It was in August 25 years ago when wicca — the pagan cult of the Mother Goddess with roots in Egypt - came to India with Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, as she started practising as a healer in Calcutta.
To mark the quarter century, Wiccan Brigade, founded by Ipsita, hosted a discussion on the treatment of the supernatural in Bengali cinema at Taj Bengal on Sunday. The panel comprised Rituparno Ghosh, Anjan Dutt, Bollywood actress Sarika, TV directors Abhijit Banerjee and Anindya Sarkar, actress Chandreyee Ghosh and ETV Bangla official Nirupam Sarkar.
“Bengali cinema has not dealt with the supernatural the way Bengali literature has,” observed Rituparno, Ipsita’s first wicca student from the film industry. “Satyajit Ray’s —Monihara, Tagore’s —Kshudito Pashan, Bimal Roy’s —Madhumati, Badal Sircar’s play —Ballabhpurer Rupkatha.... these I feel had the supernatural touch,” he added.
Anjan, a ghost story buff, joined son Neel to belt out songs with a supernatural feel. —Hotel California from Eagles and Eric Clapton’s —Tears in Heaven were his picks. “I am drawn to the abstract, to the supernatural and it’s probably because I am always doubting myself,” quipped Anjan. His —Mannequin, a telefilm based on one of Ipsita’s stories, will soon be aired on ETV Bangla.
—Parapar director Abhijit and Anindya Sarkar, who made —Trapped and —Chinar - all for ETV Bangla based on Ipsita’s stories - blamed lack of technical support and funds that are crucial to represent such a genre effectively on screen.
Six years after she played Ipsita in the film —Sacred Evil, Sarika spoke about her deep connection with wicca. “I had no idea what wicca was when I was offered Sacred Evil but henceforth, I have received a lot of energy from it. I think more work should be done on wicca in films and TV. The healing aspect of wicca should be highlighted,” she said.
Chandreyee recounted her brush with the supernatural when she shot for —Parapar, playing a wicca student.
“The supernatural is all around us. It comes with quiet steps, with a whisper and maybe even before you know it,” signed off wiccan high priestess Ipsita.
by Deblina Chakravorty
The Wiccan Brigade met for lunch and a panel discussion at the Taj Bengal in Kolkata, on August 14.
The panel, headed by India's foremost authority on the supernatural and Wiccan, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, also had eminent filmmakers Rituparno Ghosh and Anjan Dutt, actor Chandreyee Ghosh and Sarika apart from Nirupam Sarkar from ETV Bangla, Avijit Banerjee, who directed the horror TV serial, —Parapaar and Anindya Sarkar, director of two stories penned by Ipsita, —Chinar and —Trapped. They were discussing the depiction of the supernatural in Bengali cinema. The occasion also marked fifteen years of Wicca in India.
The discussion started with Rituparno Ghosh talking about the way Rabindranath Tagore handled the supernatural. Incidentally, Rituparno was associated with Wicca ever since he was 12. He had also expressed his desire to cast Ipsita in one of his films which he would make based on her experiences as a Wiccan. That film, ultimately got made by Abhigyan Jha and Abhiyan Rajhans for Sahara One Motion Pictures. It was called —Sacred Evil and had Sarika playing Ipsita. Sarika, the guest of honour, said how she had been excited to play a Wiccan in Sacred Evil. She also recalled meeting Ipsita for the first time in Mumbai and how she could actually feel a raw energy emerging from her. She also felt that the supernatural needs to be discussed more often. "Things which fall in the domain of the supernatural are usually not discussed like they should be. As a result, they lead to superstition," she said.
The other actor Chandreyee recalled playing a student of Wicca in the TV serial —Parapaar. "I was thrilled about it and want to learn more about the subject," said the actor. As far as the depiction of the supernatural on Bengali TV was concerned, Anindya Sarkar felt that there's still miles to go. "We should improve the graphics on screen while depicting the supernatural. Wicca can bring hope, faith and healing to the people."
