I know, with whom I share my ideas. They know what I think, what my vision is. I recruited those people with whom I have a good understanding and that is very important when you make a film or create any piece of art which requires a team effort.
If I have to cite the problem, then I would say it happened when our shoot was over. I was sceptical about whom to go for as the Sound Designer and Re-recording mixer of the film. Because I gave a lot of emphasis on the Sound. I wanted someone who could create that atmosphere through sound. Debangkar Borgohain, a well-known editor working in the Assamese film industry recommended Debajit Changmai. I doubted whether he will work with me or not because I was a newcomer, and he is a very senior person.
He asked me to send the film and he will let me know after watching it. I was waiting for his call and then it was all set to go. He was willing to do the Sound Designing of the film along with his team. That was an incredible challenge that I overcame because I think cinema is not just about the story, it is about everything related to it, Sound, Music, Cinematography, Editing etc. I wanted to go for a wholesome cinematic experience and because of that, I tried to give importance to every film department.
Utpal Datta: Sijou has been screened in IFFI and BIFFES. What type of experiences did you gain from both the festivals and the creative inputs you gathered there?
Vishal: IFFI and BIFFES both are good film festivals, but somewhere, I felt IFFI was much bigger because of its reception, audience etc. The reaction of the audience at IFFI was good. People loved our film. The reaction at BIFFES was excellent. The projectionist guy came out of that hall when our film got over. He just shouted and said that he loved our film a lot and people of different age groups loved our film. I have never believed in anything called a target audience and I have got the proof at BIFFES where old people, young people loved, clapped and blew whistles at the end.
Utpal Datta: What are your plans to take the film to a larger audience? Or are you happy with the festival circuit?
Vishal: Festival circuits are excellent. You get to learn, meet, know about the world of cinema from a close quarter. Apart from that, we are planning to release the film across Assam in other languages as well. The original language of the film is Bodo. So we are planning to dub the movie in Assamese, Hindi, English and reach out to a larger audience.
Utpal Datta: Why did you choose filmmaking? Is it a passion or an exercise with the craft?
Vishal: The answer is straightforward- passion, a mad desire to tell a story. I am madly passionate about telling stories to express myself. I wanted to narrate how I see the world, feel about human relations, and see and understand things. All these I can tell through cinema is the most important reason behind choosing the art of making movies.
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