The Fuschia Tree
Editor's Note.
Conversations with the eccentric and the absurd about their dreams, desires and destinies...

"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning." And with T.S.Eliot in our heads we wander into a wasteland where the lost and the forgotten are reinvented, so that nostalgia gives way to love, in the future perfect.
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By the maker of Gandu, India's only 'rap musical', Qaushiq Mukherjee.
You do not have to mind your P’s and Q’s while talking to this cineaste. He is the enfant terrible of contemporary Indian cinema, an agent provocateur who teases and scandalizes prissy bourgeois thought. Meet Q: though not eponymous with the Q of James Bond, he is a straight shooter in his likeness.

Here is an angle into the schizophrenic, hallucinatory, colorful mind of this radical. Through one word at a time, the piece deconstructs the mind of this filmmaker, who basks in the afterglow of his black and white film, ‘Gandu’s’ massive tremors and having recently premiered his latest feature film ‘Taasher Desh’ at the Rome Film Festival – the only Indian film to have been screened there this year. Q’s take on spirituality and the personalization of his tool, the camera, who he loves as his mistress, is a side that we might detect in his films, but it eludes us even as we try and grasp it. Here is him making things easier.

Our disclaimer:  if rebellion or contrary language is not your cup of tea, then read the following at your own risk, or take a swing of scotch beforehand.
TFT: Home.
Q: Calcutta, Kolkata, Colombo, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Amsterdam, Pluto

TFT: Poshto.
Q: The most delectable and addictive substance.
Be careful of it's potency.
Posto is poppy seed, the cultivation of which has currently been banned in Bengal, although it sells at the marketplace for 300 rupees a kilo. You cannot carry it on an international flight, it creates trouble. A pleasant sensation envelops you in the afternoon as it slides smoothly down your digestive tract, mixing with the fresh rice you have just consumed for lunch, and then you would immediately be on the lookout for a bed. This is perhaps one of the key things that make a Bengali.

TFT: Dope.
Q: Psychedelic substances, class B and C.
The only god I trust.
The boom man.
I find that tranquilizing myself is the only way to stay connected to the true spirit within the chaos of social life. I hear what I have to hear, I see beyond what my eyes can. It is criminal to call it criminal.

TFT: Sex.
Q: Male.
Trying to learn a female.
Mercurial space where we come from and into which we go.
Essential to life.
Human beings are extra special, since they have more use for sex than mere reproduction, a highly overrated exercise. We live in a country that sits on a vault of information that has inspected almost every possible angle of sexuality in human life, and speculated on celestial ones. In a world where social identity is imposed, the specific identity of an individual can possibly only be mapped through the exploration of his/her sexual identity.

I do tend to lean towards the theory of a celestial, or a cosmic body within each human being, that has also been mapped and documented vigorously, and forms the basis of spiritual studies in various, seemingly separate sects found in India. Shiva worshippers, tantriks, fakirs, vaishnavs… to name a few. The ways to access this information is manifold, and I am often surprised by the lack of interest in the average Indian mind to dive into this depth. Seminal work has been done by a few individuals and I would like to continue this great tradition. Sexuality drives my work, it is the skeleton on which different forms are created, examined and deconstructed.

TFT: School.
Q: A past life that is hazy and unclear. Though it formed a special understanding of human behaviour and laid the foundation for mistrust. I went to South Point High School in Kolkata, that gigantic machine that spews out 1500 odd creatures into a carnivorous world every year. It was a universe in itself, a mini city, with many languages and cultural clashes. I found some amazing teachers who influenced me, piqued my interest in different things.

It was nice, but I won't be going back.

TFT: Literature.
Q: I read and it affects me.

Words are important.
Language is always exciting. I have loved many writers, not as much the musicians, but then, I am a groupie by default. Though Bengali shaped me, I found English challenging, and picked it up late. Classics were a struggle, and then I found what I was looking for.

Henry Miller, Irvine Welsh, Kundera, Tom Robbins, Mohammad Hanif, Benjamin Zaphaniah, Kiran Nagarkar, William Burroughs, Osamu Tezuka, Howard Marks, Bill Watterson, Lalon Fakir, Nabarun Bhattacharya, Premenda Mitra, Liyaqat Ali.

There are many names and words that fill me.

TFT: Neon.
Q: Fluorescence is a whore and darkness is its lover.

Its graphic cheesiness invites me to shed my inhibitions. The darkness shields my intentions from myself. I have used neons to light my frames, and they have been extremely friendly, contrary to popular belief.

They are cheap, and they are available at every street corner. I blink and come to life around the same time as neons do, so we share the same time zone. I like the fact that they are home to lizards, helping them by mesmerizing bugs. They nurture a universe in and around them.

I have written a song in their honour. It's called TUBELIGHT.

TFT: Politics.
Q: Everything is political for a Bengali.  That's how we are brought up. I grew up in a middle class family in Kolkata, and my father was an extremely politically conscious person. This made me actually run away from real politics. For much of my adult life I tried to be almost insensitive. Then, as I discovered my artistic self, I suddenly realized I had left my own value system and my own idea of the politics that I wanted to pursue. The idea of anarchy is extremely delectable. But can it be coupled with the idea of extreme nonviolence?

These were contradictory ideas that I was trying to combine in my work and understand if it could actually work. I think every human being is political. The question is about consciousness whether they are aware of it or not.

TFT: Sequins on white.
Q: The driving force behind Gandu is the idea of rebellion. I made the film as I stood with my back against the wall. Bereft of options, broke and truly fucked. So I made a film.

