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Venice 2021 (preview): ‘Once Upon a Time in Calcutta’ heads to festival as filmmaker Aditya Vikram Sengupta returns to city of first triumph…

Venice 2021 (preview): ‘Once Upon a Time in Calcutta’ heads to festival as filmmaker Aditya Vikram Sengupta returns to city of first triumph…

Acclaimed filmmaker shoots another fictional ode to a city he grew up in and loves…

AWARD-WINNING Indian film director Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s third film is heading to the 2021 edition of the Venice Film Festival (La Biennale di Venezia Cinema) which runs this year from September 1-11.

Once Upon a Time in Calcutta’ will play in the Horizons/Orizzonti section of the festival, which recognises world cinema.

The selections for the 78th Venice Film Festival were announced yesterday (July 26) by its president Roberto Cicutto and director Alberto Barbera. The detailed schedule will be announced next month.

Sengupta’s latest film is said to be inspired by true events and is a homage to the director’s home city of Kolkata (Calcutta).

It is the story of how a bereaved mother tries to find a new identity, love and independence, but is faced with myriad challenges in a city that is full of hungry scavengers, reports say.

Sengupta’s first film, ‘Labour of Love’ (‘Asha Jaoar Majhe’) debuted at the city in 2014 to a great reaction.

This latest film has echoes of Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’ (2011) – the two films share the same cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki.

Poster for the film ‘Once Upon a time in Calcutta

Sengupta said on Facebook: “The germ of the idea for the film came to me when I first saw the flyover being constructed over the iconic Science City dinosaur more than half a decade back. Soon, the dinosaur was taken down and slowly, forgotten.”

In a statement provided to the Indian media, he added: “Venice is a dream festival for any filmmaker and we are extremely grateful and excited to be back with a Bengali film about the city, especially on the 100 birth centenary of Satyajit Ray.”

It is a very personal film he added.

“Leveraging real characters and actual events, the film is my effort to chip away the various layers of the previously communist city to reveal a human condition that is tragic and yet full of hope and joy.”

The film features Sreelekha Mitra and Bratya Basu, well-established actors and Satrajit Sarkar, Arindam Ghosh, Reetika Nondine Shimu and Aniraban Chakrabarti and debutant, Shayak Roy. Sengupta’s father Tridib is among those non-professional actors said to have significant roles in the film.

“The film highlights the aspirations and struggles of people gasping for breath in an ever-expanding metropolis. For the viewer, I have tried to create a real glimpse into the murky waters of Calcutta, with colourful characters, all trying very hard to find a corner of their own without drowning,” he elaborated.

Aditya Vikram Sengupta and Jonaki Bhattacharya

This film has French, Indian and Norwegian backing and whose composer is Dutch-based, Minco Eggersman.

Sengupta’s last film, ‘Jonaki’ (‘Firefly’) premiered at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam in 2018 and won an award at the Mumbai Film Festival (Mami) in 2019. It chronicles the memories and reflections of an 80-year-old woman as she lies in a coma and is visited by her lover from the time of her youth. Lolita Chatterjee and Jim Sarbh feature.

Labour of Love’ won Sengupta the Fedeora Award (Federation of Film Critics of Europe and the Mediterranean) as the best director of a debut film in Venice Days, a sidebar section to the festival.

This film is lyrical tale about a couple whose love is strong, but is almost permanently displaced by the city and what is going on around them in a Calcutta hit by economic woes. There is hardly any dialogue. It is audacious and bravura filmmaking, original and distinctive and made a considerable critical impact.

Sengupta went onto to bag a clutch of awards around the world and was feted with a Golden Lotus Award at India’s National Film Awards in 2015 for a ‘Labour of Love’.

It first screened in the UK at the London Film Festival (LFF). Sengupta and wife Jonaki Bhattacharya, who is also the art director on all his films, presented the film jointly at LFF in 2014.

Sengupta’s film selection comes in the year that another Venice acclaimed Bengali director passed away. Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s ‘Uttara’ (‘The Wrestlers’) premiered there in 2000.

Last year, Chaitanya Tamhane’s ‘The Disciple’ premiered in Venice as did Ivan Ayr’s ‘Meel Pathar’ and prior to that was Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s ‘Shadow of Water’ (‘Chola’) and played there first in 2018. (See links below for previous coverage on these).

In the same Orizzonti section this year are Mohamed Diab’s ‘Amira’. The Egyptian-origin director’s ‘Clash’ premiered in Cannes in 2016. Also in this section are, ‘Anatomy of Time’ by Jakrawal Nilthamrong; and UK’s Harry Wootliff’s ‘True Things’. The festival has also added a new section, Orizzonti Extra – which is non-competitive section.

Among the other eagerly anticipated films at this year’s festival are director Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Parallel Mothers’ which will open the festival and Kristen Stewart starring as Princess Diana in ‘Spencer’ by Chilean director Pablo Larraín who made the biopic, ‘Jackie’ (2016), Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Hand of God’ which is a loosely autobiographical tale centred around the death of his parents and ‘Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon’ from Ana Lily Amirpour.

Other notable Competition films include, ‘The Power of the Dog’ by Jane Campion, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst; ‘The Lost Daughter’ starring Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal in her behind the camera debut. These films are all in competition for the Golden Lion Award/Leone d’oro).

Appearing out of competition is British director Edgar Wright’s ‘Last Night in Soho’ with Anya Taylor-Joy in the main role and the big budget ‘Dune’ by Denis Villeneuve, starring Timothée Chalamet; and Ridley Scott’s ‘The Last Duel’, featuring Adam Driver.

Other stars who could be in Venice include Jessica Chastain and Oscar Issac (HBO episodic ‘Scenes from a Marriage’), Matt Dillon and Isabella Rosselini in US based Iranian director Shiran Neshat’s ‘Land of Dreams’.



The Disciple –

Meel Patthar –

Chola/Shadow of Water –

Buddhadeb Dasgupta –

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture