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Susruta & Saswata Mukherjee Interview: If They Allow Sketchbooks in Jails, I’ll Be OK

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Twins Susruta and Saswata Mukherjee are an animator-filmmaker duo from Kolkata who recently collaborated with Vishal Bharadwaj (Haider, Maqbool) to release an animated political song called Mask Kho Gaya. In this interview with Silverscreen India, the two talk about being discovered on Instagram, making political art around the Covid-19 pandemic, and more. 

Even a cursory glance through their social media posts shows just how political Susruta and Saswata Mukherjee‘s artwork is. The twins from Kolkata prefer going by the names Bob and Bobby and recently directed Haider and Maqbool fame filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj’s animated song, Mask Kho Gaya.

But the collaboration, they say, happened thanks to the pandemic, and social media.

DISCOVERED ON INSTAGRAM

In June, the duo had posted an animated short called Denyit Man which has strong imageries of how a particular leader handled the Covid-19 situation in our country. Little did they realise that it would catch Bharadwaj’s eye.

It would be an “unforgettable moment” for the 26-year old filmmaker-animator duo.

“It was a very normal day. We just had dinner and Bobby (Saswata) came running to me (Susruta) and said that someone from Bharadwaj sir’s team has contacted us for some work. We were surprised because like other filmmakers, he is not very active on social media. So our short film reaching him is so unexpected. When we sat for the zoom call with him, we were prepared to wait out for hours but there he was present at the zoom call as soon as the meeting started. We were startled, to be honest. He appreciated our work and the way we composed the scenes and gave finesse to the story-telling.”

The duo says as their first breakthrough, the experience of working with Bharadwaj was “sublime and exciting”.

“When our first draft was ready he (Bharadwaj) told us ‘you guys have become stars, I showed your work to Gulzaar Saab and he loved it.’ The way he said it in such a casual way, we didn’t have any response to that except for being surprised!”

ART ON A PANDEMIC

Mask Kho Gaya, which is sung by Vishal Dadlani and written and composed by Bharadwaj, has imageries of events that happened during the pandemic in India as well as the rest of the world. From visuals of migrants walking hungry to world leaders playing “their trumpets,” the audience they say has called this a “parody of recent times”.

“The main idea was to show how the world leaders were dealing with the pandemic and how almost every step of our government was anti-poor and anti-minority. We also took inspiration from the current media trials going on where we saw a bunch of journalists trying to distract the audience from the real issue. The anti-poor thing is in fact shown at the end of the video which is a reference to the Ahmedabad Wall, which was constructed ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to the city. It was a culmination of not just events but also what we felt by those incidents,” said Bob and Bobby.

A screenshot from Mask Kho Gaya official video

DEALING WITH BACKLASH

The duo as well as Bharadwaj expected severe backlash from hate-mongers after the release of this song. But instead, they said they got comments like, “I am a right-winger but I thoroughly enjoyed the visuals.”

Nevertheless, this didn’t erase the fear of ending up in jail, given the political visuals.

“The thought of being thrown into jail for our work has crossed our minds, definitely. But I have told Bobby if they allow sketchbooks in jails, I am okay with it. While creating Mask Kho Gaya specifically, we always had it in the back of our minds that we might be criticised for the illustrations. Thus, the two of us and the entire team decided that we should give it a treatment which is not overtly anti-establishment.”

However, they are not strangers to negative comments on social media. Recently, their illustrations on Rhea Chakraborty’s media trial as well as the Delhi riots post invited a lot of hatred with some calling them “rape-apologists”.

Talking about their way of dealing with trolls, Bobby said, “There was a troll who abused me on Instagram not just on the post but through messages as well as at around 3 in the morning. So the next day I looked up his profile, made a sketch of him, and sent it to him saying ‘if you are messaging me at 3 in the morning, you must be really frustrated and not doing well. So here’s something from my end to make you feel better.’ He was taken aback and after a long conversation, he apologised.”

A screenshot from Mask Kho Gaya official video

ANIMATION IN INDIA

The animation scene in India, according to Bob and Bobby, will get better in a couple of years.

“Vishal Bharadwaj producing an animated music video hopefully will influence many others to come forward and use this medium. Animation has a lot of potential. The advancement of OTT platforms will also throw much-needed light on live-action and animated films. There will surely be more serious themes that animation will deal with in the future. OTT platforms have opened up a venture where animation is attracting adults as well.”

Bob and Bobby are graduates in multimedia and animation from St.Xavier’s College, Kolkata, and have previously made several other short films, including The Onlookers and Him. The short received a Special Mention at the Human Rights Short film festival in Dhaka and was also an official selection at the Films for Peace (Toronto), Inshorts Film Festival (Lagos), and the Dadasaheb Phalke Intl. Film Festival (Mumbai), among others.

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