Prantik Basu

Arts Practice

Grant Period: Eleven months

Prantik Basu graduated in English literature from Calcutta University and then studied film direction and screenplay writing at the Film & Television Institute of India, Pune. A filmmaker by practice, Prantik has been making short films and experimental documentaries since 2007. His student short 1,2 (2011) received the Indian Jury Prize at the Mumbai International Film Festival in 2012. His films, Wind Castle (2014) and Makara (2013) have been screened at various film festivals including Oberhausen, Rome Film Festival, Experimenta & Kochi-Muziris Biennale. His latest film Sakhisona (2016) won the Tiger Award for Short Films at the 46th Rotterdam International Film Festival and has been shown at several festivals worldwide including Edinburgh International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, L’Âged’or - Belgium, IndieLisboa and Film Caravan, Italy. He has served as a Guest Faculty for student film projects at the State Institute of Film & TV, Rohtak in 2014.

Bela is a small village amidst the tropical deciduous forests at the foothills of the Chhota Nagpur plateau, in the Purulia District of West Bengal. In the local language, Bela means time. Inhabited by tribal communities, namely the Kurmis, the Santhals and the Mundas, Bela is part of the erstwhile Jungle Mahal, an area infamous as the ‘red corridor’ of the Maoist movement in the post-colonial period. The violent past of this region goes back further, to the forced migration during the British colonial rule. This is also the home for a group of Purulia Chhau practitioners. Often the contemporary narratives of conflict and violence find their way into the group’s performances, in contrast to the mythical themes the traditional form engages in. Slowly these contemporary stories morph into fables within the form that pass on to the new generations through the performances.

Purulia Chhau has been explored through cinema by various filmmakers – ranging from masters like Ritwik Ghatak to student filmmakers over the years. It has come to be a cliché among rural art forms of Bengal. This masked tribal martial dance has fascinated art historians and performers alike, and gained popularity through various local and international performances. However, very few have looked beyond the grandeur of the elaborate masks and the vigorous performances. Prantik aims to explore the transformation of the performers from the real life people they are, to the mythical characters for their performance; alongside tracing the journey of the dance form itself in recent times.

Prantik has been working with this group since 2015. Through these many years and his involvement, the group has recognised him as a fellow practicing artist. And in them he has found an audience without any preconceived notions about cinema, open to viewing experimental works. Working collaboratively with this group, Prantik wants to create a visual representation of folklores from the region.

This form is practiced by men who play both male and female characters. With a deep interest in folklore and experimental documentary, Prantik has often attempted to engage with the politics of gender and the relationship between nature and human beings. His previous projects were attempts also to study and visually interpret folklore, where treating myths and folktales as time capsules and a way to read the collective ethos of a community, he attempted to contextualise them in a contemporary scenario. With this project, he is trying to challenge his boundaries as a visual storyteller. The collaboration with the local group pushes this work out of the traditional understanding of cinema and may influence it to become a video essay or an experimental non-fiction project. Although the film follows the lives of some villagers, the narrative structure is not essentially character driven. The setting, the local art forms and rituals will dictate the narrative. It will follow a slow cinema aesthetic to accommodate the natural flow of events. Tribal paintings and archival material on the community will be used to add a contrast to the observational and intimate gaze towards the community. The soundscape of the film will be a mix of organic, diegetic ambiences and heavily stylised design.

It is a challenging project for a young filmmaker to undertake. In IFA’s history of supporting experimental filmmakers this might be a new direction. In a world dominated by flashy images today, a contemplative and evocative look into the lives of the performers beyond the masks, attempting to understand their folklores through a contemporary lens is a welcome change. The outcome of the project will be an experimental film. The film, final script, rush footage, production notes and stills will be deposited as deliverables. Since he has been working with the group for a considerably amount of time, the budget and the timeline seem adequate.