Director Srijit Mukherji opens up about his National award winning movie, Gumnaami

Gumnaami was adjudged the best Bengali film at the 67th National Film Awards. The controversial film revolves around the plot that though Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose supposedly died in a mysterious plane crash, some of his followers believed he was living the life of a hermit called Gumnaami Baba near Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.

Gumnaami, which stars which stars Prosenjit Chatterjee, Anirban Bhattacharya and Tnusree Chakraborty, was mired in controversy after 32 members of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s family claimed that the film was not a true portrayal of history. The director in turn screened the film’s trailer at the office of the All India Forward Bloc — the party founded by Bose — which termed the charges levelled by some of the descendants of the freedom fighter as ‘untrue’.

Finally, the film got a clearance by the Central Board of Film Certification in 2019 even as Harvard historian and Netaji’s grandnephew Sugata Bose said, it was more of an insult to the leader than a homage. Director Srijit Mukherji talks about why he made the film. Excerpts:

Why did you choose to make a film on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose?

Subhas Chandra Bose has always been an inspiring figure for me since my childhood days. Also, his contribution to the freedom struggle of India is largely unknown because he is mostly an unsung hero outside Bengal. Even

though we have read so much about him in history books, I was surprised that no one had ever ventured to make a film on him even though he is such an enigmatic figure.

There are a lot of dubious theories about his disappearance. That is why I took the plunge and ventured into an arena that no one has been in, in the last 70 years. I felt that this was a good time to make a film on Netaji. There are questions we need to ask in a democracy and we should be able to do that as no one can muffle or gag anyone here.

What challenges did you face while making the film?

I got a lot of threat calls. I had to go to the High Court since there was an injunction on the film. Political parties took out demonstrations against me. Harvard professors launched personal attacks on me. Thankfully, the people of India were with me. The spirit of Netaji was with me and that is why we were able to go ahead with it.

What brief did you give your actors?

The script was the Bible in this case. I actually put in a lot of back-breaking research and all this had to be put together into a two-hour script. So, winning the National Award is that much sweeter. As far as grooming is concerned, everything was there in the script. Things like what kind of body language should the actors have, how should they talk, what kind of emphasis should be put into dialogue delivery — all the nuances were spelt out very clearly. Actually, this is how I work on every film.

There are a lot of dubious theories about his disappearance. That is why I took the plunge and ventured into an arena that no one has been in, in the last 70 years. I felt that this was a good time to make a film on Netaji.

Why don’t you make more Hindi films?

Please understand that Indian cinema is not Bollywood, Indian cinema is not just Hindi cinema. There is a lot of good cinema made by filmmakers in Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese, Bihari, Gujarati and a variety of other languages. Please do not confuse Indian cinema with Bollywood. I want the audience to support cinema in other languages too.

What next?

I am planning to start shooting my second Hindi film, this year. We will begin shoot in October. The film is called Shergill, and it is about a very interesting phenomena that happened at the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve. It is based on true events.

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