An Interview with Anirban Datta (Director)
I Wanted to Capture the Process by Which Memories Disappear
Q: Chronicle of an Amnesiac is a very striking title. Could you share your thoughts about your rapidly changing hometown of Kolkata?
AD: I came up with the title for the film before I began shooting. Kolkata originally had a quiet, slow-paced lifestyle despite being a big city. However, it has undergone massive development in the last thirty years. In the past there were rows of Bengali buildings, then there were the ones built by British colonists, and in addition to that there were the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, and now there are rows of high-rise buildings. The scenery that’s visible to us continues to evolve, but people’s hearts and souls remain unchanged and I sensed that there was something that stayed constant within them all this time. That’s why rather than the evolving scenery, I wanted to make a film about the accumulation of things in cities that are connected to people’s unchanging hearts and souls.
The passage of time diminishes that which once was popular in cities. I used the monkey handler in the film to symbolize that. It was popular entertainment several decades ago, but now it’s illegal and banned. However, for them it’s their livelihood so they cannot give it up, and are forced to live on the outskirts of the city. It’s the same for other animal handlers. Also, the 92-year-old man in the film was a freedom fighter in the struggle for Indian independence, but now he has to look for work to make a living. They are examples of people left behind by time. These two ‘oblivions’—the loss of individual memory, and the loss of a city’s memory are ongoing. So, for the last scene I made the monkey handler walk through a shopping mall. I wanted to put the monkey handler there and show him in this place which provides modern-day entertainment.
I’m currently engaged in the task of documenting things, so I wondered how I should document the past while I myself am in the present. Then I realized that a city’s past lurks within things such as the touch of a wall or different smells, and I wanted to film that. What I wanted to do with this film was document phenomena and things that must not be forgotten, but I also wanted to film the process by which memories disappear. In other words, I wanted to “capture memory” and at the same time “capture oblivion.” I depicted both in the final scene where I reverse the images.
Q: The elderly man Amiyo da was a wonderful character.
AD: When we were filming, he showed us around the house where he was born. There’s a scene where he descends the stairs of the house and disappears, and at the time of filming it, my elder brother who was operating the camera stopped shooting part of the way through, so it looked like a portent of the elderly man’s death. In fact, he died two months after we filmed him, so I was humbled to have filmed his last days in the place that he was born.
Q: I understand that you went to a lot of trouble with the sound in this film.
AD: For example, I wanted to use the sound of a steam locomotive, which is rare these days. The noise of their old doors creaking as they shut is another conveyor of history. Where possible, I consciously used sounds that can still be heard today to evoke the past.
(Compiled by Kusunose Kaori)
Interviewers: Kusunose Kaori, Suzuki Hiroki / Interpreter: Inoue Mayumo / Translator: Don Brown
Photography: Tsuruoka Yuki / Video: Sato Hiroaki / 2009-10-11