In Conversation With Abhijeet Dey

You can view Dey’s work via the following links –

Abhijeet Dey is a filmmaker, poet, photographer and personal friend. Having met over the internet film forums a few years ago, it has been a personal pleasure to watch his work, and his ambition within his work, grow over time, and to see him branch out within his work towards more intense and more experimental styles. His latest film, Man, Letter, House (reviewed here: https://reecebeckettreviews.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/in-review-man-letter-house-abhijeet-dey-2019/), was seriously promising and really quite captivating, showing Abhijeet’s experimentation reach new levels as he toyed with aspect ratio, sound, colour grading and modern digital cinema, all whilst simultaneously musing on our position in the world and what it means to be alive. In merging this type of existential philosophy in the dialogue (or, in this film’s case, the subtitles) of the film with the more brazen pushing of his personal visual philosophies of filmmaking, Man, Letter, House became really quite stunning, being one of the rare films that thankfully doesn’t shy away from asking questions of the viewer whilst feeling no need to force an answer to them. The film stuck with me quite a bit, and so, I thought it finally time to get around to my first interview for this website – something I’ve been meaning to get to eventually, having waited quite some time for the right time, director and film – seeing as I thought it only fair to ask some questions to Abhijeet Dey after having the questions poised by his film rattling around in my head since first viewing it.

Conducted in the most barebones way possible – over Messenger – I asked Dey a series of questions on how he came to be interested in film, his cinematic philosophies, his interest in the other arts and if he had any plans to do with those, and more specifically about the two films of his I’ve reviewed, those being Man, Letter, House  and Graveyard Lullabies. Without further rambling, here is the interview:

RB: To start with a simple question, what was it that led you towards cinema, and then towards filmmaking? Who were your earliest inspirations?

AD:I wasn’t really interested in cinema as a kid, actually. Never really watched films back then except a couple Bollywood & South Indian action movies that used to come on TV occasionally. And as for Hollywood movies, only the hindi dubbed versions of Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy and Iron Man (2008) comes to mind. And that was it.

But then, when I got to the 10th grade, I started watching more & more Hollywood movies on TV (and not the dubbed versions). Titanic, Avatar, Jurassic Park, ET, Hellboy, Terminator 2, The Matrix, Chronicles of Narnia, to name a few. I was just amazed by the spectacle & amusement that those movies offered. They were all so much more imaginative and engaging than the Bollywood films that I had watched. I connected to them more emotionally too. I think it was at that point when I realized that cinema has a certain magical quality to it, something that just sucks you in and makes you feel you belong somewhere. But still, at this point, my passion for cinema was only limited to watching them. I mean I thought it’d be cool if I got to make films myself but I was really unsure whether I could afford to make anything, so I didn’t do anything about it. 

Then, after 2 years, I opened my facebook account. And I started joining certain film groups on there (including The Gold Room). It was then when I learned of a world of cinema that existed outside of the Hollywood and Bollywood movies that used to come on TV, a world I was completely oblivious to.

So eventually, I came across the name “8 1/2” in the comments section of a post one night. Don’t know why but for some reason, the title caught my attention. It felt so peculiar. So I immediately checked out the trailer and well, that was it. Watching just the trailer gave me the push I needed. I had never seen anything more visually unique & different. I made one of my friends download the film (I didn’t have the internet facilities required to download movies myself back then so some of my friends always used to help me out). Anyway, after watching 8 1/2, my love for cinema became way too serious to just limit it to watching. I’d decided what I wanted to achieve. Or at least start trying. And a year later, when my cousin got a camera, my first short film got made. In between, I began downloading movies myself, tried my best to immerse myself in as much films from different parts of the world as possible and learned about unique filmmakers who operated outside the norms, which helped shape my own vision. I don’t consider myself brave when it comes to other aspects of life, but the discovery of these artists taught me that I can at least try to be brave at expressing myself artistically.

Now, my earliest inspirations would definitely be Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, because, as I already said, their movies used to come on TV very frequently. Their movies are what initially got me hooked. So I will always be grateful to them. 

As for my current approach toward filmmaking, I owe it all to Federico Fellini, David Lynch, Maya Deren, Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, The Coen brothers and silent films like Un Chien Andalou, L’inferno and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. They have all helped me expand my horizons and form the vision that I have today and I hope to always stay true to everything that I’ve learned from them.

