Paulami Duttagupta – Scriptwriter of a National Awarded Khasi film “Ri: Homeland of Uncertainty” – An Interview
Paulami Duttagupta is a writer who hails from Shillong and currently lives in Kolkata. She is the script-writer of the National award-winning Khasi film Ri: Homeland of Uncertainty and the author of the book by the same title which is based on the film. Her new book A Thousand Unspoken Words is in stores and the trailer of Onaatah the second film for which she has written the script releases on December 24th, 2015.
We had done two interviews with her where she speaks about her books, writing for films and life. This conversation has been compiled with excerpts from both the interviews.
How did you get into writing? As in your interest in literature and films.
This is actually difficult. I don’t remember what got me interested maybe I found literature and cinema easier than my school textbooks.
Haha. And how did you get involved with Ri – the film?
I and Pradip had worked on another script around Sept 2012 which never got made. Then one wintry afternoon this idea of Ri had come up and we instantly wanted to work on it.
The film credits Pradip Kurbah with the story of the film and you have written the script and screenplay if I am not wrong?
Yes. Since the germ of the story is Pradip’s. The idea had been with him for a while. It was only after he started throwing ideas that we developed it bit by bit
Ri is a fictional account of one of the goriest times Meghalaya has ever seen. Living in Shillong during those days, how did it affect the writing of the film as you developed the storyline?
It was reliving a lot of moments.
It had certainly helped in keeping close to reality
Most of what is in Ri has happened at some point of time. The book is a little different from the film.
But in both versions, we have incorporate fictionalized versions of bits and pieces of real stories.
How different is the book from the film? And since you have been dealing with two different mediums for writing the same story – the film and the book… how different was the experience?
The two are mostly similar; however there was more space in the book. Ibrahim, for example, is not fleshed out in the film. There is no Dexter and his thoughts. There is a time constraint in the film so it was necessary to keep it to the minimum.
Writing the screenplay was difficult. It was my debut and it was also difficult to write the scenes.
The book was easy. After so many drafts of the film, the story was in my mind.
Why has the film not been released even on DVD and doing rounds only in festival circuits? It is like selecting an audience for the film while the book is available and has no specific audience selection?
Also, what prompted you to bring out a book based on the film?
The film was released in theaters in Shillong. Ran for 3 weeks and then again for a week last winter. DVDs are a risky business for small budget films. Just the other day I found a preview copy of an award winning film doing rounds on a portal. We have to be a little cautious about piracy and have some specific reasons for the delay. The book wouldn’t be pirated unless it is written about B-school or engineering college romance.
The story of Ri is Meghalaya’s story and I hate to say it, but I still get questions like: “Shillong? Assam right?”
“Khasi? It is a dialect of Assamese?”
I wanted the book to reach these sections and remind them – dude you get all worked up when China omits us from the map of India but do you consider NE your own?
People cried for Kashmir floods, but I saw not a single trend of status on Meghalaya floods.
Which other state capital apart from Srinagar had an armed attack on 15th August? Shillong did. But no one cares. Ri is written for those.
So, your new book has already hit the stands and your second film’s trailer is releasing this Christmas. How do you view this moment in your career?
It feels good of course. I am content but not ecstatic. There is room for improvement. My novel – A Thousand Unspoken Words has been in my mind for too long now. I am glad it is finally printed, or else the characters would grow on me and influence me a bit too much. Onaatah, on the other hand, has taught me a lot about the art of cinema.
Onaatah is your second venture with Pradip Kurbah. From Ri to Onaatah, how has the journey been?
Since Ri is my first, I am always a little biased toward it smile emoticon but on a serious note, Onaatah has taught me a lot about storytelling. Ri did have a scope, but a lot of it is the reality. In Onaatah, we could flesh out characters, even though there is realism, the scope of fiction was more. Working with Pradip Kurbah is always a blessing. You can be sure that your mistakes will be corrected and not just that- you will also get to learn a few more things about filmmaking. We made many drafts of the script, but it was never a boring exercise.
Would you like to share something about Onaatah with us since the trailer is releasing soon?
As in, what is this film essentially about and what should the audience look forward to?
Onaatah means ‘daughter of the earth’ and it is about a journey of a woman and I am sure many women and also men would identify with Onaatah.
Did being a woman in any way help you while scripting, could you relate more to the story in terms of experience and perspective?
Certainly. Today’s woman is not just sure of herself she is also angry with the hypocrisy of the society. So I have used some of the anger I have within me and also stories and little incidents of friends or other women I know about. But then there have been important inputs from Pradip too.
Would you like to tell us a little more about your collaboration with Kurbah and the experience of working with him?
When I started I had little knowledge about the art of script writing. So in a way he has been a mentor. I don’t know if I would have learned so much from a crash course or a workshop.
My subject is film, a little biased towards this topic. However, I would like to know from you about your book, A Thousand Unspoken Words.
Essentially, A Thousand Unspoken Words is a romance. It is not a perfect romance where the hero is all six packs and the heroine is all glitzy, but it is about falling in love and choices that people make about relationships
My protagonist is a writer and has a far more complex journey than me.
Jokes apart, he stays firm to an ideology, but when he is hounded for his words, he has to take some tough decisions. Whether he wins, in the end, is for the reader to find out.
How do you personal experiences and aspirations affect your writing – both books and writing for films?
I am an overly emotional person. So, I don’t let my experiences overshadow my characters but yes, there are many experiences that fight their way and compel me to add them.
So, what are your expectations from your current ventures and is there anything new that you are working on that we should look forward to?
I hope I am narrating better stories and people can relate to my characters. I am working on a few other projects- a short film with a friend and multiple author anthologies. ‘Defiant Dreams’ is being launched on the eighteenth of December.
All right. Thank you for your time.
I hope to see and read more of your work in the coming days.
And thank you for conversing with me.