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Hari Viswanath Interview: On The Award-Winning ‘Radiopetti’ And Working With Rituparna Sengupta And Anurag Kashyap For His Upcoming ‘Bansuri’

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Hari Viswanath’s debut feature Radiopetti (Netflix) is an ode to his grandfather Soundarajan’s love for his Murphy wall radio. He wanted to make a film about him when he was alive, as a living tribute. The film went on to  win the Audience Award in the New Currents competition section at Busan International Film Fest in 2015. That grandfather passed recently, at 92, knowing little about the second film Hari’s making, about a boy’s intrinsic love for the flute. This one’s in Hindi, and stars director Anurag Kashyap and National Award-winning actress Rituparna Sengupta, and child actors Ankan Mallick and Deepro Sen.

Both films, in some way, deal with the joy that music brings, and the relationship people forge with objects/instruments. “The one common factor is the music; if the old man was listening to it, the child is playing it. All of us are connected to music in our own ways. We listen, do our work. Somewhere, it is linked to us from birth to death,” says Hari. 

How Hari got to make Bansuri has an interesting backstory, tied to Radiopetti. Septuagenarian Augusto of Chennai-based theatre group Augusto Creations wanted to meet Hari to speak about Radiopetti, and also narrated some story plots. “The one that eventually became Bansuri appealed to me. But, I was not sure about what I wanted to do, because people from the industry told me that if I made another film that did the festival circuit, I would get labelled. At the same time, those from the festival circuit told me to not go totally commercial, because it would stifle my voice and style. Personally, I knew I had walked a certain path with my first film, and that I should not squander that advantage. One line from Augusto’s plot kept ringing in my mind—an eight-year-old boy asks his grandfather and mother what’s in his blood. I felt this was a film about hope, about the fact that whether you have it in your blood or not, you can excel in anything you choose to believe in.”

And so, Hari worked on Augusto’s core idea, and credited him too. “I don’t understand why people hesitate giving credit. There’s no harm in a director stating that the story belongs to someone else. I am not downgrading myself as director by giving the story credit to the writer. The audience is not going to judge me, because I did not have kadhai-thiraikadhai-vasanam-iyakkam prefixing my name in the title card. They are only going to worry about the film and what it does to them. If you’re confident, you will give credit. In fact, even for Bansuri I ended up writing the dialogues myself (and am not taking credit for it) after nothing else fell in place. I think in Tamizh and then write in English, and my assistants translated it into Hindi.”

In fact, once Hari zeroed in on Bansuri as his next project, he decided he would take it to its logical conclusion. “I travelled for a year, alone, and decided the time was right to make my second film,” says Hari. In a way, the fact that he broke even with Radiopetti (which directly released on Netflix after a round of festivals and won at Busan) gave him the confidence because he came from a place of financial ‘safety’. “Four years ago, in Berlin, I said that in the next five years, OTT will rule. I took my time to make Bansuri, and so took up designing work to run my family. And then, because I had to convince people in Bollywood that I could manage a Hindi film, I did a short film Monitor, which was screened in the Indian panorama section, IFFI in 2018. That was just to show them I could execute a film in Hindi. It was screened alongside Shoojit Sircar’s October.”

That was around the time Hari decided to look Eastwards for a production collaborator. Through friends he met folks in Kolkata who were willing to do a Hindi film. He met actress Rituparna, who put him on to her contacts. “They liked the realistic style of writing and thought it was very Iranian. Finally, Mou Roychowdhury agreed to  produce the film and Satarupa Sanyal became executive producer. Sreekar Prasad Sir said he would edit the film, and Tapas Nayak handled sound design (he was part of Radiopetti too). Jaishree Lakshmi, who was the art director of Charlie, came on board, for I was looking for an art director from Bombay to recreate the period the team had in mind. Cinematographer Grzegorz Hartfiel is from Poland, and he lent the film a different perspective. He was introduced to me by my friend, Polish cinematographer Weronika Bilska. It is an Indian story that will look very different thanks to his POV. He comes with no prior exposure to India, and this a fresh canvas for him to work on.”

Hari’s got lucky with the casting too. He’s got on board a National Award-winning actress known for her acting chops as well as a director who’s a reluctant actor. Rituparna was first among the cast to be signed, and she helped Hari navigate the production chain in Kolkata.

About working on Bansuri Rituparna says, “Over the years, I’ve been very comfortable working with new directors; I’ve always felt we can create something new, and I’ve invariably been right. When Hari spoke to me, I was convinced about the subject, thanks to his beautiful narration. I took him to producer-filmmaker Satarupa Sanyal, with whom I’ve worked before. Hari is the silent type, he does not speak much, but is sorted and knows his subject like the back of his hand. I’m very happy I worked on this film. It was a pleasure seeing him deal with the child actors and how he envisioned and shot the scenes. This film is a collaborative effort. It felt… right doing it. “

He met Anurag when he was shooting for Imaikaa Nodigal in Chennai. “He jogged his memory and remembered we met in Korea. He said he enjoyed Radiopetti and would do this just for that experience.” 

Anurag Kashyap adds, “I was on the jury at Busan when Hari’s Radiopetti won an award unanimously. So, when he reached out to me to act, I said I did not mind, provided I found the five to six days he needed at my convenience, and he gave me that space. Also, the producer is a very dear friend and so I was secure. I hate acting but I don’t mind if it’s in a comfortable space. Hari is a very sensitive filmmaker. With a man who comes up with stories like he does, you are not worried about craft or experience. I have also been a first-time filmmaker. Here, I was in the hands of two people who I know are sensitive and I trusted, Hari and Satarupa.”

The film is set in the Dooars, near Kalimpong and Darjeeling. “We went to the Goodricke tea estate and shot there. Even during the recce, we felt this place was right. I completed the film in 25 days and took a three-day break in Darjeeling,” Hari says.

However much Hari wins in the award circuit, he’s still not taken as seriously by the mainstream industry. His experience of being an outlier is painful in stretches. “This experience everyone speaks of, it is the sheer love towards making films, pushing oneself beyond the boundary. There’s no support system as it were for independent cinema. The filmmaker has to focus on both craft and commerce and that’s not a good thing. One reason I chose Hindi is that it will reach a wider audience. Plus, it’s nice to challenge oneself. Sometimes, I’m told to make an English film or a Korean one. I’ve made a beginning to get out of my comfort zone with Hindi,” he laughs.

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