When he is not acting, Chandan Roy Sanyal, is often busy directing short films. His latest short, 35mm, is inspired from Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool, and is a tribute to Indian classical cinema.

Here are excerpts from an interview with Chandan, where he candidly talks about the work that went into making 35mm, patriotism and being both a director and actor.

Chandan Roy Sanyal

Chandan Roy Sanyal

35mm explores a love story that has stood the test of time and come out stronger. What was your approach to writing that?

As artists, we borrow heavily from real life. Our relationships, our travels, our experiences; everything plays on our subconscious. We also get influenced by cinema and books. 35mm is the story of a director who is at the prime of his career. But because of his maniacal attitude towards work, he neglects his personal life. He is not able to give the attention that his blossoming romance deserves, and suddenly he finds himself on the other side of time.


What made you take to a timeless classic like Kaagaz Ke Phool? Where did the idea for this film originate from?

I am a big fan of old cinema. Black and white films appeal to me. Indian directors like Mehboob Khan, Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy and Raj Kapoor can be talked of in the same breath as Fellini and Bergman. 35mm is my way of paying homage to these greats. Today, with our mediums going digital, films are accessible on phones and tablets. There has been a lot of focus on comedies and farces. As the attention spans are getting shorter, there is a departing sense of seriousness from films. Audiences can watch the movie through the digital world, without compromising on its essence.

As the attention spans are getting shorter, there is a departing sense of seriousness from films.

The film has a parallel timeline in black and white which is a tribute to the era and aura of Guru Dutt. Tell us about the visual treatment in the film.

The credit for the visual treatment goes to Kartik Vijay. He is a very experienced person and has worked extensively on films like Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! I met him through common friends and shared my idea for the short film with him. He loved it and immediately came on board. Both of us are very ‘visualist’ people, and wanted to make 35mm as cinematic as possible. I love Midnight In Paris. It is my favourite film. It is so powerful and yet so simple. It has been shot beautifully. There is this mood of rain in the entire film. So, we went to Benaras and hired a studio to shoot for 35mm. We arranged an old set. We started sourcing out old film equipment from various places. We got a scene trolley from the 70’s. We also managed to get the lights that were used in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. We got an old camera crane. We got a  camera from Shivendra Singh who had directed Celluloid Man. We also got some stuff from Sanjay Sahni, who is a steadicam operator. So overall, we had an ensemble of expensive tools to make an authentically vintage set.

Poster of 35mm

Poster of 35mm

How did you prepare Neeraj Kabi for his character of a passionate/ joy free filmmaker and his aged, less enthusiastic version?

Neeraj Kabi is a very prolific acting teacher himself. He has been acting for a long time. There wasn’t a need for preparation as such. I just had to put him in the situation of the script. It was a great synergy between us as actor and director. I being an actor too, can understand his creative needs. Like before shooting, he needs to be alone for sometime. He needs his space. It is a part of his approach to acting. I sent him the script and multiple references. I sent him interviews of filmmakers like Basu Chatterjee, Basu Bhattacharya and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, to help him prepare for his role. We got a 70’s cut on the suit that we got for him. It took us a month before we actually started shooting.

To make meaningful cinema, we will have to keep coming back to these classics for reference and inspiration.

Priyanka Bose and Neeraj Kabi are both seasoned theatre artists. Did their theatre experience come handy for them to get a gist of their characters?

Yes, absolutely! Theatre experience always helps. Theatre artists have their own common language in which they can communicate in. I just had to give them their lines and the situation of the scene, and they would translate it beautifully with their acting. They had also worked before with each other, which was pretty helpful too.

Do you think the impact of timeless classics such as Kaagaz Ke Phool will be lost on the younger generations? 

I like to believe that it is not the case. I think, to make meaningful cinema, we will have to keep coming back to these classics for reference and inspiration. But, that kept aside, if the world is coming to an end, which it might be because of all these conspiracy theories going around, then cinema won’t be an important thing for people to worry about (Laughs).

Neeraj Kabi in 35mm

Neeraj Kabi in 35mm

Tell us about the other short film that you’re working on – Swaraj? What is the inspiration behind it?

Swaraj is a project that is very close to my heart. It talks about nationalism and brings out a sense of belongingness for your country. When we go to theatres to watch movies, people stand up for the national anthem which is played at the beginning. I don’t have any problem with that, but people don’t stand up because they want to; they get up just to avoid trouble from the other members of the audience. I want to change that. It has to be magical to get up and seek out for your own country. With Swaraj, I want to create this hard-hitting short film about patriotism which makes people proud of India. It is metaphorical that way. Whether you are on a plane and watch the film on your tablet with headphones, or you are seeing it at home on you computer, you should have a moment of immense pride for being an Indian. This innate feeling of pride is greater than any physical gesture. We will launch the film on 14th August, this year.

With Swaraj, I want to create this hard-hitting short film about patriotism which makes people proud of India.

What do you prefer more directing or acting? Why not feature in your own short films too?

I am going to be acting in Swaraj. I love them both equally. They are both different ways of expressing. It is not a conscious choice of preferring one to the other. If I come across a particular idea to which I’ll be able to do more justice as a director, then so be it. I follow my sub-conscious. Acting is my first love, and I have the flair and skill for being a director too. My first short film was Hiroshima, which went around to a couple of festivals and won awards too. People really liked it. Hopefully, I will get to direct a full-length feature film also.