Anjan Dutta, the Bengali musician, actor and filmmaker, makes his debut in the digital space with the release of the Bengali web series Murder In The Hills on Friday. He says he chose to venture into the OTT space for two reasons mainly: to cater to his primary audience who have left Kolkata and are settled outside West Bengal and India, and to experience the creative liberty of writing a web series.

“Most of the audience who have seen my films such as Bong Connection, Chalo Let’s go, Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbona, and Madly Bangali were studying in colleges at that time. They have now got jobs and have migrated out of Bengal. This is the Bengali community that I cater to. And the best way I can reach them is through OTT,” he says.

Dutta uses the example of his 2019 film Finally Bhalobasha to illustrate his point. “Finally Bhalobasha didn’t do as well as other films in theatres because my core audience was not here. But once it went to Amazon Prime Video and Hoichoi, a lot more people saw it.” 

Clarifying that the Covid situation had nothing to do with his decision to create a web series, Dutta reveals that he never intended to direct Murder In The Hills when he first proposed the concept to the producers of the series. “It was meant to be a writing exercise,” he says.

It was the writer in him that got drawn to the digital space and the opportunities it offers. “I got very interested in this new thing, because I realised that the writer plays a great role here,” he says, adding that it’s the creator of a web series who decides the concept and characters, and not the director.

But, they ended up with a situation, a subject and a location which pointed to him as the best person to direct, he adds. 

Premiering on Hoichoi, Murder In the Hills is a mystery thriller based in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal.

And Dutta has a long history with Darjeeling. Born and brought up there, he spent nearly 12 of his formative years in the hills. It’s a common theme in most of Dutta’s films. But this time, he says, he has shown the other side of Darjeeling. “Not the common touristy one, but one that is equally beautiful. It’s a lived-in Darjeeling.”

“I know my way around all the lanes in Darjeeling. From street vendors to the residents, people remember me and some were even kind enough to allow us to use their houses and balconies,” he adds.

While there have been numerous films based in Darjeeling, most, including his own, are about people who come from outside to visit the hills, says Dutta. So, he decided to create a story with characters from the region. 

“The Bengali community living in Gorkhaland, Darjeeling has a long history. All the characters in my series — the teacher, the doctor, the police, the journalist, the narrator, the writer — they all live there. The stories are about them and that other side of Darjeeling, which is not exposed to the tourists.”

But simultaneously, Dutta also wanted the series to appeal to non-Bengalis since it is going up on OTT. “I watch a lot of South Indian stuff, shows from Argentina, non-English shows like Money Heist, Narcos, etc. Likewise, non-bongs will watch my show. So I felt it would be good for the show to have a cosmopolitan touch to it.”

Dutta describes the series as a “good old-fashioned murder mystery.”

Similar to his fondness for shooting in the hills, Dutta tends to often choose a young cast. The filmmaker, who is in his mid-60s, says he connects to young people more and loves their energy. In real life too he associates with people who are younger than him, including in his music band.

“I relate to the young. My songs are essentially for people older than 20 but under 50. That’s the range. 35 to 45-year-olds are really my audience. So I prefer to work with a young cast as well.”

The cast of Murder In The Hills includes Arjun Chakraborty in the lead along with Anindita Bose, Sandipta Sen, Suprobhat, Rajdeep Gupta, Sourav, and Dutta himself, among several others.

While Dutta has worked with his “personal favourite” Chakraborty and Suprobhat several times in the past, the others have not only worked with him for the first time but have also portrayed roles that were completely new to them, the filmmaker says.

Dutta hints that there might be a second season of Murder In The Hills in the works. “I want to create a franchise. I want to create characters that the audience relates to. They watch a web series for the characters. And if they relate to them, they will wait for the second season to find out what happened to those characters. That is exciting for the writer in me.”

And it’s this ability to create content spread over time in a web series that appealed to him, he adds. “It is not cinema, but it is not drawn out stories like television serials either. It is something new and unique, and it allows me to connect with people from all over the world.”

However, this does not mean Dutta is leaving cinema behind. “Cinema will always be cinema and it will come back,” he signs off.