James Baxter-Derrington was lucky enough to chat with the lovely Bauddhayan Mukherji, or ‘Buddy’ for short, about his incredibly beautiful film ‘The Violin Player’.
Firstly, congratulations on the various Raindance nominations you have for The Violin Player, it’s a huge achievement – how does that feel for you?
Thank you! It’s quite a ‘top of the world’ feeling I would say, it’s quite nice. While growing up on film, there are certain festivals we have always wanted to be in – and Raindance has always been one of them. Hence, it’s quite a nice feeling to showcase your film in Raindance. I would not exaggerate if I say it’s a dream come true.
That’s fantastic to hear, and more than that to have the nominations too. Congratulations again. You initially started out in advertising and commercials as a director, how did you find the switch to feature films?
Advertising was always the means to an end, it was never the end in itself. So yes, I started off as an advertising filmmaker, and I still make commercials in India, but certainly feature films, I would say, were a natural progression. It had to happen. It naturally happened – someone who was telling stories in 30 seconds possibly could also tell stories in 90 minutes. It was bound to happen. Thankfully it happened!
Did you find it was almost a shock – I can’t say I particularly know – is there a vast difference in the scale and the work involved between the two styles?
Yes, of course, there’s a huge, huge difference, James. For the simple reason that, when I was making – The Violin Player is my second feature. The first feature happened last to last year, called Three Obsessions [Teenkahon], while making both the films, I constantly had to tell myself ‘Do not be an ad filmmaker’. Which basically means that the discipline for that sort of filmmaker to overcut – we often end up overcutting a film. We get so involved in the micro view of a film, that we lose the macro view of it. So it was a constant battle with myself. So I kept telling myself ‘hold on to shots, don’t cut it’. Let’s look at the bigger picture. So that’s something feature films have taught me: Look at the bigger picture.
“We get so involved in the micro view of a film, that we lose the macro view of it”
With your feature here at Raindance, The Violin Player, it’s not the longest of features, it still has quite a short runtime. Was that something that you’d always hand in mind – that it was going to be a shorter one – or did that come from that different experience?
Initially, I had started off The Violin Player – I had conceived it as a short film – but then in Goa, I was told ‘don’t worry about the length of the film, let your film arrive at its length.’ So I just went on, shot it, not knowing where would I reach. It could have been a 35 minute film, it could’ve been a 90 minute film. I just ended up being at 72. I didn’t know what the length would be when I started shooting it.
You told a story and that’s just how long it happened to be.
Absolutely. It just flowed. I didn’t consciously do a lot of things, and that to my mind was the fun part of making the film. We were not deciding things consciously on this one.
So speaking on that route of lacking conscious decisions, how did you arrive at the idea of blackouts for the lead?
They’re something I’ve always wanted to do. There are two ways of approaching a film. I’ve always felt that, if you’re watching a football match, either you’re watching it, or you’re playing it. So I wanted my audience to watch the film and not be in the film. So I wanted them to be at the sidelines, cheering for the film, not be the players in the film. I didn’t want them to be sucked in. I want them to feel their own breath, to feel who is sitting next to the person while they’re watching it. My idea was to bring the audience out of their… I didn’t want them to be engrossed in it. I want their mind to be the officials and not the heart. Hence, I wanted consciously, them to come out of the film, and then go back again. So these black areas were my windows, or I can call them doors, to take the audience out of the film, and then to bring them back again.
“I want their mind to be the officials and not the heart”
Keeping the awareness that it is a film. Sticking with the lead there, Ritwick Chakraborty, he’s nominated for best actor – how did you come to work with him?
He is one of the finest actors from Bengal, from Calcutta. This is my first time with him, and when I had written the script, my editor, Arghakamal Mitra, he was the person who had suggested this name, and I latched onto it because I couldn’t find anyone better who had a poetry in his face. So there was this poetry in the actor’s face, and he’s extremely dedicated. He learnt the violin for two months, and though he could not get a tune out of it, but he at least got the posture correct. He worked very hard on it, and all credit to him. I absolutely love the fact that he has been nominated. He has been a dream cast for me.
It sounds it! You were saying he learnt the violin, was that something you had in mind for the whole production, everyone involved, were you attempting to immerse them entirely in the story?
From the beginning we said that it had to be a violin player. Now to come up with the truth of the story. Part of the story is based on a true story. I know someone, a violinist, who was approached in a station, exactly the same way. So it was partly based on a true story, and the violinist, the person who I knew in Bombay never took up the offer. It always intrigued me ‘What if the violinist had taken up the offer? What events would have unfolded?’ For me, the fiction part of the story took over after a certain point in time, the beginning part of it is actually based on a true story. The things actually happened to a violinist; I never intended to change the instrument. Also, it worked beautifully because there’s a tremendous amount of melancholy sadness and lyricism in the violin, which possibly is not there in a percussion instrument.
The film itself, it’s at Raindance now, what are the plans for the further release of it? Are you looking for more festivals, a general release, or what do you have in mind for the future of The Violin Player?
The Violin Player is not my film alone anymore. It’s with my sales agent Alpha Violet. So they own the film as much as I do, and they are the ones who are now taking it to the film festivals. In India we plan to do a theatrical release but I’m not thinking about it right now because, technically Raindance is our second international festival. So I would like to travel with it a little more, reach out to people. Then, possibly, when the time is right, think of a theatrical release, but I’m not really fussing about it right now.
Just enjoying it as it happens.
Yes. Let the violin play in different parts of the world, is what I would want.
Fantastic, best of luck with that! Have you anything in the pipeline at the moment? Another project you’re working on, perhaps another feature?
Yes. I am writing something right now, again, which is something we would like to self-produce – my wife, Monalisa, is the producer. Again, my films are very personal films. I don’t do magnum opuses. There’s a small film which we are planning right now which Monalisa will produce and I will direct, hopefully next year. But, more on it when I finish writing.
“Let the violin play in different parts of the world, is what I would want”
You founded Little Lambs Films, how did you come to that project in itself?
We founded Little Lamb Films at the end of 2007 with the sole purpose of doing television commercials and gradually diversifying into features. I’m very happy to say, James, that we have kind of followed the path we had chalked out for ourselves, so that’s a good thing that we have done! I was working with another production house in Bombay, and we all felt, both me and my wife felt, that the time has come then, in 2007, to start your own production house because I want to take the power of saying yes or no to myself. Founding your own company also meant that you would start saying no when need’s be. When you’re working for someone else, often, you cannot say no to a lot of things. So it was almost trying to tell ourselves that it’s as important as saying yes to also learn to say no, be proud of the work you do, and enjoy what you do. So that’s how Little Lamb Films came about, and that has been the philosophy of Little Lamb Films – we are a booking production house. We are not someone who does a lot of work, we say more no’s than yes.
Are you looking to do your next feature with Little Lamb Films as well?
Yes, that’s the idea. I’m also in talks with others who now have warmed up to the idea of producing my features. But again, I’m a sucker for creative control. So only when a producer would agree to my vision is when we’ll possibly work together. It’s not too much of a problem working with a producer who is also your wife. So the visions are the same. So only when the producer actually believes in what I intend to do is possibly when I’ll end up working with someone else.
For you, the most important thing is that you have a story you want to tell and you want to make sure you can do the justice you want to?
Yes. But it has to be my film!