Anjan Dutt, who is directing his latest supernatural thriller —Mannequin, felt that the supernatural should not just invoke fear but awe as well. Picking his cue, Ipsita said, "The true supernatural does not come with thunderclaps and loud noises. It comes in a whisper and surrounds us. Oftentimes, there is very little difference between what we call the natural and the supernatural and the most innocuous things can hold the most sinister charm."
Ipsita also announced the launch of the psychic wing of the Wiccan Brigade which will meet four times a year on Wiccan festival dates. The meeting, this year, is scheduled for the last week of October, coinciding with Samhain.
The dominant colour was black and the dominant topic of discussion at a city five-star property was the role of the supernatural in Bengali cinema.
The panelists, headed by the practised Wiccan Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, had one common thread running through them: all had dabbled in some form of supernatural elements or the other. Sarika, the guest of honour at the discussion, had played Ipsita in Abhigyan Jha and Abhiyan Rajhans's 2006 release, "Sacred Evil".
Chandreyee Ghosh had played a student of Wicca in "Parapaar", a show that used to be aired on a private Bengali channel, Anjan Dutt's telefilm "Mannequin", based on one of Ipsita's stories is almost ready to be aired while Rituparno Ghosh's involvement with the Wicca had started as early as when he was just 12 years old. The discussion was moderated by Ipsita and was directed towards how people have started opening up to the supernatural and the inexplicable.
Recently, the Taj Bengal became the venue for the meet of the Wiccan Brigade. This was led by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti and it had the likes of Rituparno Ghosh, Chandreyee Ghosh and Sarika along with Nirupama Sarkar. The discussion was on the effect and presence of supernatural in the Bengal cinema and how it is being depicted. This also marked the fifteen years of Wicca in India. The event also had Anindya Sarkar, Avijit Banerjee and others.
Alongside the star-studded reality show —Challenge Nibi Na, which goes on air on June 1st, ETV Bangla is drawing on the supernatural to stave off the primetime TRP onslaught from its rival channels.
Taking off from Wiccan Ipsita Roy Chakraverti’s experiences with the paranormal, the channel is airing —Ipsita Ebong in the 10pm slot from today.
“The supernatural genre is not there on our competing channels and I believe we will be able to carve a niche. —Ipsita Ebong is not a ghost story. We are not recreating an —Aahat or a —Ssshhhh.... Koi Hai. Our show is about Ipsita’s research on the unknown. Besides, we are trying out a new format � it’s a 27-episode serial which will end in a month,” says Dipankar Choudhury, senior producer, ETV Bangla.
The channel is working on three unpublished stories by Ipsita. “These stories are about my experiences with the mystical, which are also deeply psychological. It is about the existence and the survival of the spirit. Through entertainment we are acknowledging the various dimensions too,” says Ipsita, who will appear in the first story, Trapped, as herself in a cameo.
Directed by Anindya Sarkar, Trapped is based on a paranormal experience Ipsita had years ago at the BNR in Puri.
“Puri is a place where the two dimensions - the visible and the invisible - come together, interact and sometimes merge with each other. The BNR in Puri has an atmosphere too. In this particular incident, I had experienced paranormal activities in rooms 12 and 14. Both rooms, I believe, are haunted,” she says.
Set largely in Puri with a small portion shot in Calcutta, Trapped begins with the hotel authorities (the name has been changed in the serial) calling in a psychic investigator to probe rooms 12 and 14.
“We see it from Debjani’s perspective, who after her mysterious death at the hotel, is trapped somewhere in a ‘middle world’. She haunts rooms 12 and 14. Some boarders of these two rooms have met with mysterious deaths. Through a flashback, we come to know how Debjani was jilted by her lover when they had come to holiday in Puri, and now her vengeful spirit is destroying young men who she feels are betraying their partners. The psychic investigator, Priya, is Ipsita’s student and she tries to help Debjani cross over, but something very unexpected happens at the end,” says Anindya.
