Amartya Bhattacharyya, writer-director of The Lost Idea, speaks to Unsung Films
The Lost Idea is a fantasy driven tale of two men, a poet and a painter, claiming possession over the same Idea, in a rural village portrayed as a wonderland. Idea is personified as a beautiful young lady, free of all bondage. The two men try to justify their claim over their Idea through their forms of art. Unable to settle the conflict, the two men approach ‘Fate’, personified as a big fat man of authority, to judge their claims. They soon realiz e that Idea is no one’s possession and it isn’t wise to rely on ‘Fate’ for a judgement. They decide to bury their ‘Fate’, and settle the matter in peace. Idea, portrayed as a free spirit, gets impressed by a kid who resides in an alternate world of fantasy, and decides to venture into the new creative world. The real world, with all its materialistic obsessions, rigid notions and prejudices, loses the Idea forever.
There is a certain quality in dreams and nightmares that comes from the fact that what you see is an immediate and entirely honest reflection of your own thoughts and experience – the string of events dreamed isn’t muddied by your own or others’expectations. There is no dishonesty, no fabrication. The filmmaker of The Lost Idea believes in expressing this same quality through art and through cinema, because it is the only way to get to some kind of truth. Spontaneous scenes work over each other and one simply has to watch. The result is as fun as it is profound, and as playful as it is powerful. Upon watching, I found myself making notes and getting ready to form some kind of review, but I had too many questions, and concluded that to really learn something about what I’d experienced, and get to the heart of something I only knew to be altogether different and undoubtedly important, I would go directly to the source of The Lost Idea, Amartya Bhattacharyya.
At times it feels like a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing but deals with very profound themes that are more solid and formulated than anything that could have been typed up in a few days. Is The Lost Idea your first feature film as a writer-director? How long was the writing process?
The Lost Idea is my second feature film as a writer-director. My first feature was Capital I. I have written the script of The Lost Idea in two to three days. I always prefer to write my scripts in two-three days. The intention is to remain as instinctive as possible. I dislike manipulative creations. As a matter of fact, we are an ever-evolving entity in nature and our minds do not reflect the same thing over a period of time. It is true for our thoughts, our emotions as well as the life energies that work within us. The same myself that I was two months back is a lot different from what I am now, and what I will be two months from now will be a lot different from what I am today. So, if the ideation takes place over a long span of time, there will be conflicts simply because there will be multiple states of mind. In order to avoid conflicts, there will be a tendency to formulate and define things because the perceptions are ever-changing. It is only under such compulsive tendencies that people are forced to write structured realistic narratives following rules and standards. And simply put, I dislike them. I find no art in such rigidity and conscious formulation.
It is by my nature, that I’m instinct-driven. Even during my school days, we were repeatedly asked to revise what we have written after completing our exam papers. But I never did so. I would lie to my parents that I have revised, but in reality, I would never care to look back at a single word. I have faith in vision, but not in revision. When I write, I write with my fullest attention, but when I give a full stop, that’s it. A full stop is a FULL STOP. There’s no looking back.
The structure, profoundness and formulation that you identify with the film is an inherent structure of every creation. If you carefully look at the most random things in the world, you’ll see a sense of structure, a pattern. Even the cosmic bodies and their movements are in some kind of a formulation. But to forcefully formulate something, is to distort it from its inherent formulation. And being a creator, I wouldn’t ever attempt to do so.
Do you consider the film to be representative of Indian cinema, or a sub-category of Indian cinema? It feels altogether new and different from anything we’ve seen. How has the film been received in India so far?
If I have to represent Indian cinema through any films, I’ll shamelessly do so with my own ones. It’s not because I’m biased or self-obsessed, but because the very core way of making my film is Indian.
If you allow me to express my views about Indian-ness, the most significant aspect of our land is that we are a land of seekers. We never believed in a single thing, we were not believers. We were seekers. We always had that quest to venture beyond the known. We were therefore the frontrunners in ancient times, with our greatness extended from philosophy to mathematics. To come up with new and different ideas was never a unique occurrence, it was our way of life.
The film therefore qualifies to be called a representative of Indian cinema in my opinion, because it breaks away from stereotypical forms and creates a form of its own. Not as a sub-category or a sub-set, but it could very well be seen as a superset because it transcends beyond the linear narrative layers upon which Indian cinema is over-reliant. The very obsessions and quest seen in every character of ‘The Lost Idea’ is a true representation of our original Indian selves. We seek to find. We are ever-thirsty. Our quest towards new things never stops. One must not forget that India is a land of 33 million Gods and Goddesses. If we can create 33 million Gods and Goddesses, we would certainly not rest in peace with just one kind of cinema.
The film is yet to release in India. I’m hopeful that those who will watch the film will love it. However, I doubt if the film will reach the majority. That’s because if you don’t have funds to promote, you don’t hit the eye balls. But that’s true everywhere, not just in India.
The acting really brings the script to life. I have rarely seen such natural performances. Did you really direct the actors to get what you had in mind or did you just let them do their thing and get there themselves?
I’m really glad that you found the acting so natural. Apart from a couple of them, all the performers you see on screen are non-actors. Some of them are engineers, some are village farmers, some are students.
Except for one of two characters, I’ve been strictly directing the actors on their intonations and dialogue delivery. The reason is that the characters are not real, yet they must appear convincing in themselves. So unlike for other films, the actors don’t have a point of reference. The only point of reference is the way I have visualized them. So, directing the actors is a key not just in this film, but in all my films.
It seems important to talk about The Idea itself (or herself). In a film populated by dubious male characters, she is the only prominent female character. Is there something about the image of the female that is connected to the pursuit of ideas? Or something like that?
Look, idea is something that the mind makes up. And like all tricks that our minds play upon us, Idea is convincingly perceived as a possession in the mind of the possessor. This works very much like the way we get attracted to someone and desire to possess that person, though the person is never our possession.
The female gender has its signification. Firstly, a feminine being is seen as a source of creation. Idea gives birth to everything, and so she is the creator, the womb. In fact, Idea even gives birth to other ideas, as symbolically shown right at the beginning of the film. So, she is the embodiment of a creator as well as a creation. Secondly, myself being of the male gender, I imagine everything that I’m attracted to as feminine. From my favorite cities to the beautiful clouds, everything I love appear feminine to me.
Could you go into what some of the smaller details in the film signify? Such as the group of feminists or the machine country man? They appear to the lazy man as a result of his reading the newspaper, but can you elaborate on their part in the film?
This segment in the film that you’re referring to is the only window through which the film’s narrative interacts with the social realities through the eyes of the lazy man. The newspaper acts as a triggering point and each article he reads is perceived by his mind as situations that he lives through. The characters he read about appear to interact with him and he feels affected. The commercial actress is a symbol of mindless glamour that we are fed with, as a part of the irresponsible prominence given to ornamental gloss by the profit-hungry media. The group of feminists represent the contemporary outrage of the urban women and their occasional lack of sense as they get carried away by their propagandist tides. The raped girl represents all those women who are victimized and struggle to find a mention in the corner of a newspaper. The president of the machine country is a personification of the foreign influence upon us which has more to do with machinery than the finer aspects of being human.
Throughout the film, there are metaphors. These metaphors are used in satirical forms so that the reception becomes pleasing. It is an intense film, made in a way that it feels humorous and enjoyable.
Watch the trailer for The Lost Idea here: