Ashutosh is a filmmaker with rare integrity: Manini Chatterjee

By Radhika Bhirani

New Delhi, Dec 2 (IANS) Literature-based films would flourish if filmmakers started giving due credit to authors, says veteran journalist Manini Chatterjee, who feels Ashutosh Gowariker has displayed "rare integrity" by giving her book adequate prominence in the promotion of his film "Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey" releasing Friday.

"I think the problem with a lot of film directors, and not just in Bollywood, is they take material from books or foreign films and do not give adequate credit. Ashutosh is a filmmaker of rare integrity and has given my book a lot of credit," Chatterjee, who has been a journalist for 30 years, told IANS in an interview.

On multiple occasions, Gowariker has admitted he knew little about the Chittagong Uprising of the 1930s until he read Chatterjee's "Do & Die - The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34", about the lesser known freedom struggle.

He chose to take her advice at different stages of making the film to avoid any factual errors pertaining to the revolution, of which Chatterjee's mother-in-law, Kalpana Dutta, was an active part.

The veteran journalist, who works with The Telegraph newspaper of Kolkata, is glad that Gowariker has set such an example.

"Earlier, Anurag Kashyap also gave credit to S. Husain Zaidi's book 'Black Friday' on which he made a film. Both films are on real life incidents and both directors prominently mentioned their source. If other directors were as honest, we would find more names of books in the opening credits of a film than we do, I guess," she added.

Chatterjee's words are a reminder of the roaring credit controversy over blockbuster "3 Idiots" when "Five Point Someone" author Chetan Bhagat made a hue and cry for not getting prominence in the credits of the film as the script of the film was loosely based on his book.

She feels she was consulted enough even if she wasn't an official consultant for the project.

"I have not been a consultant formally. But Ashutosh, unusually for a film director, has given me and the book a lot of respect. He showed me the screenplay, invited me for the mahurat last year, let me see a bit of the shooting, and showed me the rough cut of the film. I made a few suggestions now and then, which he took seriously," she said.

Gowariker, who has made films like "Lagaan", "Swades" and "Jodhaa Akbar" in the past, had first expressed the desire to adapt "Do & Die" in 2005. He made up his mind to bring it to the big screen in 2008 and purchased its rights from Chatterjee.

He roped in Abhishek Bachchan and Deepika Padukone for key roles in the film.

Wasn't she worried about the twists her book could get in a bid to make the film commercially viable?

"I knew from the outset that this was not a historical documentary but a mainstream film, and as such one would have to make some departures from the book since cinema has its own logic, time constraints, etc. But Ashutosh is one contemporary filmmaker who has the ability to make meaningful cinema which is also mainstream.

"He does not make niche films for the festival circuit, and neither does he make mindless, masala films for pure commercial gains. So I felt privileged that a director of his standing was taking up a true but entirely neglected chapter of our history and making it known to a much wider audience than my book would ever reach," said Chatterjee, who is currently the editor, national affairs, The Telegraph.

She has not seen the final cut of the film but is confident it has the right mix of history and melodrama.

"He has not sensationalised or trivialised the story in any way and, despite some creative liberties, has been faithful to the essential spirit of the Chittagong uprising and my book," she added.

Does that mean in times when masala films like "Dabangg" are minting money, there are strong chances that "Khelein...", based on a serious issue, will click with the audience?

"I think Ashutosh has shown a lot of courage and conviction in making a film on such a subject. But audiences in India are receptive to all kinds of films. If the film touches an emotional chord, which I think it will, I am hopeful it will bring alive a forgotten chapter of our freedom struggle, which deserves to be much more widely known."

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

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