He has shot major parts on location at BNR and the Puri seaside. “In fact, we shot in rooms 12 and 14 to maintain the authenticity!” adds Anindya, looking forward to steering Chinar, the next story in the series. —Ipsita Ebong airs Monday to Saturday, at 10pm.
The mannequin mystery: “It was a very interesting experience. My desire to make a feature film on the supernatural has increased after making this telefilm,” said Anjan Dutt, after wrapping up the shoot of The Mannequin.
Penned by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, The Mannequin revolves around a fading star, played by Sreelekha Mitra, who “uses a mannequin” to keep her looks and cling on to her position of power in the film industry. The wiccan Ipsita plays herself, while her daughter Deepta is dolled up as the mannequin that acquires a life of its own.
“The telefilm has turned out to be very believable... there’s an interesting psychology and it’s not just about possession. There’s a lot of action, there’s a chase too. We have made a digital film rather than a telefilm; it’s much bigger budget-wise. ETV Bangla plans to release it as a DVD,” said Anjan, who also plays Sreelekha’s husband.
The Mannequin, featuring Sudipa Basu, Kunal Padhy and Dhruv Mookerji in cameos, will be aired on ETV Bangla in May.
Women and wicca form the heart of Anjan Dutt’s year-end film penned by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti. t2 lifts the veil.
A detective thriller (Bomkesh Bakshi) and a musical (Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona) later, Anjan Dutt is turning to supernatural thrills. Or witchcraft, to be more specific. Wiccan high priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti has written two stories, based on real-life accounts, for Dutt to work on. First up is a telefilm to be shot in February; a full-length feature film will follow at the end of 2011 for which the Bong Connection director is in talks with Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh. Anjan and Ipsita shared their plans with t2 in a chat at the wiccan’s residence bordering the Lakes...
What got you interested in the supernatural?
Anjan: I want to make all kinds of films and supernatural thriller is one of the genres I want to try. In Bengali, we have had films like Hanabari, Jighansha, Satyajit Ray’s Monihara and Kuheli. This genre is very exciting cinematically.... I have read Ipsitadi’s works. At one point, we had discussed making The Loving Doll, a story from her book Sacred Evil, with Sarika as the protagonist but it didn’t work out.
What is the story of the telefilm?
Ipsita: The story for the telefilm is called The Mannequin. It’s about an actress who used to be a star and can’t accept the fact that her stardom is gone. She is obsessed with a life-size mannequin and believes that it can get her youth back.
Anjan: Our society has become very youth-obsessed. You see brands all around, shopping malls all around. Our values are changing. The mannequin represents this � the money, the night life and the power that comes with it. Sreelekha Mitra plays the actress and I am playing her husband. Ipsitadi is playing herself in the telefilm. Since wicca has to be there in the telefilm, I thought it would be best if she played her part instead of getting someone to play her. Deepta (Ipsita’s daughter) has a small role as a mannequin. We are shooting in February.
What prompted you to play yourself?
Ipsita: This (acting) is new to me. I told Anjan that if he directed the telefilm, I would be game. I was rather disappointed with the way the film Sacred Evil had turned out. I felt wicca hadn’t been projected with authenticity. I felt Anjan had the mark of a wiccan and this project had tremendous promise.
You plan to cast Aparna Sen against Rituparno Ghosh in the feature film...
Anjan: Both have agreed in principle. They will hear the script. I thought Ritu’s performance in —Aarekti Premer Galpo was brilliant and so I wanted to cast him. He is a playing a psychic in the film (yet untitled). Rituparno also had a link with Ipsitadi from before. He plays a psychic and I needed a believer for this role.... Rinadi (Aparna) will play an ageing actress who takes help of witchcraft to keep her looks.
Not many actresses would be willing to play this kind of a role..
Anjan: Yes, I agree. I had approached quite a few actresses and all of them backed out on some pretext or the other. Rinadi has no problems. I feel Rinadi also wants to experiment with her roles now.
What’s the feature film about?
