Utpal datta

Utpal Datta: In Love Of Films And Filmmaking

May 19, 2021

Renowned film critic Utpal Datta has assiduously carried forward the rich tradition of metamorphosing from a film critic- to a filmmaker.

From practising the reflection and writing about cinema, he has moulded himself perfectly into practising the art of filmmaking.

He is an individual of remarkable versatility with multiple feats into different terrain of art and culture, gleams with the undying passion of an inquisitive soul.

He is also the recipient of several awards including the prestigious Special Jury Mention for in Cinema at the 56th National Film Awards, 2006.

His recent short feature film Bohubritta (Circles, 2019) has been screened at several International Film Festivals and the film now is also available at the myCinemaHall app.

In conversation with Dipankar Sarkar for The Story Mug, Utpal Datta speaks more about films, filmmaking, and the love for films.

Dipankar: You are a film-critic-turned filmmaker. So, how do you balance the critic and filmmaker within you while watching a film?

Utpal Datta: My association with films began when I began my journey as a reporter-cum-photographer.

Later, I started writing film criticism only to boost my ego. I wanted to show the filmmakers and other film crews that I understand film more than them.

I was a regular and devoted reader of books, journals, watched films religiously, learned the basics of other allied arts- and I thought I was capable to write criticism.

And while writing criticism I earned a huge number of enemies as well.

However, after joining a government job, I gave up film reporting and concentrated on writing about film as an art form. My year-long association helped me to form a concrete idea- what are the components of an honest film.

My experience in journalism or serious writing did not help me while I started making my first film.

The help came from my experience with still photography, my love for music, my inclination towards literature, theatre, and dance, and my experience as an administrative officer.

Leading a team of diverse personalities is not a simple job. It is easy to comment on a shot taken by another. But while we go to shoot, we feel how tough it is to take a shot.

Taking a shot is like creating a painting with the camera - you have a blank canvas in front of you and you will have to fill that canvas with so many elements- yes, really a tough job.

I am an avid film lover since my childhood and that lover still resides within me. And when I am watching a film, I am a simple film lover, and when I write about a film it is only then when I wear the critic's hat.

Generally, I do not watch a film being a critic.

I love cinema stills published in a newspaper, posters, film magazines, trade reports, trailers, writings about the film- in short, I love everything that is related to a film.

As a film lover, I love the works of great BN Saikia, Ray, Gurudutt, Vijay Anand, and even Joginder of Ranga-Khush fame.

Recently, Nawazuddin Siddiqui also spoke about Joginder in his memoir and I was left amused by it.

Dipankar: According to you, what is the difference between film criticism and film appreciation?

Utpal Datta: Film criticism is the critic’s perception of how he watches the film through the spectacle of ‘ism’ he is putting on.

In most of the criticism I read, I find that the critic wants to comment on the story or the plot interpreting from the angle of the philosophy or ideological believes or pretends.

These criticisms are nothing but critical analysis of the plot, to speak the truth- quest for discovery of the reflection of his believes in that film. That critic does not write how the messages were presented in the film with cinematic language, or how the director used the tools of film language in presenting his content and comment.

‘The cinematography is good or some other adjectives’ - this is not a criticism, nor even a statement. To be frank - most of the film's criticisms are ‘Story and few adjectives’.

In contrary to film criticism- film appreciation is more meaningful because the writings of the genre give a deep analysis of all the components with explanations of how these components contributed to the structure of the film.

Dipankar: You also have edited some of the published screenplays of Dr Bhabendra Nath Saikia's feature films. What has been his influence on your life?

Utpal Datta: I have published the screenplays in a book form and I wrote the preface for each of the books.

Late Dr Saikia wrote eight screenplays for feature films (Sandhayarag, Anirban, Agnishnan, Kolahal, Sarothi, Abarton, Itihash, and Kalsandhya), one film for television (Darpaharan, based on a story by Rabindranath Thakur), and one short fiction on small savings.

Despite our all efforts, we could not find the screenplays of Darpaharan and the short film.

I have also worked with him in two films as an assistant director and a still photographer.

I have learned several things for him, like- time management, concentration, observation, and interpersonal relationship.

Once he said- ‘If you want to stay in the writing field, write daily and if you want to be in this film world as a journalist or a crew, watch a film- daily, as a journalist read the daily newspaper without fail.’

Dipankar: Why have been all of your films literary adaptations?

