Blending the Spiritual with the Sensual - In Conversation with Sudeep Ranjan Sarkar
You may not have heard of Sudeep Ranjan Sarkar because he keeps a low profile and shies away from publicity, a wrong strategy for any filmmaker anywhere in an era of globalization where you can watch almost any film with a click of your mouse or tapping a key on your cell phone.
He is a filmmaker but, with a difference. He makes truly out-of-the-box films which hardly get exhibitors in the country. But this is more than undercut by the number of international awards his feature films have won. His films, often made in English or a blend of Hindi and English, use a lot of surrealism and fantasy married to a story of sin and crime from which the protagonist comes out spiritually transformed to a different persona altogether.
All his films from Umformung (Transformation) through Paradiso, Lust to Glorious Dead and The Death of Spring explore philosophical, spiritual and also sensual questions around the lives of men and women in some depth which can be defined as a genre unto itself.
Umformung is a unique perspective offered about how incredible transformations can happen to people when placed in challenging situations. The story has two protagonists, one is a very young Buddhist monk who quits the monastery in search of truth and his strange relationship with sex-workers. The other character is that of a very affluent, sophisticated, educated modern girl whose material and career ambitions drive her to an extreme edge. But after a point, she wearies of the crimes she has committed to fulfill her ambition, leaves the material world in search of peace and finally finds solace in the arms of God.
Sandeep Ranjan Sarkar says, “the film was shot extensively in Kolkata and also in Dharamsala and we screened the film to an audience comprised of 40 sex workers and 30 Buddhist monks in Kolkata on July 16 2016. Not only did the film bag nineteen awards but was liked by many Buddhist monks.” It was released in India in 2016 and was produced by Rita Jhawar and Saharsh Khaitan of Nez Moving Pixels who have been backing me for almost all my cinema ventures.”
He goes on to add that Umformung is a marriage of poetry and paintings. “I designed each shot to look like a painting. I wrote the dialogue so that it sounds like a poetry of melancholy. dialogues sound like melancholic poetry,” he adds.
Sarkar, a very spiritual-minded man, wears rings on almost all his fingers and the many bracelets that adorn his wrists draw attention to his multi-layered religiosity because he is as much a believer of Buddhism as he is a devout Hindu. Sarkar is an English language poet, an Impressionist painter, a writer, a corporate honcho, a management expert and a filmmaker. He writes the story, dialogue and screenplay of his films, does the music and sometimes even does a small cameo. One of his cameo characters is also named after him. He dedicates al his films to his guru Sri Guru Biswajit Bhrahmachari
He explains, “I was born and brought up in Dhanbad in the colliery belt where my father used to work in a colliery. Cinema, whatever little I could gain access to – as the theatres like Deshbandhu and Mahabir were very far away– fascinated me and that passion, or, obsession continued through my boyhood days.” But his fascination for cinema was always above everything else and his father did not stop him from pursuing his passion. “But the struggle was very long and eventful but the more I was discouraged, the more determined I was to make it as a filmmaker though I could have made it in the corporate world with my qualifications in management,” informs Sarkar.
His second film was Paradiso targeted at the international film circuit. According to Sarkar, Paradiso is set in Bengal of the 1960s and is the story of a man who lives with his family, but inhabits a real and an illusory world and both the worlds merge. It is a black comedy. The protagonist does not speak at all in the entire film. He is supposed to be a writer but does not always write. In one world, he is having sex with two women who he is not married to. In the real world, his wife is always complaining about his laziness and the scarcity of means. It is a microcosmic celluloid recreation of the Lotus Eaters. Having watched the film, this writer was unimpressed because it appeared to be very confusing and ambiguous at the same time spoiled by the performance of the lead actor drawn from theatre. However, the authenticity of the time the film is placed in is carried out very wel indeed. You see an old radio in the room, no mobile and no television set. The characters are dressed according to the time they represent. But the acting mars the film to a large extent.
“I prefer to pick actors from Marathi theatre mostly for my films barring a few exceptions of known faces from Hindi television and Bengali cinema. They do not have date problems, are ready to travel and devote themselves to their work,” he informs.
Death of Spring is an English language feature movie shot in France with just an iPhone XS and a small tripod. The film deals with the story of a mystical place run by a female angel to heal broken men and women. The routine of the place is disturbed by two angels, one male and one female who aspire to experience the darkness of human soul. What follows is absolute darkness and terror. They get mired in the fragmentation and decimation and get sucked into the vortex of human vices. Death, destruction and lust follow. The film has closure that disturbs but also opens window to redemption, as well as leaves scope for redemption.
“I believe in the ideology of redemption and this lies at the core of all my films never mind that the stories, all written and scripted by me, including the music and often, the cinematography, have completely different storylines, characterisations and unfolding. I believe that every sin can be exorcized through redemption”, says Sarkar.
As if all this very bold experimentation in cinema is not enough, Sarkar has dug deep into the technology of making full-length feature films shot entirely on his I-phone and there is no impact on the quality of the finished film in terms of technique. Glorious Dead, another feature film of his was shot entirely on iPhone made in multiple languages like English, Hindi, German and Albanian at four locations of Grasse, Cannes, Varanasi and Tinchuley in Darjeeling with fourteen different actors of different nationalities and just one single Iphone 8plus and practically no external lights.
He explains that he does it because this technique is very economical and it does not involve the rigour of getting permission to shoot as you can shoot an entire film on an I-phone and no one will be the wiser for it. It is very democratic as it allows access to aspiring and trained filmmakers who remain blocked for want of funding. The film defines a strange journey of humans through a forest, both real and metaphorical, lust, greed and inner freedom. The film was part of the Dadasaheb Phalke Film Festival in 2020. Sarkar is now awaiting the completion of two of his next films. One is called Notes to a Lover in English and the other is Iktitam, an Urdu word which means “The End”.