Sudipto Roy is the director of KIA AND COSMOS, a story inspired by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time set in Kolkata, India. I saw the film at Glasgow Film Festival and got in touch with Sudipto to discuss his inspirations for the film, the drive behind some of the main changes, developing the characters with his actors, some of the film’s themes, and the crowded box-office market in India. You can read the review of the film from the festival here.
Jim: What made you choose a story inspired by of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?
Sudipto: I never planned it as my first film. The book came to me some seven-eight years back and I read the book in one go. I loved it. I was learning screenplay writing from Sunetra Ghatak at that point. It was our teacher who asked me to try an adaptation of any novel. I chose this. The draft was exactly the same from the book. But the film that I wanted to make was not this! While reading out the script in one such class, I figured what I wanted to do… The contextual and socio-political implications became more relevant with my second draft. It kept on changing until we started shooting in January 2018.
Jim: What were the key things you looked to change in transferring the story to the Indian setting?
Sudipto: I guess, the changes were influenced naturally by the setup of the story. Kolkata as a city and its people have always inspired me as a story seeker. When I try and tell a story, the backdrop of my city makes it real. I introduced characters my own way and I swapped genders to find a more relevant context in the milieu of present India. The language, the conflict, the change in demography and the unsettled political situation were the highlights of my story. And of course, parenting in India, the gradual loss of a healthy teenage and troubled relationships in modern Indian families are deep-seated concerns that haunt me anyway. I have tried to bring those layers in my film.
“Kolkata as a city and its people have always inspired me as a story seeker. When I try and tell a story, the backdrop of my city makes it real.”
Jim: What is it about Kolkata as a setting that was the most inspiring? There are many shots getting across the busy-ness of it as a location, was that quality of the setting the reality you were looking to give the story?
Sudipto: Kolkata as a city has inspired many storytellers and I am not the only one. The city and its people, the simultaneous noise and silence, the quintessential middle-class-educated-argumentative Bengalis automatically gives a story an international appeal. It is sometimes difficult to demarcate the weirdness of reality in my city from the mundane dreams that evolve in the bylanes of Kolkata.
Jim: Kia gets something from each parent, represented by both of the locations in the film. Reconciling her idea of both seems crucial to the more optimistic ending. In trying to communicate something about India through the story, was the contrast between Kolkata and Kalimpong, connecting them with Kia, important in that regard?
Sudipto: Kolkata and Kalimpong are two contrasting cities in terms of everything. The biodiversity, the silence and the demography of both the cities compliment the characters of the father and the mother. A disturbed mother who took a sabbatical from her conjugal life and a confused leader who thought fatherhood might not be his first choice that serves the purpose of his existence. What you see as an optimistic ending to me is a real ending where there is a tomorrow. And, despite knowing that things might not be easy in future we keep walking towards it with the hope that someday, we will get the answers. The idea is to believe and not to stop probing.
Jim: Did the switch from male to female perspectives compared to the book come from the script or the talents of Ritwika Pal and Swastika Mukherjee?
Sudipto: It came from my second draft also. As I read my first draft, I figured the story I want to tell. I gave the book to Ritwila when she was actually 15. I told her to read it and also expressed my wish to do this film. I had no clue when I would be in a position to make a film, but maybe universe conspires in various ways. So, the decision of the female perspective remains a choice and a tool to represent my country. Swastika and Ritwika surprised me every day and what comes out to you as a female perspective, is actually the brilliance of both the actors. My DOP Aditya Varma is another innovative mind that kept on working on the female gaze.
Jim: How did you work with Swastika Mukherjee on the Dia character, Kia’s mother? The character isn’t always that sympathetic, but you retain some empathy for her, as indeed you must for her role to work.
Sudipto: Swastika is a very experienced actor. However, she is very spontaneous and edgy as a person when it comes to her craft. It was rather a chance encounter that I narrated the story to her before she asked for the script. She was not convinced initially to do the character of the mother. She is herself a single mother and she told me she can’t be this cruel as a mother. It took me a while to explain her the layers of this woman who is dejected, unloved, frustrated and longing for care and attention stuck with a daughter who is difficult to contain. But, once conveyed, there was no discrepancy regarding the grey shade to the mother. It is the finesse of her acting skills that will make the audience dislike but then empathise with her. It was fun and a great learning experience.
“It is the finesse of [Swastika Mukherjee’s] acting skills that will make the audience dislike but then empathise with [Kia’s mother].”
Jim: Music plays an important role in the film, both in establishing the pace and Kia’s relationship with her father – what drove that decision?
Sudipto: Neel Adhikari is the music composer and the singer of both the songs. He has also written the song, Rome was not built in a day and co-written the other Bengali song, Ki kore hoy. The film is about Kia and her world. A world where there is a lot of music. Music taught by her father, music explained by father and music practised by her father. She plays the ukulele. In a country like India the underground music scene and its pioneers have always tried to club music with revolution, so does Kabir. Kia and her world is a magic realism for others, but for her, it’s all happening in that pace, you know; the pace of nature. She observes the movement of ants, she loves to hear the Azaan, she can’t miss a red leaf on the road, she loves mathematics and thus her music and her character goes in harmony. Neel along with Sanjay – the pianist and the programmer – did an incredible job of devising a background score entirely on the ukulele. The sound designing sessions with Abhinav Agnihotri and Neel were really intense and it was a cumulative decision to use music not as a driver of the story but as a companion of Kia and a component of her world.
Jim: What are your hopes for the film’s release in India, or more international festivals?
“It is not very easy to survive and make a mark on the Indian box-office with a bunch of regional, Bollywood and international films releasing every week; however, there is a potential audience that has stopped coming to theatres due to various reasons.”
Sudipto: I am really very positive about the release in India, specifically in my city, Kolkata. It’s not very often that you get such a warm response from the audience around the world and I really have a lot of faith in my home audience. It is not very easy to survive and make a mark on the Indian box-office with a bunch of regional, Bollywood and international films releasing every week; however, there is a potential audience that has stopped coming to theatres due to various reasons. I really hope, this film gives them back some confidence and then if they back it up with good word-of-mouth in the following weeks, I am hopeful about promising results. Most importantly, this is a very personal film and I would like to know what my people think about it. I am very keen and anxious about the release.
Jim: What are your plans – that you can speak about – for your next work?
Sudipto: I am presently working on a few scripts. However, there is nothing fixed. The people who invested in my first film, I am trying to be responsible towards them and get back the funds they put in merely on the merits of the story. No matter how much we deny, a film remains a commercial medium and as a filmmaker, I am trying to learn more about alternate markets and channels of distribution where our regional films can get a release abroad. I am glad, you asked this because it was important for me to mention that, there are a very good number of Indian films that are made every year and they deserve the theatres in Europe. Perhaps, my next project will open some more avenues.