Pratim D. Gupta, the film-critic-turned director is ecstatic with the way his feature film, the delightfully entertaining Maacher Jhol (Fish Curry) has turned out to be a thumping box office hit. He has already made two feature films before this, Paanch Adhyay and Saheb Bibi Golam which did not do half as well as the way Maacher Jhol is headed to perhaps become the biggest hit of the year in Bengali cinema. This Bengali film is being nationally released with English sub-titles across Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru on September 1. The thrilled young director opens up on this film to film critic Shoma Chatterji:

What triggered the idea of this film centered on a traditional identity card of Bengali food Maacher Jhol?

I was making a film where food plays such an important role and the fish curry in the film was a crucial catalyst for events to happen, so I decided to call the film Maacher Jhol.

What triggered the idea of this film centered on a traditional identity card of the Bengali dish – fish curry?

The idea was to look at relationships through food. All of us have food memories. Grandmother's paayesh (kheer) on birthdays, mutton curry on Sundays, pizza nights with father... there are so many associations of family with food. I wanted to celebrate that and since I was making a Bengali film, maacher jhol, the quintessential Bengali fish curry, was the choice of dish.

You have dedicated the film to all mothers and thanks a ton for that. Why?

Mothers have the capability to do anything and everything. They are some times not in the forefront but quietly pull off miracles from the background at every stage of their children's lives. That's what I believe in. And that's why I call them superheroes in saris.

In what genre would you as director, place the film and in what genre would you place the film as a film critic? Please elucidate.

As a director, I would like to believe I have made a food film since there's so much food in the film and it plays such an important role in the movie. But as a critic maybe I would call it a family drama because it is about Dev's relationship with the other characters that finally come to the fore.

The film is slick, well-made and tells a familiar story in a different manner and through a different medium - food. The sound design in my opinion, was sometimes overpowered by the background music - such as the sound of seasoning spluttering in smoking oil and so on. They are there but not very conspicuously. May I know why?

Because in my imagination when Masterchef Dev D cooks, magic happens. And when magic happens, we go into a surreal space where not everything is as it should be. So, for me it was the music which was more important - like all the ingredients behaving as members of a symphony while Dev conducts them.

Though you have intercut the narrative with a strong backdrop shot in Paris, Maacher Jhol still defines an exclusive Bengali identity. Was this done by design? Or did it happen organically as the film developed over time?

No it was by design, of course. I needed the backdrop of a country far away from Kolkata, so that it doesn't seem unbelievable that he has not come home for 13 years. If he was a chef in Mumbai, he would have definitely had to drop into Kolkata for meetings, conferences, workshops, etc.

What points did you keep in mind while doing the casting for the film?

Everyone has to be a good actor. Period. Even if he is the manager of the hotel and has two scenes. As for Ritwick, I had him in mind when I wrote the script. For the rest, I started casting after my script was locked. Paoli, I had only watched on screen and I thought she was a brilliant actress often wasted in poor films. She has a quiet dignity about her which I wanted to use. There couldn't have been any other Maa but Mamata Shankar. That casting was really a no-brainer. I have no qualms of working with new, inexperienced actors. Hence I went for Sauraseni Maitra though she hadn't done anything much before Maacher Jhol. In fact, Meghnadbodh Rahasya hadn't released when I had cast her.

The script, the narrative and the frames are dominated almost entirely by the persona of Ritwick Chakraborty as Dev D.What made you rely so totally on him?

I had worked with Ritwick in Shaheb Bibi Golaam and I felt that I had tapped just a fraction of the incredible talent that he is. So I wanted to do a whole film with him. That was the starting point. Even though playing a suave character was against his grain, I knew he had the acting chops to pull it off. If there's one actor I can rely for every character I write, it's Ritwick Chakraborty.

What brief did you give to the music director of the film?

For the background music, I picked a man named Avijit Kundu, who had not done a feature film before. His playing is beautiful. And I wanted a very quiet background score, just underlining a few scenes. Unlike in Shaheb Bibi Golaam, where I had enveloped the entire film with a loud background score, this one needed to be quiet, for people to feel on their own, rather than be guided about their emotions. Each character Dev meets has a separate theme - Maa, Sreela, Baba, Simone and Maggie - and those themes keep coming back in the film. Maa's theme has bits of Anupam Roy's Dawttok song in it.

The film opens with the idea of relationships that are either fragmented or verging on the borders of certain closure. Can you explain this from your perspective?

Relationships are a state of mind. And times are such these days, state of mind changes very rapidly. So relationships have become fleeting. In Maacher Jhol, I was particularly interested in examining how you can pretend to be leading a new life having completely swept off a section of your life but the earlier life keeps coming back in some form. Memories fade but are never wiped off.

Are you happy with the way the film has turned out finally and the audience and critical reaction? Please explain your response.

I am ecstatic actually! Every response from every audience member has been like a warm, long hug. They have embraced the film completely and have gone back with parents and children to watch it a second and a third time. It's quite incredible. As for critical reaction, I usually don't comment on the reviews because I, of all people, shouldn't review the reviews.