Buddhadeb Dasgupta: A filmmaker never retires
The acclaimed director on returning to Hindi cinema with Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa, streaming on Eros Now
You’re walking down a lonely Kolkata street. A man who looks an awful lot like Nawazuddin Siddiqui is keeping pace behind you. He’s wearing a black suit, a black hat, and has black sunglasses on. He is carrying a small digital camera in his hands, furtively held. He pauses every time you turn your head. Are you being followed?
The answer, surely and instinctively, should be ‘yes’. But don’t brace yourself yet. It’s possible that Anwar (Nawazuddin) — who deliberately dresses like a sleazy gumshoe from the 1940s — is simply staging an act. Everything from his brisk manner to spry professionalism seems wired to draw attention, like he wants you to catch his gaze. He is a detective who – strangely enough – wants to get caught.
So begins the mystery in Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa, the third Hindi feature by veteran Bengali director Buddhadeb Dasgupta. The film, about a lonely private detective whose quest for a missing man (Pankaj Tripathi) leads him back to his childhood, was shot and completed in 2013. It’s finally out on Eros Now — a delay occasioned by mounting costs and Buddhadeb’s hopes for a theatrical release.
“I’ve always worked for the big-screen,” says the director of acclaimed films like Bagh Bahadur, Tahader Katha, Uttara, and Kaalpurush. “However, in today’s age, you cannot ignore the OTT platforms. So many iconic theatres have shut down. It’s a different time now. So, I’m happy with Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa releasing online.”
Buddhadeb, 76, grew up in the Purulia district of West Bengal. His father was a doctor with the Indian Railways. Several of the scenes in Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa — including the final shot of a woman turning on a gramophone — are drawn from his childhood. As a kid, he would read ‘one rupee’ detective novelettes and daydream about becoming a sleuth. That he waited so many years to make this film might explain the wry outlook he adopts.
“Anwar is ultimately a loner,” the director outlines. “Unlike an actual detective, he gets involved in the lives of others. Although he follows people around all day, he has no family or friends. The only real companion he has is his pet dog Lalu.” Later in the film, Lalu gets scabies and Anwar is forced to let him go. But it breaks his heart, and he rushes to get him back. Together, they embark on a final adventure to Anwar’s hometown.
Buddhadeb calls the film Nawazuddin’s ‘most accomplished performance yet’. He had workshopped with the actor for a week but also let him discover the character on his own. Today, it’s easy to imagine Nawazuddin as a clumsy, eccentric private eye — though it must have been a gamble back in 2013. In Anwar, we get a loving precursor to his later roles: the lonesome bachelor in Photograph, the desperate dreamer in Ghoomketu. “Nawaz got totally lost in the character,” Buddhadeb recalls. “Somewhere, he could connect with Anwar at a personal level.”
Before the lockdown, Buddhadeb was preparing a new film with Chandan Roy Sanyal. He sounds doubtful if it will get made now. Is age finally catching up with him? “Filmmaking, as we know, is a physically demanding craft,” he says. “But, I’ve been going steady so far. A director never retires.”