Arif Shaikh and Asik Shaikh in the Bengali film 'Dostojee'
Arif Shaikh and Asik Shaikh in the Bengali film 'Dostojee' Image Credit: Supplied

‘Dostojee’ (Two Friends), a Bengali movie on the importance of communal harmony that’s won multiple awards at film festivals around the world, released in UAE cinemas on March 17.

Directed by Prasun Chatterjee, a self-taught filmmaker from Kolkata, India, ‘Dostojee’ is his second film and first full-length feature movie. He also doubles up as the movie’s screenwriter and co-producer. His first, the short film ‘Shades’, premiered at the International Short Film and Documentary Festival of Kerala and other film festivals around the world. It won the ‘Best Film’ awards at the BFI London Film Festival, Sharjah International Film Festival and Jaffna International Cinema Festival, among a few other awards. In all, the movie has travelled to more than 30 film fests and bagged eight international awards, including the coveted UNICEF CIFEJ award 2022.

Chatterjee, whose family moved to Kolkata as immigrants from then East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) when the Indian sub-continent was partitioned in 1947, was born in the East Indian metropolis and spent over a decade living in the region near the international border that separates the two countries. A first-hand experience of the lives, culture and traditions of the people in the region gave him the material for his film. ‘Dostojee’ casts first-time child actors Arif Shaikh and Asif Shaikh as thick friends from different communities who weather the waves of communal disharmony that spreads across the country. The powerful story coupled with the natural sounds at the location even convinced the director to eschew background music for the movie.

“The story is an expression of a multitude of feelings that are deeply personal in nature,” Chatterjee said in a statement. “My family background, the pain of losing a very close friend and importantly the religious divide deeply prevalent in the society that I have seen in close quarters have played a role in shaping this idea in my subconscious mind.”

Most of ‘Dostojee’s actors, including the child actors, Chatterjee says, are residents from near the international border, which serves as the movie’s backdrop. That involved training them extensively in acting. “We trained almost 150 villagers for over a year before starting shooting,” he said, which in itself was a fantastic learning experience.

Including non-trained actors for ‘Dostojee’ ultimately proved to be an intuitive decision. “Sometimes non-actors are brilliant, they can deliver what even trained actors can’t,” he said, even as they were unable to maintain the continuity of emotions. “But we were lucky to find them and they were exceptional.”

Choosing to set a movie in a remote place is difficult enough, but executing it was much more cumbersome. “There was no proper conveyance or place to stay… Since we wanted the landscape we decided to shoot there,” Chatterjee said. Three abandoned houses came to their rescue, as did purchasing water tanks, pumps and electricity generators. “It was all hectic,” he said. “But believe me, this was one of the golden times of our lives.”

Chatterjee hopes identity politics and discrimination, which is widely prevalent across the world, ends. He isn’t sure if ‘Dostojee’ will make a change but hopes it will hold a mirror to society.

‘Dostojee’ also stars the Bengali actors Jayati Chakraborty, Swatilekha Kundu, Hasnahena Mondal and Anujoy Chattopadhyay. Tuhin Biswas is the cinematographer, while Sujay Datta Ray and Santanu Mukherjee are its editors. Prosenjit Ranjan Nath, Soumya Mukhopadhyay and Ivy Yu-Hua Shen are the co-producers of ‘Dostojee’.

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‘Dostojee’ is running in UAE cinemas.