The other issue is that I have grown up with gandus. They are all around. I myself proudly belong to that exalted clan. I wanted to celebrate this consortium of losers as Neel (my collaborator in music and films) calls it, and this was definitely the seed of Gandu. The loss of a friend also triggered the experiment.

TFT: Boka Choda.
Q: It’s my obsession with my language, predominantly Bangla. It’s a beautiful language with enviable phonetic capacities. For a long time I rued the fact that the Bangla thatI hear around me, the language of the street, I could never find on screen. Even in literature it was assigned a secondary role, never taken seriously. Bokachoda and gandu are two of my favourite words. My association with them is deep. I can compress so much information in the way I say these words. Abuse is also a critical space. You use foul language to emphasize your disregard. It’s an important tool of communication.

TFT: Multiple Personality Disorder.
Q: Disorder is the agenda. Society is constructed on a series of rules. The idea is to govern through order. But the pursuit of order soon turns governance into autocracy. We see that around us all the time, especially now in India.

Anarchy is the primary spirit of an artist. Husain once said ‘It’s not art if its not dangerous'. This theory interests me.  I think you need to challenge the system to call yourself an artist. That should also be the primary role of the artist in society. In fact, if an artist doesn’t do that, society could penalize her/him. It is the artist and the activist who questions and provokes society and prevents it from slipping into an authoritarian mode.

Along with the Bokachoda on my laptop, there’s also a quote from Milan Kundera - 'I am large. I contain multitudes'. Every human being is fragmented and is many individuals. It’s again social control that forces a structured, mono-dimensional personality on an individual. I enjoy shifting characters and forming new identities for myself. I like naming myself, initiating new characters in the story of my life, because I am still writing that story.

TFT: V for Vendetta = Q for Qolkata?
Q: Q had to arrive because my previous identity, the one I was bestowed with at birth, couldn’t have handled what I was hoping to do. I needed someone who had nothing to lose. The social person has a lot of anxieties. Q doesn’t. The name took its own time to form and arrive and mature. But the seed was definitely sown by ‘Visitor Q’, a film by Takashi Miike, where a mysterious stranger walks into a middle class seemingly normal household and reveals the cracks, causing the shit to hit the fan.

TFT: Love.
Q: What amazes me is that love is an abstract concept. It's an idea that originated in the romantic period. However, our increasingly logical, linear world and normal people, who otherwise claim to be confused or repelled by abstraction, seem to understand this utopian concept.

The strength of the idea of love is overwhelming. I needed a chemical imbalance to witness it and it has changed me forever. Love is the most flexible concept of all, and yet it cannot seem to hold its own, or rule the sensibilities of the world.

Love is intensely physical for me, as it was for Meera…

TFT: Camera.
Q: For the longest time I did not feel any connection. I was scared. And then it happened. The first time I touched her, it was pure. The Canon 7D is flawed, and this is perhaps why I love it so much. Following the obsession with flawed genius.

My camera makes me dance. Takes away all my nervous energy and makes me still. Enthralled by the stories of capturing and metamorphosing reality, I persevere.

Furiously looking for stillness.

TFT: Parallel celluloid reality.
Q: You need time to develop a signature. For me it’s a work in progress. I became a filmmaker because of the post Nineties maverick cinema from Europe and Japan. I really wanted to try and find my language in that realm. I am still trying.

TFT: Heroes/Anti-heroes.
Q: I have many heroes. I like them flawed. Anti heroes are also heroes, just flipped over. Growing up, there was lots of Bangla influence; mavericks like Sukumar Ray (Satyajit Ray's daddy), Shibram Chakraborty (a satirist), Salil Chaudhuri, etc.  I also had Oscar Wilde; I had Mandrake, Milan Kundera and Bob Dylan. In between there was even Amitabh Bachchan: that was the last time I submitted to peer pressure.

In the early Nineties, Suman Chatterjee (now Kanir Suman) the musician, completely altered the course of my life. The impact of alternative musicians of Kolkata was huge on me. Mohiner Ghoraguli, Nogor Philomel, Shilajit etc.

The next level of inspiration came from the digital movement. Steve Jobs was the final word. Also electronica music shaped the punk and raver combination in me. Love and Anarchy, Prodigy, Asian Dub Foundation, Bjork – I loved their music.  

I became a filmmaker thanks to Lars von Trier, Tom Twyker, Takashi Miike, Kim Ki Duk, Mike Figgis, Harmony Korine, and the guru – Jean Luc Godard. Recently, Victor Kossakovski and Khaavn have been fucking my brain.

TFT: Universe.
Q: Big place. Lots of options.

The sky is perhaps a reflection of our soul.

Or a void.

It's all imagination anyway.

What is real is that I feel for Pluto, my dear friend, who got relegated unfairly.

So there is Mr. Q shooting off his lip. The angst is palpable and so is the influence of Kolkata and all things Bong. But he has clinically and with a vengeance managed to subvert the bourgeoisie mindset with his art. Breaking away from the revered institutions in Indian cinema, Q is still deliberating his own cinematic path, which has not seen such a widespread fan base or criticism before. Like the ménage-a-trois that he shows in Gandu, Q is living in the multiplicity of a filmmaker, a musician and an activist – rolled in within him and manifesting through his politics of rebellion.

Quashiq Mukherjee was born in 1973 in Kolkata and lives on the periphery.

As told to Shaheen Ahmed, a filmmaker and writer based in Delhi.

Also in this issue

Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing
Meaning: In Search of Significance.
Melody: A Different Tune
Rhythm: Ordering Time

Dhrupadi Ghosh is an old friend of mine. We have often had long sessions of adda late at night, discussing her dream projects since her college days at Santiniketan, where she majored in Sculpture.