The July 10 release Te3n will take audiences on a tour of Kolkata that has not typically featured in Bollywood narratives about the city. From the stunning state secretariat called Writer’s Building to the Imambara in Hooghly district, Rhibu Dasgupta’s Te3n promises to give as much importance to the locations as to the story of three characters who team up to investigate the disappearance of a young girl.
For Te3n, the production crew shot at iconic locations. “Take the Imambara in Chinsurah, for instance, or the Writer’s Building – no one has shot here before,” said the movie’s location scout, Saubhik Das. The Writer’s Building is an imposing 1777 structure, while the beautiful Imambara was built in 1862. Te3n also features the reputed restaurant U.P. Bihar near College Street and the Park Street cemetery.
Te3n is the latest in an ever-lengthening list of Hindi films to be recently shot in Kolkata. Other than local directors who have been capturing the city’s many moods, filmmakers from around the country and even the world have been hotfooting it to Kolkata to capture what is left of its rich colonial and cosmopolitan past. A recent 3-D recreation of Rabindranath Tagore’s only directorial venture, Natir Puja (1932), was put together by American filmmaker Karl Bardoshat the New Theatre studio in Tollygunge. Photographs from the production of Akshay Roy’s upcoming feature-film debut Meri Pyaari Bindu shows us all the Kolkata standards, including yellow Ambassador taxis, hand-pulled rickshaws (actually a rarity on the streets), old houses with slatted windows and the dhoti-clad bhadralok.
The depiction of Kolkata depends on “the demands of the script”, said Das, an in-demand location scout whose credits include the movies Kahaani, Bullett Raja, Te3n, Kahaani 2 and Meri Pyaari Bindu as well as television commercials. For Sujoy Ghosh’s sequel to his 2012 hit Kahaani, which successfully captured the spirit of the city, Das took the team to Santiniketan on the outskirts of Kolkata.
The favoured locations include the business districts with elegant colonial architecture such as BBD Bagh, the stately mansions in North and South Kolkata, the quirky shops, guest houses and cemeteries dating back to the days of the East India Company off Park Street, the lush green patches of the Maidan (also known as the Brigade Parade Ground), the Rabindra Sarobar in South Kolkata, and the skinny alleys in North Kolkata’s older neighbourhoods. “We have also been shooting [for Te3n] inside heritage schools such as St Thomas and St James,” Das said.
It is easier to shoot now in Kolkata than ever before, claimed Das, who has been a location scout for over 20 years. “The chief minister has rolled out the red carpet for filmmakers from around the world,” he said. “Things get even easier for projects with A-listers when the whole machinery – local administration, cops – swings into action to control crowds, facilitate the shoot and get things done. All I need is a single line brief and a wish list with photo references if possible. Permissions are just a matter of making a few calls these days.”
It is not as though every filmmaker wants to capture the old city. Das points out how he has also worked on a sequence for Te3n set on the swanky new double-decker flyover that links Park Circus to EM Bypass to and is named “Ma”, after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The flyover soars past newer architectural landmarks such as Science City, residential and commercial towers, upcoming five-star hotels and apartments, many of which have also been featured in the National Geographic show Megastructures.
However, older Kolkata favourites continue to attract filmmakers. In Mani Ratnam’s Yuva (2004), the opening sequence is set on the Vidyasagar Bridge, the younger sibling of Howrah Bridge.
The iconic Kolkata mansions in Central and North Kolkata that have survived the passage of time have featured in films such as Piku and several television commercials, including the Holi advertisement for Parachute Advansed hair oil. The Champakunj house in Piku (2015) is the heritage Laha Bari mansion, which was also used for Bullet Raja (2013). Other key locations in Piku include Red Cross Road Place, where Bachchan’s character cycles in the pre-climax sequence.
The locations in Gunday (2014) include a song sequence at the Kali shrine in Dakshineshwar on the banks of the Ganga river, Bantala in East Kolkata that was dressed down as a refugee camp, and a well-known local fish market in the north of the city. The world of the fictional sleuth in Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective ByomkeshBakshy! was mostly created at a studio in Mumbai, while the crucial outdoor segments were at the colonial-era warehouses and jetties along the river around Agarpara, the Presidency University and Bow Barracks.
For Kahaani, Sujoy Ghosh’s thriller set entirely in Kolkata, the filmmaker and cinematographer Setu decided to skip the standards such as Howrah Bridge and the Victoria Memorial. “We saw how beautifully the bridges had been lit up, and were tempted, but we managed to resist it,” Setu said. “There is a fleeting glimpse of the Victoria when one of the characters takes the tram back home. It was shot on location and we could not avoid it.” The film also made overnight sensations out of local establishments such as Chittoda’s shop on Dacre’s Lane where the characters played by Vidya Balan and Parambrata Chatterjee stop for a quick meal, and Mona Lisa Guest House on Sarat Bose Road, where Balan’s character stays.
“A lot of people keep telling me that Kahaani made Kolkata look beautiful,” Setu said. “I did not do anything, the city is beautiful. You realise it when you have worked in other cities. Even though the architecture, the city scape is changing but there are certain quintessentially Kolkata elements – the design of the grills, the slatted windows. There is a texture even in the sunsets here that you will not get anywhere else.”