‘Bandit Queen of Bengal’ Project Sets Fall Start

Indian filmmaker Subhrajit Mitra’s latest venture “Bandit Queen of Bengal” (aka “Devi Chowdhurani”) will start principal photography in the final quarter of the year.

The film is based on Mitra’s own research into the the advent and invasion of the British East India Company in India, the battles of Plassey (1757) and Buxar (1764), the great Bengal famine of 1770, the Sannyasi and Fakir rebellion (1770-77) and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s 1884 Bengali-language novel “Devi Chowdhurani,” which features a female freedom fighter protagonist.

The film will follow the journey of a villager who eventually becomes the first Indian woman freedom fighter. It will also tell the story of the Hindu monks who had no other option but to take up arms against their British colonial rulers to save the country and their people. It was the first armed revolution by the Indians, led by Bhavani Charan Pathak, against the British East India Company. The film will hew close to the novel’s plotline but some 80% of it will be closer to actual history.

Mitra, who takes on the roles of researcher, writer, production designer and director on the project, conducted his research from the archives of the East India Company in London, several texts and manuscripts from Asiatic society, the British Library, Victoria Memorial and Indian Museum.

Mitra’s last film “Avijatrik” (“The Wanderlust of Apu,” 2021), which completed the story of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, won two prizes at India’s National Film Awards.

Mitra told Variety: ” Devi Chowdhurani’ gives me the opportunity to get me out of my comfort zone. It is a much bigger canvas than my last film, it is actually a part of our lesser-known history. After winning my National Award for my last film ‘Avijatrik,’ I wanted to tell this story. The urge was intense. I wanted to make a very realistic film on this novel and the time period which portrays a plausible historical reconstruction. I am fascinated by the films of similar genre by the master directors such as Akira Kurosawa and Ridley Scott. ‘Seven Samurai,’ ‘Rashomon,’ ‘Ran,’ ‘Throne of Blood,’ ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Robin Hood,’ to name a few. We have a dearth of these kinds of films in Indian cinema, barring a few such as ‘Junoon’ by Shyam Benegal or ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ by Satyajit Ray. We Indians tend to go overboard with historical fiction and lack the cinematic approach which can fetch international appreciation. I wish not to delve into that path.”

Srabanti Chatterjee (“Lockdown”) will play the titular character in “Devi Chowdhurani” and Prasenjit Chatterjee (Prime Video series “Jubilee”) Bhavani Charan Pathak. The film will be made in the Bengali language with several different local dialects and will be dubbed into the Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam languages.

Prasenjit Chatterjee told Variety: “When Subhrajit first narrated the script to me, I was fascinated with its mounting and visualization. This is a very ambitious project. He is very sorted in his mind what he wants and it is written clearly in the scripts as well. With my involvement in this film as the main male protagonist I wish to see Bengali films to scale a new height.”

Srabanti Chatterjee added: “This is a dream come true character for every actress and I am grateful to the director Subhrajit Mitra for casting me in this epic film as the titular character. I always wanted to work with such a renowned National Award-winning director like him. This film will be a milestone in my career and I am ready to give my hundred percent to portray this historic character.”

At $2.5 million, the film is one of the highest budgeted in the history of Bengali-language cinema. It is being produced by Los Angeles-based ADited Motion Pictures, formerly known as Star Synergy Entertainment, which was established in 2016 and has distributed acclaimed films including “Lipstick Under My Burkha” and “Newton.” In 2018 it co-produced “Yours Truly,” which premiered at Busan.

Studio owner Aparna Dasgupta told Variety: “We believe that this has the potential to be a milestone film. As a woman I am thrilled too for getting an opportunity to highlight the story of the first woman freedom fighter from India and her fascinating journey from a common girl to a fearless leader, which can inspire women of present days too. Historical stories like this can appeal to both national and international audiences and we want to fully support Subhrajit’s vision of bringing the story to life.”

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