Sangeeta Datta is ecstatic that her latest home production Life Goes On, where she directs the real-life mother-daughter pair of Sharmila Tagore and Soha Ali Khan on screen, is having its world premiere in India. She’s flying down to her first home Mumbai, where her hands-on experience as a filmmaker started before she shifted to London. Ironically, it’s the latter that forms the backdrop of her 122-minute family-drama, a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Running a production house; writing and directing theatre, documentaries and films are the things that keep Sangeeta, an assistant director for well acclaimed Indian productions like Chokher Bali, Raincoat, Antarmahal and The Last Lear, busy. In a freewheeling chat with Bollywood Hungama, she enthusiastically talks about her film’s screening at the Mumbai Film Festival and the experience of shooting with Sharmila Tagore and Soha Ali Khan. She also reveals the film’s ‘connection’ to the Indo-Pak partition.
Life Goes On is premiering at the Mumbai Film Festival. Your expectations?
It so happens that that the film hasn’t been screened till date. It has been invited to the New York Film Festival and that’s where we were meant to have the world premiere, but MAMI happens before that.
I am very pleased that we are showing the film in Mumbai. Anything that I have to do with cinema – at least my hands-on experience as a filmmaker – it all started in Mumbai.
It’s the first time that Sharmila Tagore and Soha Ali Khan appear together in a film, that too as on-screen mother and daughter? How comfortable were they shooting with each other?
The mother and daughter were very comfortable. Soha was a little worried because the first scene that we shot was one of the most difficult ones in the film. But then, Sharmilaji is one actor who goes out of her way to help her co-actors. She made Soha rehearse and put her at ease. Finally, Soha gave a very good performance in that scene, and also throughout the film.
Sharmila made Soha rehearse and put her at ease
Sharmila’s part in the film is in the form of flashbacks.
Yes. The film is a drama set within a week. The story starts with the mother’s (played by Sharmila Tagore) death and ends with her funeral. The mother’s part itself is entirely built up through memory, it’s about every person’s memory of this character; so the past and present are continually being blurred.
Which emotions does the film play on?
For me the really important thing was to be able to tell the story of the migrant Indian doctor (played by Girish Karnad) who settles down in London, does well for himself; yet has a strong connection to India because of the memories he has to deal with. The film is also about contemporary London where second generation migrant daughters, who understand this country as their own and have values that are slightly different than their father, who is a very strong patriarchal man.
Another emotion is the father’s opposition to the younger girl’s (played by Soha Ali Khan) Muslim boyfriend. What I’ve tried to do is to probe into the father’s psyche, to make the audience understand what is he is really resisting. Actually, when he does open up much later in the film, the father talks about the Indo-Pak partition; about his early childhood memories of being displaced from what is now Bangladesh, to India. In films, we’ve had the Punjab partition story told, but the Bengal story has really not been touched upon.
It’s about father’s opposition to Soha Ali Khan’s Muslim boyfriend
What is Om Puri’s character in the film?
Om Puri plays Alok, a very close friend of the doctor. Very broadly, the film has a certain parallel with Shakespeare’s King Lear as it’s about a father and his three daughters and the conflicts between them. In the original story has a character called ‘The Fool’ who is a foil to the main character – he’s funny but he’s also the most philosophical of characters. When I wrote the character played by Om, I retained these contours.
You’ve worked in the Mumbai, Kolkata and UK film industries. How different are they?
There’s a huge difference in scale between Indian regional cinema and Bollywood. Again when you compare the film industries in UK and Mumbai, the biggest difference is in the manner of planning and preparation. While working on a UK film, Brick Lane, I actually got to see that the prep-time or the pre-production was almost as long as the production!
In Mumbai, it’s marvelous that sometimes a film can be churned out in a period of four to five months. The realism of English cinema is something that I admire; but I’ve also brought in a lot of music because as an Indian, music still plays an integral part in my understanding of life.
Any plans for an Indian theatrical release for Life Goes On?
We literally just finished the film as we wanted to get it right and I was completely involved with that. But I am very hopeful that the film will be shown in India soon.
Life Goes On will be screened at the Mumbai Film Festival on Friday, 30 October, 2009 at Fun Cinemas, Mumbai.