Sujoy Mukherjee: Chip off the old block
He has been very low-profile indeed!
Sujoy Mukherjee, son of the 1960s and early 1970s star Joy Mukerji (Love In Simla, Ek Musafir Ek Haseena, Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon, Love in Tokyo, Shagird et al) made his cinematic entry in 1992 as the leading man of Mehboob Mere Mehboob, and did a few more films as hero (including the sleeper success Hum Hain Kamaal Ke) before branching off as a producer of several serials for Doordarshan, India’s official (as in government-owned) TV channel.
Not satisfied creatively, this grandson of iconic showman Sashadhar (S.) Mukerji soon went on to make short films and a documentary. On an award-winning spree with these adventures, he has now raised the bar and will turn writer and director for the big screen with Kalpvriksh. With this social drama, he is also reviving his father’s banner of Joy Mukherjee Productions.
Excerpts from an interview follow.
You have done quite a lot of work that is barely known!
After becoming a director of Filmalaya Studios, begun by my grandmother, my responsibilities increased, as it is not easy to run a studio. I produced TV serials in the 1990s. Ae Dil-e-Nadaan, Apne Paraye and Gustakhi Maaf were among the shows I made, the first being a daily soap. I then joined hands as associate producer with my brother Monjoy on a short film, Hai Apna Dil To Awara, shot in 20 days in Kashmir. Now Kashmir is where a lot of my father’s films were shot and the locals gave us a lot of love and respect when they came to know who Monjoy and I were. Then I got the urge to turn director while that film was being made. Hai Apna Dil To Awara is on Amazon and was released in 2016.
How did you go about that?
Back home, while managing Filmalaya, I was wondering what to direct when I decided to try out a short film. I was in Delhi for work when I met the famous writers of books, Sunil and Sudhir Kapoor, and Sunil had written a film called Tiger Trail. They are now my favorite writers!
I had read that morning an article on a teenage girl facing molestation and the repercussions, one of many such stories. I met this girl from Pune who was a choreographer and had faced such a situation. Her parents just wanted her to get married and leave her profession, but she had gone into depression and had lost her confidence.
So I decided to make Ab Mujhe Uddna Hai, on a girl who decides to be strong and move on, with Sunil and Sudhir as writers. I believe that when a girl is molested—which, according to me, is as heinous a crime as rape—in a way, the entire family is molested. In my 24-minute film, I have shown the girl overcoming all that with the support of her father, played by Kanwaljeet Singh. The film is streaming on Disney+Hotstar.
And it won a record number of awards…
I made this film in 2019 and it went on to win 39 awards when I entered it in films festivals here and abroad, including the Dadasaheb Phalke International Film Festival award for Best Short Film. This gave me the confidence to make films that inspire people positively.
And then I realized that another problem was student suicide as they could not cope with expectations in today’s times, when even those with over 80 percent marks gave up and ended their lives. In other cases, there was heartbreak as the cause. Something was very wrong here, because such setbacks do not mean the end of things. I also realized that depression was a key illness.
So that was the subject of your next film.
My father used to say that work has to be enjoyed and every film cannot be expected to click. Films are made for the audience, and they may not like every film. And no one is bigger than the audience. Life is not something to be given up, and so I made Zindagi Anmol, which was my second short film, and that has won 35 awards so far!
I have now directed the documentary Battle of Swaraj on the condition of Emperor Shivaji’s forts in Maharashtra, right from Pratapgad to Raigad. I have climbed every single fort and also shot with drones. These are places that if developed and maintained properly can be powerful tourist attractions. I have spoken here also about Shivaji’s adventures and his trusted lieutenants. The film has won the Best Documentary Jury award at the Mumbai Film Festivals and others, and now the Best Innovative Director award at Bharat Icon for me. It is also nominated in the top three at the Dadasaheb Phalke International Film Festival.
And now you are reviving your father’s banner with your feature film debut.
Yes! I was in Delhi with my writers and composer Anandjibhai and he shared a thought: that what parents build, overambitious children try to destroy, like your inheritance. It is about the human touch in relationships. I am now working on the cast. My target is to go on floors in late April. And after that, I want to begin an action film.
Your father missed seeing the director in you.
I was more like a creative director on my serials, during the making of which he was alive.
Any chance of a comeback as an actor?
This is a nice question! Very surprisingly, I am getting offers to do negative roles. I am planning to take up one good project, seeing my filmmaking schedule.
Why were you called Boy Mukerji in your first film?
(Laughs) It was actually a pet name!
How do you look back at these 30 years?
I don’t regret anything. I just feel that you should keep working. Production, writing, direction, acting…
What about web series?
Work is going on on one, but I will talk about it much later.
Any advice from your father that you follow and which stays with you?
His advice was to keep running and keep working. He would say that mushkilein to aayengi (difficulties will always come), face them, get up and start again. He told me that nothing is perfect, because after a film is released, you can always find something you could have done better. I keep this advice always in my mind, because that’s how you can relate to today. I have always made issue-based films, so I meet a lot of young people. My father said, “Always be a learner. The day you feel you know everything you are finished!”
Last but not the least, why have you changed your English spelling to ‘Mukherjee’ when it has always been Mukerji since your grandfather’s time?
(Smiles) It was my mother’s wish.