A Tete-a-tete with journalist-turned director Ram Kamal Mukherjee

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By Rituparna Sengupta Basu

Large-scale promotion, 70mm scale shot and finally ‘Cakewalk’ aired on National TV. It is a creative baby project of an entertainment journalist-turned director Ram Kamal Mukherjee whose aim always set the bar sky-high and mighty. He is a charm personified. His baby Cakewalk has revolutionized the empire of short film space. Expresso meets the director for a freewheeling rendezvous.

Expresso: At last, your much-awaited film “cakewalk” released where single handily you overcome yourself. How does it feel?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: I feel very nice and happy. I enjoyed the journey a lot. It was something which I never decided upon earlier. And for this short film, the credit goes to all those who discourage me a lot that I have pushed the envelope to this extent. My journey of a filmmaker was not so easy. It was something that I do with a lot of hope. The film has been made with a lot of dedication. It gives me immense pleasure that people are liking the film.

Expresso: What is the reason behind the name of cakewalk?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: If you get a chance to see the film, you would understand that my focal character Shilpa Sen, was experiencing professional and personal unrest. The film is all about our daily life. Cakewalk is a typical English word which is by and large used for the things that are seemingly easy to achieve. On the contrary, it can also be used for tasks which are not that easy to achieve, like climbing the Mt. Everest is not a cakewalk. It is utilized as a metaphor in the film. In my film, Shilpa used to bake cakes, however, life is not a cakewalk for her. I constantly needed that snappy and dynamic number that really would run with the subject of my creation.

Expresso: How do you differentiate a feature film from a short film? Why your debut with a short film?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: For me, the difference in length of the film, the way I highlighted the film from the role of the camera, from mounting, to outfit to publicity to everything is done just like that of a mainstream Hindi film. Basically, the length is essential. Since the length is very short, you must keep your script very tight. You don’t have the liberty to tell a long story and you need to be super bound. The audience who watches the film also plays a very important role to hold attention.

I had mounted the film like a feature film, with the hope that audiences would like it. But when you set your mind to direct a feature film, there are a lot of troubles/factors which come with it.  However, when you choose to do a short film, you can do a lot of things independently. Also, I wanted to test myself before directing a feature film if I am capable of doing it or not. Thus, I started my journey with a short film.

Expresso: How did you manage the budget for cakewalk?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: Obviously my producer Aritra Das, Sailendra Kumar and Dinesh Gupta had all the arrangements and planned the budget of the film accordingly. They had done a recce and we knew exactly what expenses were to occur. You know, short film doesn’t have that kind of market. So, unfortunately, we couldn’t spend much of the money without keeping in mind the expected returns from the investment. We keep all the parameters in the mind during shooting.

Expresso: Being a Bengali, do you ever think of to direct a film in your mother tongue?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: I would really love to do a movie in my mother tongue. In fact, I announced a film named “Abhinay” last year but somehow it didn’t work out. I want to make a Bengali short film this year. And for the Hindi feature film, a story is in pipeline, maybe the end of this year or in the first half of 2020, it would start.

Expresso: After cakewalk are you directing more?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: Yes, after cakewalk I completed my second film ‘Season Greetings’ which is a tribute to the Rituparno Ghosh. This film features Celina Jaitly, Lillete Dubey and Azhar Khan. We also brought the first transgender actor “Sree” for the film.

Expresso: Did you know Rituparno Ghosh personally?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: Yes, in fact, I interacted with him during ‘Chokher Bali’. We spent quality time together. Ritu Da was a very talented and wonderful person. All his work is in Bengali except ‘Raincoat’ and ‘Last Lear’. Besides that, he has worked with many Bollywood actors like Kiran Kher, Bipasha Basu, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan etc. Basically, this work of mine is to take him as a person towards the Indian audiences. He took Bengali cinema to a sky-high level nationwide. Keeping in mind how Ritu Da used to indulge himself in work, I just want to continue that through my tribute.

Expresso: Did Hema Malini and Dharmendra watch cakewalk? What did they have to say about your directorial debut? Do you plan for doing a feature with them?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: Yes Hemaji and Dharam ji both have watched cakewalk. In fact, they have also tweeted about it. They loved it. While looking at Esha as she was playing a Bengali character, Hemaji remembered her film Khusboo which released in 1975 and Dharamji also remembered all Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s and Bimal Roy’s film. It was a huge compliment for me because comparing my film with Gulzar and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film is out of the world.

I would love to do a feature film with them and why not, they are the biggest superstars of the Indian cinema. But for that, I need a very good script.

Expresso: Was Esha Deol Takhtani always your first and last preference for cakewalk?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: Yes, Esha Deol Takhtani was always my first preference. In fact, before cakewalk, I had planned to do something else with Esha which didn’t work out. When I narrated the film to Esha, it was she who pushed me to direct the film.

Expresso: What makes Esha discover a director in you?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: I was not supposed to direct the film at first. While I was narrating the script to her, she observed how I visualized the different characters of the film. Seeing this, she asked me why am I not directing the film? So, cutting the long story short I directed the film along with my co-director Abhra Chakrabarty. And if you see the film you would know exactly what I’m trying to say.

Expresso: How did you get Abhra Chakraborty to assist you?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: I met Abhra through my producer Aritra Das. Abhra mentioned about Bappaditya Bandhopadhyay because he assists him. I like Bappa Da’s work, and I could see its reflection and its influence on Abhra’s work too. We then exchanged the screenplay, the thoughts and it just happened. It was a different experience but a good one.

Expresso: After Bin Kuch Kahe you didn’t carry on your journey of television serials’. Do you have any particular reason for that?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: No, it’s not true that I stopped my serial’s journey after Bin Kuch Kahe. I felt that directing serials and soaps is a very tedious job and you must go through a lot of uncertainties. Sometimes you are not sure that your show will be going on air or not. There is a lot that goes on in the mind and I felt it is a waste of energy. That’s why I concentrated more on short films and feature films because these are the things I can connect with. And the audience too connects with them more and appreciate them.

Expresso: How about the return of Author Ram Kamal Mukherjee?

Ram Kamal Mukherjee: He was never gone, he was always there. Once a writer, always a writer. Currently, I am writing a biography, I can’t tell you the person’s name right now. Plus other things are also going side by side and my other book is ready to launch.

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