Engineer by profession, Amartya Bhattacharya is an art lover. He has been awarded the Silver Lotus
(Rajat Kamal) for the best cinematography in the non-feature film section at the 63rd National Film Awards by the Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee for his fantasy documentary, ‘Benaras-the unexplored attachments’. His movies ‘Hyto kobitar jonye’ and ‘Capital I’ have received international recognition. He spoke to BE’s Ayantika Halder about his works.
Q. What message do you want to render to the public through your movies?
A. My movies deal with the innermost desires and traits, which are mostly suppressed and subverted by our social conditioning and consciousness. Through an existential approach, my films search for the unknown self. They bring forth the real face of characters, which are hidden deep inside their socially constructed mask, painted with colours of prejudices and misconceptions. I don’t want to give any direct message. I dislike propagandist films. When I sit as a viewer to watch a film, I want to get a chance to apply my creativity to extract the meanings out of the film. When I make a film, I want to give the same opportunity to my viewers. I don’t want to inject any socially or politically motivated message. I want them to think independently.
Q. Your movie ‘Hyoto kobitar jonyo’ has been made with a budget of less than `2000. How did you manage to do it?
A. My films are not like the ones which are ceremoniously sold in the market. These are niche films, enjoyed by those who want to apply their sense and sensibilities. Since I don’t foresee a huge commercial success by making such niche films, I try to keep the budget as low as possible. For me, it’s social service. I put in every possible effort to make the film without a sense of financial loss. For that to happen, we have to work on such ridiculously low budgets. It is very difficult and a big constraint, but as you can sense, money is always in the wrong hands. When you aim to do sensible work, society knows how to make your life miserable.
Q. What are the challenges that you face as an independent filmmaker?
A. Not just the language or the region, being an independent filmmaker in India is in itself a big challenge. One major problem is how you make your films reach the people. Distributors don’t really entertain independent films, and if they do, most put forward conditions that are difficult to meet. Without commercial big banners, promotion remains a big hurdle. In regions like Odisha, subject matter can be a constraint. In case of ‘Capital I’, the orthodoxy and conservatism of some Odia people stood as a major block against the film. But of course, swimming against the tide is what I enjoy. So, all these challenges are a part of my filmmaking. I could have resorted to smoother options, but I chose to struggle without any regrets.
Q. Had it been possible by you to manage the entire funding and exposure if you weren’t a software engineer?
A. No, it wouldn’t have been possible. I cannot deny this fact. My profession as a software engineer has given me the freedom to be choosy and carefree when it comes to art. The fact that my survival is not dependent on my cinema is a big relief. If I had to rely on films to make a living, I could have been exploited by the industry and would have been forced to be a part of it. My independent stance would have been threatened.
Q. Your films are mostly surreal, dark in concept and psychoanalytic in nature. Is the Indian market open to these films?
A. The acceptance is low. But there are people who are thrilled and overwhelmed by films like ‘Capital I’. I got a good response at International Film Festival of Kerala and some other festivals too. In a country as diverse as ours, we have a wide range of viewers. Unfortunately, the mainstream industry with the alliance of mainstream media has created an illusion that Indian viewers love only melodramatic commercial movies. Since people like us have no resources, we have no voice. I shouldn’t just blame the commercial industry and the media for it. Even some of the sensible and knowledgeable filmmakers have stuck themselves within the boundaries of the obvious. We haven’t ventured enough into the unknown territories, and therefore our people are not exposed to such cinema. But our films will not remain in coffins forever. They will be discovered, either today or tomorrow.
Q. How are you profiting by making these movies?
A. There’s a lot of struggle to break even and then make profits. My producers don’t produce my films just for profit. They produce simply because they understand the importance of it. I’m blessed that a personality like Susant Misra and a dear friend like Swastik Choudhury have shown so much faith in my films. While some of my films have struggled to just break even, a film has also given us a return of over 20 times.
Q. What technologies do you use to make these movies?
A. I am not a fan of technology. I use my camera and editing software.
Q. What is the future of the non-feature films in India?
A. Few people consider the condition of documentary movies in India to be good, some say it’s bad. I say, it’s
horrible. The future is gloomy. People don’t understand the need for art. Commercial feature films thrive on their entertainment value, but for non-feature films, I forsee a gloomy future. Unfortunately, I find big differences in the lifestyle of the present generation. Some are highly privileged, and some are extremely underprivileged. The highly privileged class doesn’t care about anything. The extremely underprivileged class, on the other hand, is so troubled by life that one can’t expect them to concentrate much on artistic things. So, the future is dependent on those who lie in the border of these two extremes.
Q. Do you think non-feature films are more accepted and recognised internationally compared to India?
A. Yes, but not in every country. European countries and the US have cultivated the viewers, which we have not done. They have introduced students to subjects like theatre, which in our country, is a mere luxury.
Q. What is the career prospect for documentary filmmakers? Is it possible for everyone to choose the field as their profession?
A. The prospect is bad. I won’t recommend a young aspiring filmmaker to jump into troubled waters without understanding the consequences of it. I will rather say, fight a tactical battle. Hold on to a separate source of income, and then invest your heart and soul into your films. In that way, you’ll be able to survive and make films. My advice may sound depressing, but I choose not to be an impressive optimist, but an expressive realist.