Kolkata-based writer-director Bornila Chatterjee's "The Hungry", an audacious, unsettlingly blood-splattered adaptation of one of William Shakespeare's lesser-known plays (Titus Andronicus), takes the theme of vengeance to an all-new plane where shocks are delivered thick and fast.
The film, playing as part of the Special Presentations section of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, premieres on Thursday, bringing to the event a heightened slice of contemporary Delhi life.
"The entire world is in the midst of disturbing times in which violence is sought to be normalised. The approach that I've taken is aimed to ask the question: is it all worth it?," says the director.
Chatterjee, who is in town with co-writer and producer Tanaji Dasgupta and cast members Tisca Chopra, Sayani Gupta and Antonio Aakeel, taps the essence of one of the bard's most violent tragedies and creates a dark, intense drama set in a cocooned, affluent world overrun by power, corruption revenge and utter disregard for human decency.
Aided by striking contributions from director pf photography Nick Cooke and music composer Benedict Taylor, the director pulls off a daring high-wire act with great aplomb.
In his introduction to "The Hungry", TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey has described Chatterjee as "one of the boldest filmmakers to come out of India in years."
High praise that, but wholly deserved.
"I love going to dark spaces," says Chatterjee, who lived and worked in New York for close to a decade before shifting back to her hometown in 2016. "The Hungry" cast is headed by Naseeruddin Shah and includes Neeraj Kabi, Jayant Kripalami and Suraj Sharma.
Naseeruddin, the director reveals, wasn't particularly keen to be a part of the film to begin with. Why are you doing Titus Andronicus, I don't like the play, the veteran actor had told the writing duo of Chatterjee and Dasgupta.
"But once he read the script, he was quickly on board," says the director who mad her feature debut in 2012 with "Let's Be Out, The Sun is Shining".
"It was an absolute treat working with Naseeruddin Shah," says Chatterjee.
"He added elements not just to his character but to the drama as a whole. He knows how to suffuse the theme of a film with layers of gestures and emotions."
"The Hungry" follows a mother (Tisca Chopra) gearing up for a second marriage with the good-for-nothing son of a politically connected entrepreneur (Naseeruddin Shah) against the backdrop of the brutal murder of her elder son (Suraj Sharma).
Other members in the two business families, which have been partners for years, are inexorably sucked into the bloody conflict. Among them are the tycoon's footloose daughter (Sayani Gupta) and the would-be bride's younger son (Antonio Aakeel).
Chatterjee says she was drawn to Titus Andronicus precisely because it hasn't had the kind of exposure that Shakespeare's more famous tragedies have had. "I find the play oddly interesting; there is a certain freshness to it. It was written by Shakespeare in his 20s."
"The action," she says, "takes place in fairy tale-like atmosphere, in a bubble in which the characters are barely aware of the world that exists outside their charmed circle."
"The Hungry" explores the power dynamics between the exalted and the excluded in an increasingly unstable world.
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