The latest documentary he has been making sounds straight out of an engrossing work of fiction — centring around a group of young people that form a musical band based in Tangra (near Kolkata’s biggest landfill), being mentored by an ex-gangster.
Filmmaker Supriyo Sen says the band even managed to reach the finale of ‘India’s Got Talent’. “They travelled across the country and enjoyed widespread popularity. But success did not sustain for long and soon they were back in the slum.” Now facing the same challenges — of violence and lack of employment, the film explores how they are coping and still trying to retain their identity as musicians.
Recipient of four National Awards for films including ‘Swimming through the Darkness’ (2019), ‘Hope Dies Last in War’ (2009), ‘Way Back Home’ (2005), ‘The Nest’ (2001), besides the ‘Berlin Today’ award for ‘Wagah’, Sen says that it is sheer passion of the for the medium that keeps him going despite multiple roadblocks synonymous with the documentary genre. Stressing that it is always challenging to deal with reality, the filmmaker says that not only does the format have an ‘independent’ DNA, it also provides enough scope for experimentation. “And let us not forget, documentaries can be important agents of social change. Precisely why even in the absence of any support, one does not let go of the medium.”
Stressing that the lack of distribution system and television channels’ apathy towards the medium push many documentary filmmakers towards the brink, Sen, whose films ‘Way Back Home’ and ‘Swimming through the Darkness’ are being screened during the Emmai Art Online Documentary Film Festival says, “In the West, documentaries have flourished owing to state funding. With a strong public television, they made it a point to train directors and producers. Not to mention heavy subsidies and support through film festivals.”
Talking about how he chooses his subject, the filmmaker says that at times it is completely a conceptual thing — like him wanting to make a film about the Partition after hearing about it in great detail from his parents and extended family. “So, subconsciously, the idea was in my mind, and I selected my parents as my protagonists. But sometimes, stories mark their presence through varied mediums like small newspaper reports — for example in the case of ‘Swimming Through The Darkness’.”
Citing the example of East- European countries, where they would start exposing children to cinema right from the age of six, Sen feels that it makes all the sense to ensure that students are acquainted with different art forms from an early age. “That is the only way to ensure that they develop a good eye, start understanding multiple narratives and begin to see that something other than mainstream entertainment also exists. Why do you think major film festivals have a specially curated section for children?”
In times when major art festivals and even some literature festivals are witnessing film screenings, Sen adds, “Interdisciplinary interaction is of utmost importance and it is always good to cross each other’s paths. It facilitates interactions between serious practitioners of different art forms. I must add that it is refreshing to see a growing number of film festivals in the country.”
Sen, who is now also writing fiction — web series and stories, says that he might make a fiction film soon. “Though the documentary is a fantastic medium, it does have some limitations, just like fiction. There are some stories that demand actors and particular situations.”