Sudeep Ranjan Sarkar – Non-conformist and nonpareil

A filmmaker cast in a different mould, Sudeep Ranjan Sarkar had his own vision and ideas and chose to see the world from his lens. Shunning the beaten path, his multi-faceted versatility gave us out-of-the-box films like Umformung, Paradiso, Lust to Glorious Dead and The Death of Spring. A maverick filmmaker, he spun his themes that had a heady concoction of surrealism and fantasy, says Shoma A. Chatterji

Sudeep Ranjan Sarkar is a filmmaker who is extremely low profile. Few know him as a filmmaker who has made five full-length feature films that have been screened across the world in different countries and less in India. He was born and brought up in Dhanbad in the colliery belt where his father used to work in a colliery.

Asked about his background, Sarkar says, “My late father Dilip Ranjan Sarkar was a senior overman in Coal India subsidiary BCCL. My mother Sunanda Sarkar is a housewife. I was raised comfortably and never made to feel less in a middle-class household. I studied in a premiere Jesuit run convent school De Nobili in a place called Digwadih few kilometres away from the main Dhanbad. I studied English Hons in Dumdum Motijheel College in Kolkata. I did further studies from distance learning institutions in subjects of Psychology and Management.”

Cinema, whatever little he could gain access to – as the theatres like Deshbandhu and Mahabir were very far away– fascinated him and that passion, or, obsession continued through his entire boyhood. His fascination for cinema was always above everything else and his father did not stop him from pursuing his passion. His father of course, did not care for his boy’s passion for cinema as their middle-class ambience and values did not permit children to even watch too many films.

“The struggle was long and eventful but the more I was discouraged, the more determined I became to make it as a filmmaker though I could have made it in the corporate world with my qualifications in management,” informs Sarkar.

Sarkar is spiritual, wears rings on almost all his fingers and the many bracelets on his wrists reveal his multi-layered religiosity. He is as much a believer of Buddhism as he is a devout Hindu. Sarkar is an English language poet, an Impressionist painter, a writer, a corporate honcho, a management expert and a filmmaker. He writes the story, dialogue and screenplay of his films, does the music and sometimes even does a small cameo or a significant role. One of his cameo characters is also named after him. He dedicates al his films to his guru Sri Guru Biswajit Bramhachari.

“The Dhanbad coal belt hardly had any avenues of entertainment when I was a boy. But in winter, Jatra groups would come and the effect on me was pure magic. What fascinated me was the magical transformation the actors could bring about between their lifestyle and behaviour during the day, and their behaviour during the shows when they were actually performing. I specially recall one name – Bina Dasgupta – who is no more and her performances. This formed one more trigger for my interest in films,” he reminisces.

Another factor that added to his fascination for cinema was his addiction to Diamond Comics. Diamond Pocket Comics were a very popular series in those days that featured stories around Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra and so on. Then came the video theatre that screened films at a flat rate of ₹10 and he went to every single film show. They were fibre projections and the results were good. Then he was exposed to C-Grade films made in the South which gave him a completely different insight into cinema. His exposure to international cinema came when Doordarshan began to screen European films after 11.00 pm. He was not allowed to watch them. So, he would hide outside the window while his father watched the late-night shows and he watched through the grills.

Sudeep Ranjan Sarkar is a one-man industry. He directs, scripts, edits, and writes the story and even acts in his films. Interestingly, he shoots almost all his films himself on an I-Phone. Why? His response is: “Firstly, it leads to the democratisation of the entire process of filmmaking. Secondly, it brings down the budget considerably. Thirdly, the quality of the final film is so good that you cannot make out that it has been shot entirely with an I-Phone as it can produce the same depth-of-field. Fourthly, I carry my I-Phone along to different locations because I shoot across the map and using the I-Phone with a Selfie stand does not call for permissions and you can shoot freely. The journey from celluloid to digital has taken a long time but it is working very well. Look at the OTT platforms making good business. I have tried to economise the entire process of filmmaking without surrendering the quality of projection. For example, Unformung was shot on a Canon D Camera which gave the film an old vintage feel and it bagged 19 awards,” he says.

He makes truly out-of-the-box films which hardly get exhibitors in the country. But this is more than undercut by the number of international awards his feature films have won. His films, often made in English or a blend of Hindi and English, use a lot of surrealism and fantasy married to a story of sin and crime from which the protagonist comes out spiritually transformed to a different persona altogether.

All his films from Umformung (Transformation) through Paradiso, Lust to Glorious Dead and The Death of Spring explore philosophical, spiritual and also sensual questions around the lives of men and women in some depth which can be defined as a genre by itself.

Umformung is a unique perspective offered about how incredible transformations can happen to people when placed in challenging situations. The story has two protagonists; one is a very young Buddhist monk who quits the monastery in search of truth and his strange relationship with sex-workers. The other character is that of a very affluent, sophisticated, educated modern girl whose material and career ambitions drive her to an extreme edge. But after a point, she wearies of the crimes she has committed to fulfill her ambition, leaves the material world in search of peace and finally finds solace in the arms of God.

His second film was Paradiso targeted at the international film circuit. According to Sarkar, Paradiso is set in Bengal of the 1960s and is the story of a man who lives with his family, but inhabits a real and an illusory world and both the worlds merge. It is a black comedy. The protagonist does not speak at all in the entire film. He is supposed to be a writer but does not always write. In one world, he is having sex with two women who he is not married to. In the real world, his wife is always complaining about his laziness and the scarcity of means. It is a microcosmic celluloid recreation of the Lotus Eaters.

Death of Spring is an English language feature film shot in France with just an iPhone XS and a small tripod. The film deals with the story of a mystical place run by a female angel to heal broken men and women. The routine of the place is disturbed by two angels, one male and one female who aspire to experience the darkness of human soul. They get mired in the fragmentation and decimation and get sucked into the vortex of human vices. Death, destruction and lust follow. The film has closure that disturbs but also opens window to redemption, as well as leaves scope for redemption.

About Lust, he says, “Lust is my most honest effort in filmmaking. I wanted to make a political statement like George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I showed censorship knowledge, of world domination in the last segment and wanted to point fingers at hollowness of religious institutions so this movie is my rebellion against everything that I perceive as decaying, cannibalistic, and cancerous.” On that note, we wind up.

Shoma A. Chatterji

Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author. She has authored 17 published titles and won the National Award for Best Writing on Cinema, twice. She won the UNFPA-Laadli Media Award, 2010 for ‘commitment to addressing and analysing gender issues’ among many awards.

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