Dostojee: A poignant tale of childhood kinship is drawing huge acclaim

Shot entirely in a remote village of West Bengal called Domkal, located in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, the film premiered at the 65th BFI London Film Festival in October

Dostojee Promotional Poster
Dostojee Promotional Poster
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Amarabati Bhattacharyya

After travelling to 26 countries and winning eight international awards, Prasun Chatterjee’s Dostojee hit the theatres in Kolkata on November 11, entering its third week at the cinemas.

Shot entirely in a remote village of West Bengal called Domkal, located in Murshidabad district, the film premiered at the 65th BFI London Film Festival in October. It has been screened at the Olympia International Film Festival (Best Young Actor Award), Jaffna International Cinema Festival (Best Debut Feature Film), Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, International Film Festival of Kerala, Dharamshala International Film Festival, and several others.

Dostojee won the prestigious CIFEJ award, accredited by UNESCO, and the ‘Best Director’ award under the SIFFCY (Smile International Film Festival for Children & Youth) – becoming the fifth Indian film and first Bengali language film to win this award.

Set in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid Demolition (1992) and the Bombay blasts (1993), the narrative revolves around two friends, Safikul and Palash, who are also neighbours divided by a thin fence.

The two eight-year-old boys are inseparable – travelling to school, taking tuitions, flying kites, catching fish, mimicking Amitabh Bachchan, frolicking around the expansive green fields of Domkal – together. Their friendship remains unscathed by the political landscape they find themselves in. The growing tide of communalism is background noise across the length of a film whose sole focus is a friendship that perseveres.

A still from the film where the two boys pose like Amitabh Bachchan from Deewar
A still from the film where the two boys pose like Amitabh Bachchan from Deewar
Prasun Chatterjee

The lead cast of the film comprises the two boys: Asik Shaikh (Palash) and Arif Shaikh (Safikul). Both of them, friends in real life, have been born and brought up in Domkal by their parents who are daily-wage workers. One of their fathers is a migrant labourer and another’s works in a brick kiln.

Most of the cast also includes local non-professionals from Domkal itself or other nearby villages. “This film was created completely independently. It is a grassroots film,” Prosenjit Ranjan Nath, the producer of the film, told National Herald.

Asik Shaikh (Left) and Arif Shaikh (Right)
Asik Shaikh (Left) and Arif Shaikh (Right)
Prasun Chatterjee

First-time filmmaker Prasun says that the location was pre-decided and the narrative was built along with his changing personal life experiences, across the seven and half years which he invested on the film.

“The film is a culmination of my personal experiences and a larger world view that I have fostered over the years. I lost my closest friend while writing the final draft of the film. That loss greatly added to the deep emotion that echoes across the film,” he said.

Recounting the first time he met Asik and Arif, he describes the former as shy and reserved and the latter as buoyant with energy and confident – in alignment with their on-screen personas. Arif approached Prasun where he was staying in Domkal with a straightforward question and a declaration: “Are you hiring kids for a film? You must audition me fast because I have to go to play.”

On the other hand, Asik had to be pursued.

The 14-year-old boys, who started shooting when they were seven, sat on a train for the first time when they travelled to Kolkata for their dubbing sessions. Now they are travelling across the world in press tours and theatre visits.

Arik and Asif at a screening in Inox, Hiland Park, Kolkata
Arik and Asif at a screening in Inox, Hiland Park, Kolkata
Amarabati Bhattacharyya

They also found themselves in veteran Tollywood actor Prosenjit Chatterjee’s company, who promoted the film alongside the team. “This film has been created with a heart and honesty. Dostojee will create history,” says Chatterjee.

The team with Prosenjit Chatterjee in his Ballygunge home in Kolkata
The team with Prosenjit Chatterjee in his Ballygunge home in Kolkata
Prasun Chattejee

“I wouldn’t say their lives have been forever changed. They have definitely received ample exposure through the film but I want to do my best to keep them away from the fleeting ‘gloss’ of the film industry, so that they are not caught in a bubble. They are not stars, they are young boys who require sustained and high-quality education. The state of education in Domkal is dire and my plan at this point is to secure their education – I have instituted them at the Guidance Foundation at Raghunathganj in Murshidabad where they will receive state-of-the-art education on a full scholarship,” says Prasun as he talks about the impact of the film on the two boys and how he aims to branch into community outreach through the film.

Initially, the film was supposed to run for only a week but is now entering its third week in theatres. “The road was not smooth; we had a budget crunch while making the film and even now while distributing it, we are not getting enough shows because the audience mainly gravitates toward the big-budget films. But we have been receiving immense acclaim both nationally and internationally, despite running a small number of shows,” says Nath.

Nath had originally met Prasun and the team while they were crowdfunding for the film. He was instantly struck by the cause that motivated the project more than the script itself.

Amid widespread praise, viewers have highlighted the “exquisite frames” of the film. “The cinematography was unmatched. I am seeing such wonderful frames after a long time in Bengali cinema. The shots of the two kids playing across the landscape of the village really held the film together and brought out its Realism,” says Kolkata-based photographer Samudraneel Guha.

One of the film's many promoters includes Safikul and Palash’s obsession, Amitabh Bachchan himself.


“The film was crafted in the heart of Murshidabad and has now traversed the world. It was created with limited resources and we encountered many challenges in its making,” says the director, who also believes that the greatest achievement of the film is that it is now more than just a film but an uplifting experience that has engulfed the lives of all those associated with the film.

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