Grant Period: Over nine months
Rudradeep Bhattacharya holds a diploma in Film & TV Production from the Xavier Institute of Communications in Mumbai and has made short films that have been screened both in India and abroad. Through this screenplay development project, Rudradeep will paint an imaginative portrait of the European sojourn of Hindi writer, Nirmal Verma, and adapt his literary knowledge of the man to a new cinematic language. Rudradeep’s screenplay will capture the essence and mood Nirmal Verma’s work.
Nirmal Verma began publishing short stories in the early 1950s. His first collection, Parinde (1958), propelled him to the forefront of the Nai Kahani ‘New Story’ movement. In 1959, he was invited by the Oriental Institute in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to translate modern Czech writers like Karel Capek and Bohumil Hrabal into Hindi. During his decade long stay in Czechoslovakia, he travelled extensively through Europe, writing about the socio-cultural situation prevailing in these countries. He was deeply disturbed by the corruption, poverty, and intellectual censorship he witnessed in the Eastern Bloc, and hailed the Prague Spring as a new chapter in human freedom. Verma’s writing, pre-occupied as it was with alienation and death, provided a stark contrast to the Left-leaning social realism that was popular amongst his peers. Many of Verma’s stories are set in Europe, featuring European characters, but effortlessly convey universal aspects of their situation.
The scope of the project is limited to the period of 1959-1970, when Nirmal Verma was first in Prague, then in London. This period is crucial to understand Verma’s transformation from being a card-holding member of the Communist Party to one of its vehement critics. Though a typically apolitical writer, Verma’s decision to write in Hindi was, at once, a creative and political decision. When Rudradeep first read Nirmal Verma in translation, he was immediately drawn to the writing, which was unlike anything that he had read in Hindi before. The challenge of developing a screenplay on the life of a writer in a way that foregrounds language is Bhattacharya’s main preoccupation. Rudradeep is quite clear that Nirmal Verma’s strong ‘fidelity’ to the Hindi language will be an inherent part of the proposed screenplay, and language will be a central tool in the telling of the story itself. He seeks to use language both as a ‘barrier’ and as a ‘facilitator.’
Another complexity of the screenplay writing process is that though it is possible to see Verma’s foreign characters conversing in Hindi in the space of one’s imagination, how does this translate into film? Such problems, which do not arise in literature, do so in this case, and therein lies the biggest challenge for Rudradeep. The task, while being creatively challenging in itself, is also fraught with all the pitfalls of speculative fiction, especially as the subject in question is not a fictional character. Rudradeep’s plans to fuse fictional characters with real ones can be illustrated through a short story titled ‘Dedh Inch Upar’ (‘One-and-a-half Inches Above’), which, much like Camus’ ‘The Fall’, is actually in the form of a monologue by an inebriated gentleman in a bar in London. Rudradeep endeavours to paint a picture of those heady days in Prague through the eyes of a struggling young Indian writer, who happens to find himself in the centre of it all.
The first part of the project will focus on Verma’s newspaper articles published regularly in The Times of India as he travelled through Europe. The next section will include historical research on the period, and, finally, Rudradeep will focus on other writers’ pieces on Verma. He will also talk to a cross-section of people who knew Verma personally and/or through his writings.