The Making Of
Producer Debu Bhattacharyya describes the ethical dilemmas involved in making a film about criminals, gaining the trust of cops and pickpockets alike and some of the logistical challenges of shooting in Kolkata.
Independent Lens: What impact do you hope this film will have?
Debu Bhattacharyya: This documentary deals with a person’s responses to the choices that he has. The protagonist is offered a handsome deal by the administrators, which includes full immunity from the official proceedings against him. Being a criminal, the protagonist could easily have accepted the deal, but since it isn’t worth living doing what you don’t wish to do, the protagonist chooses to follow the path he likes, whatever hardships there might be.
Our film sees a criminal’s life from a criminal’s viewpoint. While the intention is not to patronize a dark way of life, we hope that the film will create an understanding of how people strive to do what they are good at in modern times. It is not just a story of survival—it is a story of surviving in the manner that one wants to survive, and we hope that this line of thought will engage the audience.
IL: What led you to make JOURNALS OF A WILY SCHOOL?
DB: The motivation was to make a documentary about a story and characters that the world did not know about. Simple.
IL: What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
DB: Plenty! We faced challenges to our integrity and our trustworthiness by the police and the pickpockets (as well as other criminals). We faced problems of finding a proper storyline at first. We faced internal problems ourselves, ethically, of what we should be depicting and not depicting on screen, irrespective of the access we have.
The director and producer were based in Kolkata, while the cinematographer and audiographer were based in Mumbai, which meant that they had to fly to Kolkata when they were needed, sometimes at a day’s notice. While most of the equipment that we used was from Kolkata, a few things occasionally came from Mumbai, and coordinating all of these—and doing a good enough job at all aspects of the production—was a huge challenge.
IL: What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
DB: We wanted to include some of Bidhan Saha’s (the police detective’s) personal life, including scenes in his home, scenes including his wife and children, etc. Unfortunately, time was always a constraint.
IL: What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
DB: Most of the people in the film have seen it. Both of the primary protagonists like the documentary, though for entirely different reasons.
IL: The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
DB: The ability to come across with projects that nobody else can come up with. JOURNALS OF A WILY SCHOOL is a prime example.
IL: Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
DB: It wasn’t a conscious choice to screen it (or not screen it) on public television. But of course, we wanted as many people as possible to see it, and public television was obviously one of the choices.
IL: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
DB: We now understand that most documentaries are NOT shot with multiple cameras. However, there are numerous scenes in JOURNALS OF A WILY SCHOOL that were filmed with multiple cameras, and in some scenes, up to four cameras were used.
This obviously helped us get as many angles as possible. However, it appears that most people do not believe that this can happen for documentaries, and some people come to us asking how had it been possible to shoot exact and precise movements of the same character, mouthing exactly the same dialogue, from multiple angles…repeatedly.