“It’s a bothersome thing for the audience is to sit through my two-hour long films because they are actually monotonous and melancholic,” says filmmaker Aneek Chaudhuri.
However, these “monotonous and melancholic films” of Chaudhuri’s have made quite an impression at international film festivals, including the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, at which he is a regular.
In fact, his latest project, The Tale of a Santa and His Moth, is set to be presented at Cannes’ Marche du Film on May 19. This will mark Chaudhuri’s fifth outing at the premier festival.
Chaudhuri says he prefers the informed audience of a film festival over those that go to regular cinemas. “When people go to the film festivals, they go with a particular psyche. They are prepared for my kind of films. But when people pay, buy popcorn, and go with their lovers to cinema halls, I can’t torture them with depressing films.”
The filmmaker adds that The Tale of a Santa and His Moth is depressing for the most part. The story is a take on the perspective of third-world countries on war and its effects on them. “We always talk about the developed nations and the super-powers when they go to war. But what about the third-world countries? What is the aftermath of wars on them? These countries are not in a position to protest; they just suffer,” Chaudhuri notes.
Despite the serious subject, the 30-year-old filmmaker stresses there’s no sermonising in his movie. “Educating the audience is not my way,” he remarks, and adds, “I make a film so that the audience can go through it and analyse it from their own perspective. Mine are very open-ended films.”
The film is not only about global issues, it also has some serious commentary on relationships. Pawan Chopra plays the character of a bisexual widower named Pedro and Usha Banerjee essays the role of his ailing daughter. Pedro used to play fancy characters at people’s parties. But when the time comes for him to choose between his job and taking care of his daughter, he chooses the latter.
“All of a sudden, two days prior to Christmas, the daughter asks for an almond cake. But the family’s financial status is not so good. They can’t afford an almond cake,” says Chaudhuri, adding that the Santa Claus reference in the title relates to this. “The father’s role is that of a Santa to his daughter who asks him for the cake. The ‘moth’ reference is because moths are a species that die very soon.”
The director adds that the film is about choosing to find happiness in the smaller things in life.
Unlike his previous films, which were inspired by certain incidents in Chaudhuri’s life, The Tale of a Santa and His Moth just happened. “I was working on a mainstream story when this idea came to me. I just started writing it, and all of a sudden, it just happened. There was no specific inspiration or anything of that sort.” That mainstream project continues to be on hold, he adds.
The intention to actually make the film, however, emerged after Chopra called up Chaudhuri and said, “Let’s do something.”
The story was initially conceived as a 40-minute short film that just focused on the drama between a father and his daughter. “Eventually, after we shot it and I’d edited it, I wondered what the film would look like if I added another angle to it. Then, I expanded it into an 85-minute feature-length film,” Chaudhuri says. He adds that the feature film is now more of a fantasy drama.
The film’s presenters, who had not heard of Chaudhuri before, watched the film and got in touch with him. “And now, they are spending all this money at Cannes,” he adds.
Connection to Malayalam cinema
Chaudhuri is an avid viewer of both Tamil and Malayalam films, but is particularly taken with the latter, so much so that he almost made a film in Malayalam.
Katti Nrittam, or Knife Dance, was supposed to mark his debut in the language, but has been delayed due to lack of funds. He calls the now shelved film his most ambitious project. It was meant to integrate the Indian epic Mahabharata and the dance form of Kathakali. “Arjuna is a serial killer and a failed Kathakali dancer. Everything is shown from the point-of-view of Draupadi,” the filmmaker tells us.
Katti Nrittam was also presented at Cannes as a work-in-progress, in 2020.
Although his own Malayalam debut has taken a backseat for the time being, Chaudhuri’s fondness for the industry has not diminished. He says he is particularly moved by the performances of actors like Fahadh Faasil, Prithviraj, and Nimisha Sajayan. He also reveals that Nimisha, who is renowned for starring in The Great Indian Kitchen, has expressed her interest in working with him.
Future plans and return to silent films
Chaudhuri’s upcoming projects include a couple more collaborations with Chopra. Other potential projects include a Hindi or an Indo-French film.
For his next project, Chaudhuri plans on returning to silent cinema. Both his movies prior to The Tale of a Santa and His Moth, namely White and Jharokh, were silent films. White is an anthology film that depicts the stories of three women who have been raped. It was presented at Cannes in 2018.
The filmmaker feels that words disrupt a movie. “Making a film is like making love to a person. Whenever there are words involved, the whole thing takes a pause,” he says.
Moreover, silent films give him the motivation to make movies that are more visually engaging, he explains.
In addition to this, Chaudhuri notes that he can reach a wider audience with silent films. “Anyone from any place will be able to understand the film without the bothersome need to read subtitles.”
Even in The Tale of a Santa and His Moth, the filmmaker says that he has used dialogues only when strictly necessary.
Chaudhuri says they will likely release the film in India in 2023, after its festival run. “But we have to first look at the feedback from the audience at the festivals and then take a call on whether or not to release it in theatres.”