indian cinema heritage foundation

Season’s Greetings: The Heart Knows No Reason

22 Apr, 2020 | Short Features by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri
Season's Greetings. Image Courtesy: Exchange4Media

Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s Season’s Greeting, streaming on Zee5, is a straight-from-the-heart labour of love. The director and its lead stars, Lillete Dubey and Celina Jaitly, spoke to Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri. 

Cast: Lillete Dubey, Celina Jaitly, Azhar Khan

Director: Ram Kamal Mukherjee

For a film that runs three-quarters of an hour, Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s Season’s Greetings manages to pack in a plethora of issues that haunt contemporary Indian society. At the core of the film lies the issue of freedom of sexual choice, and Mukherjee weaves in #MeToo, inter-community relationships and religion (there’s a pithy take on the journey the country has taken from Allahabad to Prayagraj), social media trolling, gender inequality (Aag mein chalna padhta hai Sita ko, aur purushottam kaun banta hai), among others. As the director says, ‘It was a tough call. In fact, I could have failed miserably, but I wanted to take that chance. I have dealt with sex, love, companionship and choice of life, and 45 minutes is definitely a tough frame to paint the canvas with so many hues.’ 
 

Celina Jaitly and Shree Ghatak in Season's Greetings
 
At the core of the film lies the issue of freedom of sexual choice, and Mukherjee weaves in #MeToo, inter-community relationships and religion (there’s a pithy take on the journey the country has taken from Allahabad to Prayagraj), social media trolling, gender inequality
The film begins with a voice-over of a letter, a poem, being read on-screen by Suchitra (Lillete Dubey) and climaxes with her daughter Romita (Celina Jaitly) coming across the same, in the process discovering a truth about her mother that might lead her to confront everything she has known. And within the constraints of time and space (the film is shot almost entirely indoors), Season’s Greetings makes for quite a delectable mother-daughter tango. It is the loving, yet intrinsically fraught relationship between the two that holds the narrative together. ‘After Cakewalk, I wanted to tell a mother-and-daughter relationship story,’ says the director. ‘I am grateful that Lillete Dubey ma’am and Celina Jaitly Haag agreed to be a part of this venture.’ 
 
Celina Jaitly and Lillete Dubey in a moment from Season's Greetings
Season’s Greetings makes for quite a delectable mother-daughter tango.
Lillete is without a doubt the film’s driving force in a restrained performance that effectively conveys the inherent loneliness of a spirited individual. The actor says, ‘This is a film very pertinent to our times – these dark, dystopian yet strangely illuminating times, where we are all rediscovering our shared humanity. It’s a film that I was very happy to help create, with its strong message of compassion and equality for all, and a role I enjoyed very much playing.’ Celina Jaitly is an admirable foil, delivering a nuanced performance in an ‘atypical’ role. The star agrees, ‘Romita is nothing like me so it was not easy … Ram and I worked together on every little detail (with me in Dubai and him in Mumbai) … it was tough to convey being comfortable around my onscreen mother and my onscreen live-in boyfriend. I discovered aspects to myself I had been looking for a very long time … it took me 16 years and a broken heart (the loss of my parents) to get there ... a heavy price to pay but I am so grateful it didn’t go waste … that I could find an outlet for all that in this character. It takes a person of great understanding to transform one human to another … and all credit to Ram Kamal.’
 
Lillete Dubey turns in a rrestrained performance
Lillete Dubey says says, ‘This is a film very pertinent to our times – these dark, dystopian yet strangely illuminating times, where we are all rediscovering our shared humanity.'
Given the director’s Bengali roots, it isn’t surprising that two well-known cultural figures of Bengal play such an integral part in the film. The film is dedicated to Rituparno Ghosh. ‘Rituparno Ghosh’s Unishe April had a deep impact on me when I was a teenager,’ Ram Kamal admits. ‘In fact, my friend and writer Ranjib Mazumder (former journalist with The Times of India) also loved Ritu-da’s work and we decided to collaborate on this project. After the first draft, he joined a content hub and we couldn’t work due to his time constraints. So eventually, I fleshed out the final draft. That’s when I started weaving in little aspects of Ritu-da. His film Dahan was based on a Suchitra Bhattacharya novel. So I named the mother Suchitra and the daughter Romita (that was Rituparna Sengupta’s name in Dahan).’ These are the nuances (or for the matter little touches like how Usmaan, debutant Azhar Khan, switches off the tape as he hears the azaan, and plays it again as the azaan stops) in the film that make it worth a watch.
 
