It was when I chanced upon Raat Baaki that I got curious about my immensely talented neighbor. An Assistant professor at National Institute of Design, a film maker and mostly one of the most interesting people you can ever meet, I had the most engaging conversation with him about everything apparently close to us – arts and issues.
Leave two Bengalis under the same roof, and they can merely bond over cinema. At the 14th floor of his apartment is suburban Mumbai that overlooks the Western Express Highway, the conversation began from the mundane cue. How Raat Baaki? “Working as an animator, for many years, it is my dream to work on full length feature films. Short Films are just a way to initiate the process.” Raat Baaki, to begin with, is one of the neatest works of art you can ever come across. There are not many layers, but a rather simply told story compiling the experiences borne out of his own life.
Ray who grew up in Calcutta moved to Mumbai as an obvious choice of place for aspiring film makers. Fed on the pedigree of colorful and ornate Bollywood films, Ray seemed to have specific dislike for morose cinema, including that of Satyajit Ray. As a Bengali, I understand the sentiment that goes behind the regard for Ray’s cinema among Middle class Bengalis. Pradipta professes, “Pather Panchali was a torture. For someone who grew up watching the color and zest of Hindi cinema, Ray’s realism is sheer bane.” So Pradipta isn’t supportive of realistic cinema? He stated very matter of factly that cinema for Indian audiences is a way to escape out from their regular, mundane lives. The reason why Indian cinema works is because it traverses you into a surreal and loudly hued world of grandeur. People paid for three hours of cinema in order to find an escape into a more beautiful and alternate world of vigor and color. “Why would someone want to pay and watch people cry on screen?”
Pradipta’s intoxicating excitement with which he spoke translates into his conversation. It isn’t hard to notice his childlike glee and enthusiasm that enmeshes with strong conviction about things he believes in. Pradipta is a transgender woman. Coming from a rather progressive family he told me an intriguing story about how his lesser educated mother back then had the sense of understanding for Pradipta’s inability to recognize himself as a man. “When I put make up on myself, my mother’s only fear would be ‘skin kharap hoe jabe’(your skin will become bad) rather than having an actual issue about me wanting to apply makeup on myself at all.” Way back then, he proudly announces, his mother was aware of his need to feel like a woman and did her best to soothe his inhibitions.
Pradipta’s journey from the archaic bylanes of the colonial city of Kolkata to Mumbai happened naturally to him. A teacher at Ahmadabad’s National Institute of Design and an animator, he aspires to make full length feature films. Currently working on his short film which he emphasizes is in Bengali ‘by default and not intentionally’; the film’s first cut edit is currently in progression. Set against the backdrop of queer issues, the film travels into the lives of two friends victimized by misunderstandings.
His last short film ‘Raat Baaki’ is scheduled to be screened at the Kashish Queer Film Festival, where he had won an award for the Best Emerging Film Maker at the Festival’s 2012 edition. I personally find Queer cinema an offensive term. Bordering on self ostracizing their own community, he strongly differed from me on that. “Today if I was in the closet, hiding my orientation, no one would know about me or my issues. It is my persistence at being out in the open because of which people are aware of me. It is easier to hide banned and profane sexual issues inside the closet than coming out in the open about it.” It was he who told me about gay nights in Calcutta and Mumbai. Married Men, who perhaps fascinate for men, come to such parties in hiding. Pradipta is clearly extremist when it comes to these issues. Talking of a dear friend, LGBT Activist Ranjit, Pradipta recounts many incidents where they have been stopped from entering restaurants for being cross dressed. Referring to a certain scene from Raat Baaki, I was appalled at Ray’s lack of remorse for being unaccepted.
The most peculiar residue of Bollywood cinema, I found it essential to ask when is he planning to begin work on his first full length feature film. “Well I just began writing the script”, Ray adds with excessive sheen of joy in him. But he takes offence to the term Bollywood. Elucidating the same, he says, “I prefer the term Hindi Cinema. Replicating something foreign shows an absolute disregard for the beauty of our own cinema. Lush and Beautiful, I don’t see a reason why we must fashion it on an alien term.”
He continues, “It’s our lack that we feel the need to be shielded by the term Bollywood. With an illustrious history behind us, it is we film makers who are absolutely ignorant of our histories.”
Ray was first introduced to ‘Bollywood’ in a launda naach in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur 2. Shaking his booty on the song Electric Piya, Pradipta instantly got noticed for his ‘Helen like’ dance number in the much acclaimed film. Hindi films, he hopes, will eventually happen to him. Jokingly mentioning the three sequel film he has framed up in his mind, depending on the success of each of its editions, Pradipta striking sense of humor blended with optimism is what makes him unique.
It takes confidence to be Pradipta Ray. He is honest, bold and mostly himself. With his nose pin glinting strikingly, Pradipta personifies the intrepid demeanor needed to have the guts to be himself, be transgender, make films on queer issues and succeed in the same! I was filled with immense respect for him. Laying back on his colorful cushions, I was awe struck by his simplicity and beauty. With one last look around the wonderful paintings sprawled across his walls, I left, with wide smile.