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Expressions from the heart

Jayabrato Chatterjee, writer, filmmaker and corporate communicator was in town for the reading of his latest novel, `Beyond all Heavens.' In an informal chat with RADHIKA RAJAMANI, Chatterjee reveals plans for the future.


"When I write I desist and when I make films I am an activist, says Jayabrato Chatterjee, writer, filmmaker, corporate communicator with impressive credentials - two novels (Last Train to Innocence and the latest Beyond all Heavens), many documentaries, telefilms, docu-dramas and short featurettes on various issues, a feature film Kehkashan (starring Victor Bannerjee, Mallika Sarabhai and Kitu Gidwani with a cameo by Girish Karnad), who won the Hawthornden Fellowship (was the second Indian after Dom Moraes to get it by which he spent a month at the International Writer's Retreat at the Hawthornden Castle in Scotland in 1997) and was writer in residence at the University of Stirling, Scotland in 1999.

Behind all these achievements lies a self-effacing human being who can captivate a person with his words, written and oral, and is committed to developmental issues in his celluloid expressions. Surely, a member of the bhadralok.

Jayabrato Chatterjee conveys another interesting point - "My parents were at Shantiniketan. My mother acted in plays specially scripted by the poet-laureate Rabindranath Tagore whose son stayed with us in Dehradun (where I grew up) till his death."

And there is no doubt about the origin and growth of the creative genes in Jayabrato Chatterjee - this continues in his daughter Shahana, who pursued a post-graduate course in theatre and has worked with Mallika Sarabhai in her institute Darpana for Development. Incidentally, Jayabrato Chatterjee's circle of friends include Shobhaa De, Mallika Sarabhai and Aparna Sen to name a few.


When Jayabrato Chatterjee was in the city for a reading from his latest novel Beyond all Heavens, one got glimpses of his colourful life as he unravelled it bit by bit in the Residency Lounge of the Taj Residency.

His mind is brimming with an idea to be woven into a novel - perhaps after a visit to the Charminar.

Speaking of his first novel Last Train to Innocence, he says, "It was largely autobiographical. It wasn't a novel, it was meant to be snippets of my childhood mainly for Shahana. I wanted her to know about her grandparents and my childhood in Dehradun. When I showed these snippets to my friends Amit Chaudhuri and Shobhaa De they felt it has the making of a novel. So I put it together and sent it to Penguin for publishing. This won good reviews and I subsequently received the Hawthornden Fellowhip whereby I spent a month in Scotland interacting with five international writers from different parts of the world."

"The turn of the century (19th to 20th) was an interesting period in Britain and the Indian sub-continent. This period fascinated me and I started researching," says Jayabrato Chatterjee. This culminated in a love story against a historical backdrop. His stint as writer-in-residence in Scotland again facilitated trips to England where the museums gave him enough data.

"I fell upon facts which I started weaving into the story. I had a skimpy first draft by the time I returned," says Jayabrato, who took some time to work on it as his other corporate assignments kept him busy. So he had to balance both filmmaking and writing for a while.

"From working as a team full of bonhomie I had to embark on this lonely journey for writing. My family had to cope with my moods." But the final product Beyond all Heavens was published by Harper Collins and has received some good reviews.Since Jayabrato Chatterjee has seen the corporate world, his next book is on corporate life in Kolkata (the wheelings and dealings in business) x "it's the women who suffer in the process," he says. Anybody with a creative urge would like to do films. Kehkashan was a love story scripted and directed by Chatterjee in 1986. "I really learnt filmmaking by jumping into it. as the saying goes Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. This opened a brand new world. I was lucky to get Victor Banerjee who had just then finished David Lean's Passage to India and Girish Karnad and Mallika Sarabhai to act. Mallika Sarabhai did the dancer's role and Kitu Gidwani was introduced in this film. More importantly I got the whole of Satyajit Ray's (he had passed away then) production crew to film the project including the cameramen Soumendu Ray," says Chatterjee. The film made its rounds of film festivals worldwide and won accolades for Jayabrato Chatterjee although it did not find much favour in India. Chatterjee has worked on many corporate projects. "I am interested in development issues now x women and health, particularly disability. Did you know that 90 million people are disabled and there is so little done for them? Out of that 40 per cent are bright and intelligent and there are quite a large number afflicted with cerebral palsy," he says. So Chatterjee works with various NGOs to make films. "I must be able to touch a life somewhere. I should feel for what I am doing and help to change lives in the process. Films have the potential for being linked to reality more than the written word where one can get lost in philosophy or fantasy. Do docus reach out as films? "They many not get the same exposure that media gives to commercial cinema but these works touch many lives." The creative energy can be triggered off by anything as he narrates "it could even be the Charminar and the number of veiled women. What if someone (perhaps a foreigner) saw a pair of eyes through a veil and could not forget them? Perhaps he would venture to do so and this would be a fascinating journey to the roots and so on" Do we see the making of another novel?Chatterjee plans to do a feature film next year. "I have a short sketch which I showed to my friend Aparna Sen who endorsed it. I hope to write the screenplay during Durga Puja and use my old crew again."On Indian writing in English Chatterjee points out "there are highly talented writers, while there is mediocrity as well. Today there are good translations of regional writing picked by the West. One must thank English for the mass readership. While at the same time a bad work will make you go back to the original and read. I am happy to read that a remake of Sahib Bibi and Ghulam is being made. If it is good it will give a good shot in the arm to Bimal Mitra (the writer) But I felt that Bhansali's Devdas was like a joke. It made me read Saratchandra's novel in Bengali. What is beautiful and truthful will always be part of life. Why do we go back to the classics? They touch an eternal chord in us. The Hindi songs of the Fifties and Sixties are still heard because of the good poetry." Do arts have a social relevance today? "The relevance of arts is important. Artists have reflected social reality. Why do painters and musicians create pieces on the peace movement? Why does Mallika Sarabhai perform Sita's Daughters in densely populated slums? It is not just propaganda." When there is a multi-disciplinary approach being followed in academics the arts too are not devoid of it. The 'blending' of different art forms is being done.""Art gets stagnant over time. One has to rediscover it," says Jayabrato's daughter Shahana. And this was certainly evident in the reading session of Beyond all Heavens by the father and daughter. Interspersed with music, the dramatised reading assumed significance. Although the duo sat at the table, they recreated the imagery of what they were reading by the varying intonations in the voice with tunes such as Lara's Theme (Dr. Zhivago) and the famous hymn Abide with Me (by Henry Monk), which enlivened the reading. Jayabrato Chatterjee balances books and films. He will edit an exclusive city magazine Kolkata, Inner Eye from October this year. One of the ambitions of this avid reader is to learn Sanskrit so that he can read the mantras, which speak of eternal truths in the original. An inveterate traveller, Jayabrato Chatterjee's travels in the worlds of writing and filmmaking continue.

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