‘Ahaa Re’: The landmark film where food and love headline the menu card!  

Ranjan Ghosh’s food saga mesmerised the aromatic faculties of audiences, critics and global bodies alike to be included in the prestigious list of “25 all time great Asian films about food.”

‘Ahaa Re’: The landmark film where food and love headline the menu card!  
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Monojit Lahiri

Let’s face it. Ranjan Ghosh is one helluva guy. He studied physics in college, took off to be a sailor only to return to pursue his dream of making films! Actually, the gang of Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel-Hardy were to blame. They silently ignited a spark that soon became a raging, all-consuming fire that no fire-engine on earth could put out. Ghosh recalls that in those childhood years “Chaplin was my best friend. He still is.” Ray’s Aparajito, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and Feluda films only strengthened his resolve to join the industry, but strictly behind the camera. “I was curious to know how magic was created.”

Like all passionate aspirants, riding on a hope and a prayer, Ghosh had already done a script – Hrid Majharey (HM) – a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Othello. Since fortune favours the brave, he suddenly got lucky when a producer was looking for an interesting Bengali script. Ghosh wasted no time in narrating his story and screenplay which he loved. Casting and other requisites fell into place. “Despite being a debutante director, from the stars to the technicians, everyone was hugely co-operative and helpful. The film opened to good reviews and decent box office. We wanted to release it in April 2014, the Bard’s 450th anniversary, but couldn’t, so we settled for July. Surprisingly, Academia seemed to have taken a special shine to it and a lot of bodies and institutions connected with Shakespeare, around the world, showcased the film in their Conferences, Seminars and Symposiums in their list of must-see films. It was hugely humbling. While it took time for the second film to arrive, I remained gainfully active trying to learn the craft of this amazing medium. I never looked at this phase as a struggle, but a learning curve.”

HM was followed by a 3-tier film, Rongberonger Korhi with several actors playing out diverse roles across varied backdrops and storylines. It was completely different from his debut film and indicated a definite leap in the right direction. However, his best was yet to come ... and audiences with a sharp sense of smell could figure out that something very special was cooking!

Ghosh’s food saga – produced by heroine Rituparna Sengupta – entitled Ahaa Re, mesmerised the aromatic faculties of audiences, critics and global bodies alike to be included in the prestigious and coveted list of “25 all time great Asian films about food.” When you realise it rubbed shoulders with the likes of Ang Lee’s Eat, Drink, Man Woman and Juzo Itanis Tampopo, you are ready for the smelling salts! Other important festivals it graced, included Kunming, Melbourne, Dhaka and New York. Domestic festivals included Bengaluru and Guwahati. Even the COVID-19 season couldn’t halt its march. Aaha Re was among two Indian films to feature in the first on-line Film Fest organised by FFSI Keralam. Not bad, huh?

Food, as a movie subject, hardly ever comes into play, so how did this courageous step happen. Ghosh smiles. “I am a Bengali and therefore, automatically, a passionate foodie. I love sampling varied kinds of cuisine because I believe it’s an important voyage of discovery. Tragically, I can’t cook to save my life, so my protagonist compensated by being a Master Chef! It was aspirational all the way. He comes to India from Bangladesh [where my parents came from] and meets a young Hindu Brahmin woman in Kolkata with food as a connector ... that’s where the plot thickens, spices up and soon provides a fascinating treat for the senses!“

He says the story-telling was critical and care had to be taken to keep the emotional & dramatic balance in check. “I was lucky to have such a fabulous bunch of actors, from the leading players to every member of the supporting cast. I think what went down well was the simplicity and universality of both story & treatment with the food aspect definitely providing the surprise & delight edge. Also the cross-cultural dimension – Bangladeshi man and Indian woman – we were thrilled beyond measure to see the spontaneous applause that the film received at every screening, everywhere.”

Moving away, any comments about his near-divine reverence for Aparna Sen and fixation for Rituparna Sengupta? His comeback is fast. “I don’t know about reverence, but I have huge respect for Aparna Sen, both as a human being and a film-maker. She is my mentor & Film School and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to assist her in co-writing Iti Mrinalini. Frankly, she’s in a different league, a 40-carat cultural icon! From the late film-maker Rituporno Ghosh to several other directors, she’s been an inspirational role-model.

Even now, any session with Rina-di follows the same pattern – Eyes & Ears fully on parade. Mouth fully shut! Ritu-di is another person I greatly admire. Super talented, ambitious, helpful, she is always ready with a [can do – will do] helping hand to anyone worthy. Imagine the risk she took to produce the film of a comparatively new director with a completely off-the formulae script? She green-lighted it the moment she realised that it had a reach-out factor that was fresh, new & exciting and left no stone unturned to see that I translate my vision with all the honesty that powered it. Fearless, Ritu-di blends head and heart in a seamless fuse in her pursuit to market narratives that entertain, enrich & empower.”

Challenges staring at Filmmakers in these pandemic times? Ghosh believes that the challenges are unprecedented. “All film shooting is on hold. Movie theatres, off-limits. People paranoid. Once the theatres open, it will be interesting to see how the footfalls pan out. Social Distancing and fear psychosis are not the best of companions while making a trip to the audis! That’s one part. The other is the giant leaps – and impact – OTT has created in the public mindscape. Suddenly there is a convenient, home-delivery package of amazing films, [both Feature & Web] that takes one’s breath away. In the comfort of one’s home, one can view the best of the best. Will one miss the theatre-viewing experience? Sure, but better safe than sorry, right? My feeling is, it will all come together in good time because movie theatre audiences can’t be quarantined forever! I choose to remain positive and navigate this time by re-booting & re-inventing weapons for my arsenal in a way that is compatible with the need of the hour. This too will pass ...

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Published: 2 Aug 2020, 1:30 PM
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