Who is “Jonaki” ?

“Jonaki” is firefly in Bengali. Fireflies are magical. They flicker, and between each flicker of light they have moved on. My grandmother used to tell me that fireflies are part of a Japanese folktale in which the souls of the dead turn into fireflies and wander into the forest.

Jonaki is inspired from the life of my grandmother, who I was incredibly fond of and shared an indelible bond with.

What is the inspiration behind “Jonaki” ?

My grandmother grew up in a now nearly extinct class of affluent, aristocratic and anglicised family, the kinds that would attend ball dances. Being the only wine importing family at that time in Calcutta they stood superior to other fellow Bengalis aping British lifestyle and thriving financially. However, her life was marked with pain and suffering. Her father passed away when she was just six. Her mother was authoritarian. Despite being in love with a Christian boy, she was forcefully married at the age of 16, and understandably, my grandfather and she never got along. In fact, she spent the last 28 years of her married life separated from him, and with our family. That’s how I got close her. My grandmother was a romantic person but she was not able to share that dream with someone. She also couldn’t accept that she was growing old, and was scared of losing the people around her. Chronicles of her life became the subject of my bedtime stories. Before she passed away she lay in coma for 4 days with her eyes slightly open while she kept murmuring in her trance. I wondered what was she thinking?

A few months after her death, I began to have terrible nightmares about her – sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of explosions and gunshots like the way she had described them to me from her memories of the war.

‘Jonaki’ is an amalgamation of what i imagined was going on in my grandmothers head when she was in coma and echoes of my nightmares. Is it a recollection of memories and thoughts from the unfulfilled life of an 80-year-old woman. It is a tale of the pain of denied love. It is my attempt to come to terms with my grandmother’s passing.

How did you find “Jonaki” ?

When I met 81 year old Lolita Chatterjee for the first time and conversed with her it felt like I was reconnected to my grandmother. Lolita is Jonaki for me. Strangely Lolitas life has had similar patterns to that of my grandmothers. Lolita was not a choice. It had to be her.

The film is an unique experience that is completely original both in the Indian and International context. Can you explain its distinctive treatment and story telling language?

When you want to articulate a strong feeling, express a deep experience such as the fairy tale like imagination of my childhood, the painful thoughts of what my grandmother was going through in her coma, the abstract absurdities of my dreams and nightmares, a mere narrative style of story telling may not do justice.

In a dream, the subconscious chooses a combination of sounds, locations, events, characters and behavioral patterns that create a strange experience, only to evoke a deep and honest feeling, whether negative or positive, that is buried in the depths of your soul. These feelings often don’t surface in a waking state.

“Jonaki” is an attempt to recreate this experience through cinematic language. It tries to bring the above elements together in a spontaneous, organic and honest mis en scene.

Can you elaborate about the films visual aesthetics, soundscape & production design?

The production design and costumes in Jonaki are inspired by a certain lifestyle of westernised Bengalis that lived a convoluted lifestyle of clashing ideologies.

The sound of guns and bombs was a backdrop when my grandmother grew up during World War II. The sound design in the film remind you of those times gone by.

Through the visual aesthetics and soundscape in Jonaki I wanted to get closest to the feelings of my childhood memories, my grandmothers comatose state, and my dreams after her death.

Spaces are just not visual, they are an atmosphere. I wanted the viewers to smell the dampness in the decaying walls of a room that was once the seat of celebration but now an abandoned space filled with roots and creepers. I think because of my background in painting and design, the visuals came spontaneously to me.