I was always drawn to dark fairytales: Anvita Dutt on 'Bulbbul'


New Delhi, Jun 22 (PTI) Lyricist-writer Anvita Dutt says her directorial debut 'Bulbbul' is heavily influenced by her childhood years that were either spent in the unrestricted company of books or sharing stories of ghosts and witches with other children during summer holidays.

Such was her love for fairytales that Dutt has 'Once upon a time…' tattooed on her hand.

This is why her first film, a coming-of-age story of a woman set in the late 19th century Bengal, with a modern spin on the legend of 'chudail' (witch), is rooted in her childhood.

'It's about your childhood, summer holidays, when your grandmother put out the manji (cot) and children gathered to hear a kooky little tale. Sometimes you made up the story and sometimes others told you about avoiding a certain 'peepal' tree because a ghost lives there… 'That kind of folklore, fairytale telling of story is something that I always loved. That's why when I wrote a story for myself to direct, I ended up writing a story that starts with 'Once upon a time...',' she told PTI in an interview over a Zoom call.

Dutt, who spent 15 years as a lyricist and dialogue writer in Hindi cinema and worked on films such as 'Heyy Babyy', 'Bachna Ae Haseeno', 'Dostana', 'Patiala House' and 'Queen', said she always gravitated towards the dark interpretation of a fairytale, not the vanilla version where everything appears pretty.

She said she rooted for 'possibly the wrong people' like the stepmother in 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' or the Big Bad Wolf in 'The Red Riding Hood'.

'We are fed this vanilla fairytales from which all the dark and gruesome elements are taken out and they are presented in this pretty song and dance format...

'But I was always drawn to the dark story, the messaging. These are cautionary tales, warning you to grow up fast, to be aware of the world around you and make sure that there are no wolves hiding in the shadows and that's what appealed to me,' she said.

Recalling her childhood spent in cantonments with beautiful libraries, Dutt said there was no one censoring 'a little girl walking around reading books from 'A to Z'' as she waited for her father, who worked in the Indian Air Force, to pick her up.

'I was reading fairytales the way they were meant to be read and not the way they were told to children and that creeps into your own stories,' she said.

'Bulbbul', produced by actor Anushka Sharma and her brother Karnesh Ssharma's Clean Slate Filmz, is about a child bride who grows up to be an enigmatic woman presiding over her household. She is harbouring a painful past while supernatural murders of men plague her village.

The film will stream on Netflix from June 24.

Lore about witches abound in every culture but superstition has often led women to be victims of such stories, which always bothered Dutt.

'When a woman frightens a man, they turn around and brand her as something that's frightening and horrible. It's the old wives' tale so the collective gathers and rises against it. What they are rising against is power and they are afraid of it,' she said about presenting a new perspective on the legend.

Dutt went through a lot of research to create the beautiful fable-like world of 'Bulbbul' and the Bengal of that era and that reflects on the screen be it the beautiful Benarasi saris, colourful wallpaper or the 'baadis' (houses).

She said the idea was to make every frame appear like a Raja Ravi Varma painting. In fact, Varma's 'Jatayu Vadham' makes a literal appearance in a crucial scene in the movie.

The design elements, she said, were inspired by British designers and decorators William Morris and Robert Adams, who had a great influence on the neo-classical period.

'There was a part of the community that wore Jamdani saris and some wore handmade cotton saris but Thakuranis always wore Benarasi saris. These are the details that I enjoy including in my stories. I love the neo-classical period, it reflected in the art and architecture of Bengal.

'William Morris and Robert Adams heavily influenced me and my production designer Meenal (Agarwal) and DOP Siddharth Diwan. The intention was that it should feel like that if we touch the screen, we will come away with paint on our fingertips,' she said.

The director said whether it was art, architecture, crockery, paintings or the old 'baadis' (houses) with their Venetian columns and louvered windows, Bengal best reflected the neo-classical period in India.

'I really love Bengal. I must have been a Bengali in my past life. My next film is also set there,' Dutt shared.

'Bulbbul' features Tripti Dimri in the title role and also stars Avinash Tiwary, Parambrata Chatterjee, Paoli Dam and Rahul Bose. PTI BK SHD RDS RDS