I am an artist-filmmaker, says director, painter Indrajit Nattoji

Indrajit Nattoji is the director and screenwriter of Zee 5’s upcoming film Aafat-e-Ishq, starring Neha Sharma, Amit Sial, Namit Das, Deepak Dobriyal and Ila Arun

Director Indrajit Nattoji on the sets of ‘Afat-e-Ishq
Director Indrajit Nattoji on the sets of ‘Afat-e-Ishq
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Kumar Raviraj Sinha

Since  the film is based on a critically acclaimed Hungarian film, what were the challenges for you as a director and for the script writer?

The film ‘Liza- the Fox Fairy’ is based on a play a nd set in 1970s Hungary, at the onset of a capitalistic consumerist society. The challenge was to reinterpret the story with an East-European socialist sensibility to that of an Indian one. Zee5 wanted a film set in the Indian heart-land. And that was the real challenge. As I set out to write the script I looked for a writer who is more of a story writer as opposed to a film writer. This was to bring in a fresh storytelling style for the adaptation. To minimise Liza’s influence on our script, I only saw the film twice. Once as an audience and the second time as a film-maker. I finally collaborated with Neha Bahuguna on the script and soon came up with an ‘original’ script for Aafat-e-Ishq, which was more an adaptation than a ‘remake’ of Liza.

Tell us something about the film.

Aafat-e-ishq is a dark dramedy set in the small-town in Indian heartland. It is the story of a young woman’s quest for true love where she finds herself to be the prime suspect of a series of deaths, while an ancient curse looms large. The story has supernatural elements with a whodunit twist.

How did the whole idea come up of giving it an Indian adaptation?

The Zee Studio Originals team had acquired the rights for the award-winning Hungarian film ‘Liza the Fox-Fairy’. During one of my script-pitch meetings with them, they, in turn, pitched an Indian remake of the same to me. I loved the film for its quirky black humour, and it connected with some of my favourite story-telling genres - fantasy, film noir and romantic comedies.

Since it is a remake so will it be totally same or there are some other twists and elements?

I can safely say that Aafta-e-Ishq is now an adaption of Liza and not a remake. It has been rebooted with some new twists, great original music, and quirky small town Indian characters.

Your directorial film Aagey Se Right happened 2009 and now Aafat-e-Ishq. Why did it take so long to venture into the second project?

Aagey Se Right was my debut film made with a lot of heart. I learnt a lot from the experience and am lucky to have a theatrical release in my career! But it also made me want to hone my film making skills further. So I went back to making ad-films with my production house Blink Pictures, and to writing stories and scripts. I feel that with the advent of OTT platforms and all encompassing social media, the Indian entertainment audience has evolved and matured in a significant manner. There are now much more opportunities for directors like me to tell eclectic stories with wider and more diverse subjects. Yes, at last content is indeed king. I guess everything has a time and I am glad I waited it out.

You are an artist too tell us something about your journey as an artist?

I have been drawing and painting from the time I recall my earliest childhood memories. It was a natural instinct, as basic as eating and breathing. I always wanted to be an artist and painter until the time I got into the National Institute of Design. There I discovered and trained in so many mediums- from drawing, graphic design, and animation, to film-making. All this before the digital renaissance, which meant no computers and social media. Despite having dabbled with such a wide range of mediums I remain old fashioned and continue drawing and painting on canvas and my sketchbooks, which is as indispensable as my mobile phone. Alongside my film scripts and ad-films I have continued my practice as an artist. My art has been exhibited at the galleries of All India Fine Arts & Crafts Society, New Delhi, and more recently at the Prince of Wales of Wales Museum, Mumbai. As a solo artist, I presented a unique collection at the ICCR, Kolkata. Titled “Tagore in Shorthand”, the exhibition was an artist’s tribute to the literary works of Rabindranath Tagore. I have also conceived and produced large scale film installations for Indian Music Experience, India’s first permanent experiential museum of Indian music in Bangalore. More recently I have created a hand painted music video for Kavita Seth’s Rangi Saari.

Artist or filmmaker? Which one you prefer more?

I love my art and I love life. Cinema connects the two. And I have so many stories to tell. The beauty of film-making is that I can indulge in all the art forms- from writing to drawing to music and to life itself. So, I guess I will always want to be an ‘artist film-maker’.

How was Neha Sharma on sets? How did the preparation of her getting into the role happened?

Neha Sharma was a revelation. She is very different from her social media persona. Lallo the protagonist of Aaft-e-Ishq is diametrically opposite to what Neha is in real life. We did extensive workshops and worked a lot on Neha’s Hindi diction for a local dialect, character quirks, and costume for her transformation to Lallo. Neha is a dedicated and intelligent actor and transformed completely into the quirky character of my protagonist, Lallo.

The film has stellar ensemble cast as Namit Das, Deepak Dobriyal, Ila Arun. Tell us something about them.

We shot in extremely challenging times, at the height of the pandemic. However, the shoot was all possible because my cast believed in the film and was completely dedicated. Deepak Dobriyal, Amit Sial, and Namit Das are veteran actors who were my first and only choice for the characters of Vikram, Prem Gunjan, and Atmaram respectively. When all of them came together, the set was one big happy family with constant laughter, fulfilling conversations, and incredible performances. Ila Arunji is a force of nature. Even at her age and at the time of a pandemic, she brought into the set a certain fearless and inspiring energy. I learned a lot from her. I feel extremely fortunate to work with such a stellar cast and crew put together by Zee Studios. I hope the film catches the audience’s imagination and succeeds in entertaining them, something we all need as we slowly emerge from a devastating 2020.

What are your future prospects?

I have an ambitious web series in development and two ready film scripts for which I am in talks with producers. Also, I am visualising and creating VFX for a film which will be released soon on a leading OTT platform. Meanwhile I am working on my next art collection- a series of portraits of the pandemic.

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Published: 04 Feb 2021, 7:30 PM