Celina Jaitly is admirable as Romita
The film is dedicated to Rituparno Ghosh.
To begin with, Lillete was a little confused about the dedication to Rituparno Ghosh. ‘I have met Ritu once, but heard a lot about him from Rina (Aparna Sen) while I was working with her in Kolkata. Ram Kamal explained the connotations to me … This is a film that underlines that love comes in many hues and does not discriminate between caste, colour, race, religion, gender or anything. As this terrible pandemic has proven to us, we are all the same under the skin of our so-called differences, equally vulnerable, equally strong, now hopefully also equally capable of putting ourselves in another’s shoes. Ram Kamal chose a small film to tell a big truth … love lies in the strangest of places if we only dare to discover it and have the courage to live with who we really are fearlessly.’
 
Azhar Khan in Season's Greetings
Ram Kamal explained the connotations to me … This is a film that underlines that love comes in many hues and does not discriminate between caste, colour, race, religion, gender or anything.
The other Bengali influence is of course Rabindranath Tagore and as any Bengal film-maker will vouch for, there is no way you can escape getting a Tagore song on your soundtrack. Ram Kamal is no exception, and Tagore’s melody permeates the narrative. ‘I was talking to Ananth Mahadevan after watching his film Mai Ghat that doesn’t have any music. I loved that film. My wife Sarbani, who also makes her debut as a singer in the film, is trained in Rabindrasangeet. She not only sang “Gahana Kusum Kunja” but also tutored Jaan Kumar Sanu for the song. The second song is an amalgamation of two Tagore classics, “Sajani Sajani” and “Shokhi Bhalobasha Kare Bole”, an eternal love song that goes beyond gender. I would give credit to Sayani Palit for her vocal in taking this song to a different scale. I decided to scrap the entire background score after hearing the first draft. My composer Shailendra Kumar worked for 78 hours non-stop to get the final track. I wanted the music to set the tone of the movie.’ 
Lillete Dubey has the last word on the film in these remarkable times: ‘This pause/reset button will make us look at the world anew … inside and out … exactly what Season’s Greetings makes us do.’
                                                                               

The film-maker is justifiably proud that his efforts are paying off. As he mentions, the film has been selected at seven prestigious international festivals including the Cardiff International Film Festival. It won the Best Director Jury award at the Rajasthan International Film Festival and has been selected at the prestigious Kashish Film Festival 2020 in Mumbai, Asia’s largest LGBTQIA Film Festival.

Lillete Dubey has the last word on the film in these remarkable times: ‘This pause/reset button will make us look at the world anew … inside and out … exactly what Season’s Greetings makes us do.’
 

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About the Author

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is either an 'accidental' editor who strayed into publishing from a career in finance and accounts or an 'accidental' finance person who found his calling in publishing. He studied commerce and after about a decade in finance and accounts, he left it for good. He did a course in film, television and journalism from the Xavier's Institute of Mass Communication, Mumbai, after which he launched a film magazine of his own called Lights Camera Action. As executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers India, he helped launch what came to be regarded as the go-to cinema, music and culture list in Indian publishing. Books commissioned and edited by him have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Award for Best Writing on Cinema. He also commissioned and edited some of India's leading authors like Gulzar, Manu Joseph, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Shourie and worked out co-pub arrangements with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, apart from publishing a number of first-time authors in cinema whose books went on to become best-sellers. In 2017, he was named Editor of the Year by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He has been a regular contributor to Anupama Chopra's online magazine Film Companion. He is also a published author, with two books to his credit: Whims – A Book of Poems (published by Writers Workshop) and Icons from Bollywood (published by Penguin Books). 

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