Director Saibal Mitra is a renowned name in the Bengali film industry. From assisting several celebrated directors like Goutam Ghose to making his documentaries, TV series and then films, Mitra’s filmography is nothing less than impressive. He also received the BFJA (Bengali Film Journalist Association) Best Director award for his short film Dhakudar Katha (2000).

We caught up with the filmmaker to know more about his latest feature Chitrokar with which he returns to International Film Festival of India (IFFI) after 10 years.

Saibal Mitra - Pandolin.com

Saibal Mitra

What is your latest directorial venture Chitrokar about?

It’s a film about a dying artist who is assigned to do a mural for a restaurant, which he does, but the conflict starts when he doesn’t agree with how and where the mural will be placed. So he takes back his work and returns the money. It is about an artist’s integrity, how he seeks art and whether art really exists in today’s world. The script is based on the blind Indian artist Benode Behari Mukherjee’s “Last Mural”, a mural made in the last stages of his life (Director Satyajit Ray also made a documentary titled Inner Eyes on the same) and American expressionist painter Mark Rothko’s refusal to give his Seagram Murals series to commission in the Season’s Restaurant in the Seagram building of New York.

For whom does a painter paint? For those who can pay? Are paintings and murals just a commodity? Such questions and discourse is addressed in the film. Chitrokar presents the tension between artistic endeavor and commercial reality through a painter’s eyes. Also in this times of demonetization, the film is about saying ‘no’ to Money.

READ: THE VIOLIN PLAYER – A STATEMENT ON LIFE WITH ART AND WITHOUT ART

There is use of mix media in the film. In some scenes the frame transforms into a painter’s canvas while in some it’s a mixture of painting and moving objects. Why did you choose this form?

We have shown Benode Behari’s paintings as the paintings of our character because I intended to show a master painter/ artist. Initially we thought of hiring artists and getting the paintings made for the film. But I discovered that a master’s work is a master’s work! You cannot recreate it. So we thought of using the original ones.

We had to read and learn about the style of making art using braille

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What were the challenges of working with such multiple forms?

It was a real challenge. The mural exists in the start and the end of the film. During the mid, we had to show the creation of that mural by a blind artist. We had to read and learn about the style of making art using Braille, which is taught in Shantiniketan. It was a challenge to recreate that process in the way that Binode Behari may have made the art.

I discovered that a master’s work is a master’s work! You cannot recreate it.

With such challenges, how did you guide the actors, were there any special instructions they had to work around?

We sat together, discussed and scanned Benod Behari’s work along with works of several contemporary artists. In the film there are two artists – one the master, Modernist and then the lady who is a contemporary, Post-Modern artist. So we had to go through all the art, paintings, extract their work and discuss their process of making art. All this had to be talked about and practiced. We also watched Satyajit Ray’s documentary, The Inner Eye, a number of times.

READ: HOW INDIAN ACTORS GO THE EXTRA MILE PREPARING FOR THEIR ROLES

What was the visual brief given to the cinematographer?

DoP Ashok Dasgupta is all about paintings and art. He knows all the details, which help to recreate the colour palette. We have followed the color palette of Benod Behari’s paintings in the film. He had cataract in one eye throughout his life and gradually went blind after the cataract operation in 1957. So, all his paintings were desaturated. There was lack of detail as he couldn’t see properly. Hence the colour scheme he used was desaturated and we wanted to use the same in our film.

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Was finding producers and presenters for the film difficult due to it’s content/ form?

It is actually very interesting. I could only make this film because of the producer Pranab Purkayastha. He is an old friend who I’d lost connection with, till we found each other on Facebook. Then he came to Kolkata and offered to produce the film with the money that he had received after his retirement because he was so passionate about this project. I tried to discourage him and make him understand the risk in this role. I don’t think films like these can be made without passionate producers like him.

Chitrokar presents the tension between artistic endeavor and commercial reality through a painter’s eyes

How important is a platform like Film Bazaar for an unconventional film like yours?

It is important. It is the only place in this country with the infrastructure to get distributors and buyers for such films. We can present it to people and they can see the film too. Otherwise in the Indian scenario, I think it’s a really disappointing situation as far as regional films are concerned. Especially when the film in question is a film like ours, which has marginal filmmakers making it. Film Bazaar is a really helpful platform.

READ: NFDC FILM BAZAAR: REVISITING ITS ILLUSTRIOUS 10-YEAR JOURNEY

What kind of a release have you planned for the film?

The theatrical release will happen after all the other mediums are exploited and explored. Because as far as the Bengal theatrical circuit is concerned, it is not very supportive and quite disappointing when it comes to stories like these. And the kind of publicity you need to achieve before the release is too big. I believe that festivals are our way to move ahead. Our film will be shown in Mumbai next, then Jaipur and will travel abroad. So that’s the way forward for now. We have to see how the festival audience reacts to the film.

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Saibal Mitra