Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Interview with Bidisha Chowdhury: Film Maker and Story Teller

Bidisha Chowdhury lived in Kolkata, India when young. She was always mesmerized by films, but when she grew up, there weren’t kids’ films like there are now. The films were geared towards adults. Instead, she read tons of storybooks, even hiding from her parents to do so. She amused herself by imaging the books she read in film format.

From all the books she read, she had lots of ideas for stories, but no creative outlet for them. Decades later, after moving to the US, she started writing her stories into scripts. Years later, when she finally had the opportunity to get involved with the filmmaking process, working on numerous short films.

Her journey started when she wrote and directed two of her own shorts in 2010 and one in 2012. She became a part of something bigger than herself. Still, at that stage, she never thought she could ever make her own feature-length film someday.

She loves the whole process of filmmaking, starting with writing the script. During the pre-production process, she loves to spend hours creating props and designing costumes for the characters. She finds it creates a stronger connection with the characters and allows her to tell a better story.

Interview with Bidisha Chowdhury

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. You're obviously a well established director and writer. You have several writing credits, director credits, producer credits, and even a credit as a costume designer. Do you feel like you are just beginning? What is your primary goal?

Bidisha: I love the whole process of filmmaking, starting with writing the script. “Adaline” is my first feature and yes, I guess, in the grand scheme of things it’s still just the beginning for me but I still have a fair amount of experience under my belt. I have a couple of other scripts which I wrote a while ago, I want to make them into a film in the future. Also I’d like to make films on real life stories and events.

My primary goal is to make films which have a strong story because basically I’m a story teller. I want my films to appeal to audiences of all ages and demographic as my central philosophy is simply to have a great story.

You mention in your biography that your ambition to work in film stemmed from a very young age. What were some of your ideas that you held onto as a child that are still with you today?

Bidisha: I was always mesmerized by films, but when I was growing up in India, there weren’t kids’ films like there are now. The films were geared towards adults. Instead, I read tons of storybooks. I amused myself by imaging the books in film format. I had lots of ideas for stories, but no creative outlet for them. Decades later, after moving to the US, I started writing my stories into scripts. Years later, I finally had the opportunity to get involved with the filmmaking process, working on numerous short films. My journey started when I wrote and directed two of my own shorts in 2010 and one in 2012. I became a part of something bigger than myself. Still, at that stage, I never thought I could ever make my own feature-length film someday.

Tell us a little about your current project Adaline? 

Bidisha: This is the story of a struggling young artist called Daniela who inherits an old house from a distant aunt she never knew existed. Daniela moves into the San Andreas house and gets to know locals such as the mentally-challenged Marvin and the handsome John. Life seems perfect.

Daniela starts having a series of bizarre dreams. She finds a hundred-year-old diary from the young Adaline, who also left cryptic prophecies hidden in the attic when she lived there. Daniela discovers that Adaline was known for her special powers and ability to see the future. Her premonitions came true and she was called “The Village Witch of San Andreas”. Did Adaline see something really terrifying in Daniela’s future? Is that the reason she’s trying to reach Daniela through the dreams and the written prophecies?

Is Adaline one those stories you created as a child? 

Bidisha: No. I wrote Adaline in 2012 and then I rewrote it until we went to production. Story and believable characters are important to me. I’ve read many stories since I was a child. My inspiration for believable characters comes from certain interesting people I’ve met along the way. For example, when I was growing up in India there was an older lady who was our neighbor. She was nice but very curious about other people’s business. So I wanted to incorporate personality trait into Becky’s character where I made Becky into a small town nosey lady.

A while back I met a younger guy who was very nice and sweet. He was slightly mentally challenged and talked in a very unique way. Then years later I met another guy who used to work in a shop I often went to. His mannerism, his body language and his clothes caught my eye. The color combination of his clothes didn’t match and the style of clothing was not contemporary but he didn’t realize it. So when I was writing the script I combined these two people into one and that’s how my Marvin’s character got started.

Being that you were forced to hide certain books from your parents, what were those books and does any of your current work reflect those ambitions as a child?

Bidisha: I used to read all kinds of stories and novels which started from a young age and that’s how I fell in love with story-telling which became second nature to me when I grew up. It helps me a lot when I write a script. I can’t remember exactly which books I hid from my parents but they were probably most likely ghost stories.

Did your parents ever catch you writing stories and try to make you stop? How did you hide this from them or how did you explain it?

Bidisha: I used to write more poems than stories when I was much younger. However I did read a huge number of stories during my childhood. The stories I read and the new ones I thought up, I just kept them in my head for my own amusement.

Equality for women in India is slowly changing for the better, but the country is still one of the most dangerous places and oppressed country's for women. As an Indian woman, do you feel some satisfaction in becoming apart of this equality movement?

Bidisha: Yes, India is changing for the better but I don’t believe it’s one of the most dangerous places in the World for women or the most oppressed country for women. After all India, in 1980, elected a female Prime Minister in the form of Indira Gandhi which was long before most countries in the west have done and are still to do. Also, one of the first female film directors in India was an Indian lady by the name of Fatima Begun who, back in the 1920’s, used to write, direct and produce her own films. However, I do understand your sentiment that India is a male dominated society where Indian women have had to face many challenges on a daily basis. As time passes things do change. My total respect goes out to those women. I wouldn’t say I’m a conscious part of any movement. I’m just grateful I have the opportunity to do what I love to do.

So whatever challenges women in film face today the trailblazers of the past have broken down many barriers but there are still more changes that will undoubtedly happen. We will just have to wait and see.

Do you feel fulfilled or is the best yet to come for Bidisha Chowdhury?

Bidisha: I did put all of my effort into making “Adaline” the best it can be with my limited resources and funding. I have different stories I’m looking to get made into film which will be different to Adaline but very special in their own ways. I am always looking to improve so I feel the best of me is yet to come though Adaline represents the current “best of me”.

Can you tell us what you'll be working on next? 

Bidisha: Currently I have a script we’re looking at potentially producing. It’s a period drama set in Victorian times called “Weeping Lilly” and it’s about a mother’s struggles to protect her home, children, husband, and sanity from a scheming governess who has a mysterious past and shadowy agenda.

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