Ipsita: Here again you have the glamour world and the film industry. There’s an ageing actress who is desperate to cling to her beauty and youth. And whenever young actresses come within her territory some calamity strikes them. She invokes the supernatural power to help her. Rituparno comes in as the psychic who tries to solve this supernatural puzzle. He has a conventional day job and is a semi-recluse. He is willing to sacrifice everything in order to de-possess and heal her. When he feels he needs more power, he goes to his teacher (played by Ipsita). Again, there is this battle of good and evil. But you needn’t be a goody-goody saint in order to heal. Wicca can counter wickedness with wickedness. That way, I would identify myself more with Rasputin!
Anjan: It is about the cosmetic world, set in the film industry. There will be a lot of suspense but scaring people is not my objective. Pritish Nandy wants to put money into the film, let’s see.... Once I am through with —Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona, I will make another Bomkesh Baskhi film, an action film and then this one.
But why do a telefilm on a similar subject before a film?
Anjan: I am doing the telefilm as an exercise because I have always tried to use TV as a training ground. I did Rudra Sener Diary for TV before doing Bomkesh Bakshi. I did Half Chocolate for TV before doing music-based films like Madly Bangalee and Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona. I am doing a series of telefilms for ETV Bangla. The Mannequin is one of these.
Ipsita: The underlying theme of the telefilm and the film is the same but everything else has been changed, including the storyline. In Beloved Witch, I had written about an actress’s obsession with hanging on to stardom and youth. The film focuses on that.... It is possible to pry open nature’s secrets and wicca can make it happen but at what cost? Is eternal beauty desirable? Because there is a price to be paid for it.
How does wicca come into the telefilm and the film?
Ipsita: Wicca acknowledges that evil exists alongside good. In both the stories, there’s a tussle between the good and evil all through.... A few of the wiccan tools will be shown in the telefilm. The Wiccan Brigade will come in a few flashes. Not that we are going to sit and propound wiccan philosophy; it will be woven into the story.
Anjan: I would like to sit with Ipsitadi and I would also like my cast to sit with her and observe. To me, wicca is a strong healing force. The concept will be explored further in the feature film.
Do you believe in the X factor that wicca talks about?
Anjan: Yes, I believe in it. As a filmmaker, I am open to everything. But I do believe that an unseen world exists... whether it is in the form of energy, spirit or soul, I don’t know. Besides, you can’t explain everything scientifically. Also, people don’t have a clear idea about what wicca is. Some think it is black magic. I want to take a rational approach to it.
I was Ipsita aunty’s student and she has been like a guardian to me. I have great respect for wicca; it is not mumbo-jumbo. I wanted to learn a few wiccan things and Ipsita aunty did teach me. It had made me mentally stronger when my mother passed away.... It is interesting that Anjan wants me to do a different kind of a role. Shooting with Rinadi will, of course, be great fun! I am interested in this but I am more interested in another film that Anjan is planning to cast me in. - Rituparno Ghosh
My latest film Ranjana Ami Aar Aashbona is in the post-production stage. We are dubbing for the film. It should be ready by April and we are looking at a post-elections release. Ranjana is a culmination of a series of music-based work I have been doing over the years. We have mounted it on a huge scale. - Anjan
Sahara One Motion Pictures is producing the Hindi film Lorie, based on Ipsita’s short story The Loving Doll from the book Sacred Evil. Diana Hayden plays an ageing actress in the film, Karan Singh Grover plays her husband. Kitu Gidwani (picture left) plays Ipsita. Pavan Kaul, who made the STAR Plus horror serial Shh... Koi Hai, will direct Lorie. The film will be shot in Bangkok in February. “We have changed quite a bit of the story and there would very little resemblance between the Bengali film and Lorie,” said Ipsita.
Anjan’s favourite supernatural thrillers: Rosemary’s Baby (“my most favourite film in this genre”) Monihara, Saheb Bibi Golam, The Exorcist, Eyes Wide Shut, The Haunting.