Utpal Datta: Two of my films are literary adaptations.

Bohubritta is a celebration of our friendship - our means poet Swapna and me. This was the first reason for me making Bohubritta.

Prasnabodhak (Question Mark)- my film in the anthology film Ji Galpar Ses Nai- is based on a story by Balzak.

After Bohubritta, I wanted to try my hands on fiction and I wanted to make a dark film.

My friend Prodyut Kumar Deka, a published author and filmmaker, is also a part of the anthology film. He suggested me few short stories of International repute and settled on Balzak.

A still from Bohubritta

Dipankar: What attracted you to the poetry of Swapna Dutta Deka, that you shaped it as a visual interpretation with Bohubritta?

Utpal Datta: I loved the freshness of the poem, I loved the theme, and I loved the dramatic growth of the film.

The juxtaposition of ideas and images which stood in front of us as a creative challenge dominated the narrative of the poem and we opted to face the challenge.

The title of the original poem was Moi means “I” and I had chosen few parts of the poem to make the film, about which I discussed with Swapna and finally she re-wrote the poem after our discussions and arguments.

Dipankar: The narrative strategy in Bohubritta is not strictly linear but involves a complex structure layered with symbolism. What were the choices you had in your mind regarding the treatment of the film?

Utpal Datta: My idea was to narrate the poem in such a way that the visuals will provide a thematic idea to the viewers.

I tried to use the elements in a series of juxtaposition - day and night, nature and city, realistic and imaginary in terms of costume, confinement and open, and so on.

I planned each shot as a written line of a poem - no grammatical structure but it conveys the message.

I used a few extra-wide shots keeping minimum elements in the frame, used out-of-focus technique, used dance as the echo of the visual, and resonance to the poetry line recited in the background.

The choreography of both dance movements was radically different.

Dipankar: How did 'myCinemaHall' get involved with the release of Bohubritta?

Utpal Datta: I found an advertisement for a film on Facebook and following that ad, I knocked on the door of the cinema hall.

I spoke to the CEO Yatric Chakravarty and found him friendly. He knows his business and his approach to the business is completely a human approach and that touched me a lot.

So, I have released Bohubritta in that virtual cinema hall - MyCinemahall and started my new journey as a producer.

Dipankar: Any contemporary Indian filmmaker whose films you appreciate and why?

Utpal Datta: The meaning of the word contemporary is a bit confusing.

According to the dictionary, the word means ‘living or occurring at the same time.

But in the list of Indian Filmmakers I appreciate, we can avoid the masters as they have already crossed the time barrier. Such three filmmakers, who I love are Shyam Benegal, Aribam Syam Sarma - the most underrated film director in India, and Shaji N Karun.

I love to appreciate a film not only for its aesthetic beauty but also for the honesty, dedication, and purpose of the creator.

I have so many such films and makers.

Let me start from short films - Renuka Soraisam (Un-filled, 2016 and Song From Mapao, 2017), from Manipur, for her innovative and experimental approach; Akashaditya Lama, (Nani Teri Morni, 2020), for his dedication and commitment towards this neglected northeast; Kankan Chakravarty,(‘Written By',2019 and ‘Anurup’, 2019 ) for her approach to this art form and the way she wants to make a film; Remya Raaj, (Midnight Run, 2018) for her gripping storytelling and Ashok Saran’s few films based on tribal life for his commitment to preserving tribal arts and projecting tribal culture through storytelling.

I also love Bobo Khuraijam's 'I ma Sabitri' (2017) and Yadu Vijaykrishnan Parameshwaram’s long documentary ‘21 months in hell’(2018) for its subject and human approach.

To speak about the feature films, I will utter only the names - Haobam Paban Kumar, Pradip Kurbah, Prodyut Kumar Deka, Bhaskar Hazarika, Rima Das, Ranjan Ghosh, Srijit Mukherjee (his earlier films), Subharajit Mitra, Thiagaraja Kumararaja, Sajin Babu, Harish Vyash, Ananth Narayan Mahadevan(for his latest films specially Gaura Hari Dastan), Ram Gopal Verma (all films till Company), Chandan Arora, Niraj Pandey, Pradip Nair, and Chaitanya Tamhane for the Disciple.

Dipankar: What a budding film critic should focus more on while watching a film with the critic's hat on?

Utpal Datta: The answer includes three tips - Love your society, love all forms of art, and love films. That's all.

Poster of Bohubritta

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