RB: Raimi’s Spider-Man was also my big introduction to Hollywood! I also remember discovering a lot of those through The Gold Room too – Fellini especially. I think you can definitely see the inspiration coming from Deren and Lynch in your shorts, especially in those black and white interlude shots in Man, Letter, House now that you mention it, too. And the influence of Un Chien Andalou.

I was actually really interested by the digital approach you took with both of your films, but again, mainly in Man, Letter, House where you expanded on that digital focus by playing around with the aspect ratios, colour grading and the sound design a lot. I think both of your films appear to be quite proud to be from the digital age, and it’s interesting that your links to cinema also come from digital media, like discovering films from The Gold Room and pirating the harder to find films too. Is digital cinema something you’re specifically interested in, or does it just seem to flow within your work because of the technology you have access to for making films and your own work with that technology in everyday life?

AD: Well yeah, I definitely consider myself very lucky to be born in an era where the technology available to me is just enough to help me make most of my creative endeavours come to fruition. Easy access to editing softwares, free stock sounds on youtube etc. help a lot. Whenever I come up with an idea of making something, I first try to identify the suitable resources that are at my disposal. And then I just try & make the best use of them.

RB: And is this the same attitude/philosophy that you have towards other art forms? I know you also write some poetry and dabble in experimental photography – so is it the same attitude with those and technology?

AD: Well, with writing poetry or scribbles, it’s just what springs up in my head. Dylan is one of my major inspirations for writing so listening to Dylan songs gets me in the mood.

RB: Do you have any plans for the other art forms that you also take part in, or is cinema your main focus?

AD: I haven’t given it much of a thought actually. I have no plans at the moment, but if, in the future, circumstances allow, I might do something with my scribbles. So let’s see what happens. For now, my main focus is on filmmaking, yes.

RB: You mentioned Bob Dylan being a large influence on your scribbles when you do them – does that influence from Dylan (and other musicians) also bleed into your cinematic work? It seems an obvious question, but your work is so defined by its properties that can only be done in the cinema, like the visual edits and the toying with the truly cinematic parts of a film, so it would be interesting to hear how those musical artists also filter through into your films.

AD: A very, very good question. And the answer would be yes. Artists like Dylan, Bowie, Leonard Cohen and many others have all indirectly played a very important role in giving shape to the vision that I have, especially Dylan. Dylan’s works like “Visions of Johanna”, “Highlands”, “Desolation Row”, “Tom Thumb’s Blues”, “Gates of Eden”, “It’s All over now, Baby Blue”, to name a few, are so much drenched in imagery. They almost seem cinematic to me, in a sense. Listening to them makes me feel like I’m experiencing something entirely new, and at the same time, something that I’ve known all along. The experience is a combination of the mysterious and the familiar. And to some extent, I want my films to communicate with its viewers in a similar way.

After all, be it cinema, music, painting or poetry, it all comes down to feelings. So being influenced by an art form while creating a different one is only imminent, I think.

RB: I just think it’s good to hear such a unifying attitude within the arts – working within multiple, and taking inspiration from even more! A very Scorsese answer, which makes it interesting that Man, Letter, House is mostly silent, seeing as you take so much from sound. Just how much did you intend to experiment on that film? Was it intentional at all?

AD: In “Man, Letter, House”, the experiments that I did with sound were, again, just me making use of the resources I had. I don’t own a microphone so recording dialogues was out of question. But then again, I hadn’t worked with dialogues in my previous shorts, so this time, I wanted to try something different. So to establish a sort of communication between the two characters, I decided to go with subtitles, which can be easily added in any editing software (this decision was hugely inspired by Mike Mills’ “I Am Easy to Find”)

So ultimately, the yellow subtitles, along with atmospheric stock sounds of wind, traffic & birds (most of which I’ve been using since my first short) and a small piece of organ music that I had somehow randomly composed in fl studio a couple months before I shot the film (I briefly used to play around with FL studio in 2019), created a kind of strange, dreamy atmosphere that I thought blended well with the imagery. Most of it was driven by intuition.

RB: Ah! That is interesting – great to hear of the use of FL Studio in the project too as I’ve tinkered with it (to no avail!) for a while now, but never thought to use it in film. I thought that the yellow subtitles added to the film too, rather than making the lack of dialogue feel like a lack and not a stylistic choice! How do you go about a project when first starting to plan it? Are you the type who is always working on a group of ideas at a time, or are you much more selective with what ideas come through to becoming an actual film project?

