Bengali films have always been at the forefront of Indian cinema and now Tollywood has served up its first crossover film. The Bong Connection captures the ethos of new gen Bengalis using a light touch and plenty of satire. Writer-director Anjan Dutt is vehement that his movie is a far cry from the “slow, intellectual art movies” associated with Bengal. “My film is a comedy. It is not a comment on the state of affairs in Bengal. It is a film about Calcutta but we have tried to break barriers in terms of location and attitudes. The film makes fun of Bengalis,” he says. “After all, you can only make fun of your community when you really love it,” he adds blithely.The Bong Connection follows the journeys of two Bengali boys who travel in opposite directions to arrive at the same realisations. Apu flees Calcutta to pursue his dollar dreams as a software engineer in Houston while Andy, a young musician, leaves the US to find his roots in Calcutta. “My Apu is like Aparajito of Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy,” Dutt explains. “He travels to find himself and is liberated away from home. He is able to do things he would not have done earlier.”
Dutt, who is also a noted modern Bengali musician and actor, has infused the film with different kinds of music including Baul, modern Bengali pop and Rabindra Sangeet. Although the film contains Bengali cultural influences, he is emphatic that it rejects traditional sterotypes. “The Bengali is no longer the traditional, dhoti-clad, philosophy-spouting leftist. We have also changed along with the rest of India. I wanted to make a film about new age Bengalis.”
Much like the movie itself, the making of it was an youthful adventure, especially because of the young team involved. The script evolved along the way to include some interesting elements like a Bengali song performed at a nightclub. “Joy Ganguly, the producer of the film, was only 26!” he laughs. “I was the only old hag in the team. Everyone else was in their twenties. It was a hugely funny, exciting, enthusiastic team and lots of interesting ideas for the script came from them.”
The movie uses gentle humour to make some rather astute statements about Bengalis, particularly the diasporic community. Jokes about the love of Hilsa and mishti, the obsessive interest in ‘Jyoti Babu’, and the tendency to break into soulful song will certainly strike a chord with those familiar with ‘Bong’ eccentricities. But what about other audiences?
Dutt is not too worried. “It is a film about Bengalis but it is for everybody. I have had a lot of non-Bengalis saying they could identify. I am not a Punjabi but I loved Monsoon Wedding, which is steeped in the Punjabi culture. If it is true to essence, a film about a particular community will work for the rest of the country as well.”
He passionately believes that Indian cinema needs a new, multi-cultural idiom. “We are ready for a new style of film-making, a new style of humour. The mythical, non-specific India of Bollywood is changing. Non-formula films like Khosla Ka Ghosla are working in the mainstream. Lagaan was in Bhojpuri. Rang De Basanti was clearly set in Delhi. Munnabhai had Maharashtrian influences. Cultural and linguistic barriers are being eroded.”
Dutt and his crew are traveling around the country to promote the film through ‘The Bong Connection’ musical concerts, which will feature modern Bengali music including tracks from the film. They will perform in Bangalore on Thursday at Take 5 on 100 Feet Road, Indiranagar, 8.30 pm onwards.
This was published in The Hindu today.