AD: The ideas for my first three short films actually came to me when I visited a couple of those locations with my cousin with no plan for a film in mind. It was the ambience of the locations that made me come up with certain scenes. And I felt that the landscapes would provide a great deal of atmospheric weight to those scenes. 

But the ideas that I got were all scattered at first. So I worked and worked on the fragmented scenes to ultimately form a narrative, but it wasn’t exactly rigid. And I thought maybe I could use the overall vagueness to its advantage rather than letting it seem like a flaw. So I decided to go ahead and made something out of them anyway, mainly to learn as much as I can about the craft in the process and to see how it all would turn out in the end.

For “Man, Letter, House”, I wanted to shoot something entirely in neighborhood locations & with just one on-screen character, unlike my earlier projects. It was my first project using no tripod and my first time operating my own camera that I’d bought a couple weeks before; all my earlier projects were shot on my cousin’s camera and he served as the camera operator. Hence, the idea of the off-screen amateur cameraman came to me and from there, it expanded to what you’ve seen.

So, to sum it up, I don’t think I have a fixed process regarding ideas. It just happens when it needs to happen, I guess.

RB: I suppose it probably is best not to restrict yourself by forcing a specific way of gathering ideas, and to just let them flow as freely as possible – as you said, it’s all about emotion in the end! Do you have any plans for a next film (or films)?

AD: I actually had plans to start working on a zero budget feature length (sort of) project in 2020, which obviously didn’t happen because of the pandemic. It was supposed to be like a mockumentary about a dead person, consisting mainly of interviews with his loved ones and the dead person himself, along with a couple of short vignettes & photographs appearing throughout the film. But as the lockdown went on, I began losing interest and eventually stopped the writing. Maybe I’ll get back to it someday, I don’t know. Right now, I’ve a couple other scattered ideas which I think might be interesting for a feature length project. I plan to start working on them as soon as possible. And hopefully, if things fall into place, I’ll have something to show for it. Just hoping for the best.

RB: I guess with the pandemic, hoping for the best is all that can really be done, especially with a feature. I was really starting to feel that we were seeing a sort of new wave in cinema worldwide recently with the boom of low budget “amateur” filmmaking that is still becoming increasingly popular, but it seems to have been really dragged to a halt by COVID unfortunately. What kind of a future do you see for this kind of filmmaking? Do you think it’s just a short expansion of popularity, or something bigger? It does seem to be especially popular in India at the moment, too!

AD: I believe that this kind of filmmaking is flourishing mainly because it enables aspiring filmmakers, who truly are passionate about cinema, to take the medium to new & exciting directions, without have to worry much about external interference. They cherish the freedom that comes with it. Also, as we discussed earlier, easy access to basic equipments, editing softwares & other technical resources these days are helping too. Lastly, it again just comes down to making the best use of what we got. Not to say that this type of filmmaking does not have it’s obstacles, it certainly does. But then again, if you’re creative enough, you can easily overcome them, and maybe even create something exciting out of those very obstacles. So yeah, as long as there are artists who are passionate enough to create exciting things and creative enough to make the best use of what they can afford, this kind of filmmaking won’t fade anytime soon.

RB: One final question, if you were given a blank cheque to make your next project with, what would you try to make?

AD: This is definitely a tough one, man. But I guess if I ever turn out to be that lucky, I’d maybe try to make something that  would have both experimental elements as well as elements appealing to a wider audience. Maybe a sort of surreal murder mystery set completely inside a movie theatre, with an ensemble of eccentric principal characters in the audience (like an aspiring boxer, an old couple celebrating their anniversary, a school teacher, maybe even a retired filmmaker, I don’t know!). I think it’d be really fun to make something like that. And I think many would have fun watching it too. So it’s either that or I just might go completely batshit crazy and end up making something so unwatchable it would appeal to absolutely noone. So yeah, there’s a good possibility for that as well.

RB: Either you’ll end up with a slicker version of Bava’s Demons (maybe mixed in with Goodbye, Dragon Inn) or Jodorowsky’s Dune! Brilliant!

AD: I love Goodbye, Dragon Inn! Yet to see Demons. Will definitely check it out.

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