For Sujoy Ghosh, one of the top directors working in India
today, there is no subject more inspiring than the city of Kolkata.
In his 2012 film, Kahaani, he captured all the energy and
exhilaration of West Bengal's capital during Durga Puja (one of the
most important Bengali festivals). Reviews praised his vision of
the city, and its old-meets-new beauty… and Kahaani had
such a phenomenal run at the box-office that a sequel is planned
for release in November.
Sujoy Ghosh is an actor and
screenwriter, in addition to being one of Bollywood's top directors
© Daboo Ratnani
Though he now lives in Mumbai, Sujoy Ghosh - who also works as
an actor and a screenwriter - can't resist a nostalgic memory trip
through the streets of his hometown. Read on to learn about how he
got started in the film industry, for tips on his favourite Kolkata
locations…and why a book fair might be the best introduction to the
Greaves: What are your memories of growing up in
Kolkata? How has the culture influenced you as a
Sujoy Ghosh: 'When I was growing up, we were into reading and
watching films, and we had time to discuss them. Art and creativity
is enhanced and evolves when you interact and engage, and for that
you need time - and we had a lot of it back in those days! As a
child, I did quaint things like go to the library to borrow books,
which my kids find weird (laughs). By definition, Kolkata
is hugely art and literature-oriented.
When I make films, I'm hugely inspired by art. A painter sees
things differently - when I was shooting for Kahaani, I
referenced paintings by various artists. I wanted to see Kolkata
through their eyes - which offered me a different perspective on
One thing I love about Kolkata is that a lot of characters and
landmarks from the '70s and '80s still exist. I used to buy these
spicy lozenges for five paisa as a child and I found them again.
Big shops have been built around the little shop that sold them,
but it still exists! Heritage architecture has survived - though
for how much longer is another question.'
Beautiful and dynamic Kolkata is
Ghosh's subject and muse © Rajarshi Mitra/Flickr
Could you recommend authors and filmmakers who have
captured the essence of West Bengal and its capital with
'With the classics, Bengali authors like Sunil Ganguly,
Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra captured the world very well.
In film, Tarun Majumdar, Satyajit Ray, and Tapan Sinha are
brilliant directors who have influenced me.'
What's your favourite local cultural
'The Kolkata Book Fair - for me, it begins and ends
there. It's now visited by two million people over the course of
two days, and there's a lot of nostalgia and childhood memories
involved. For me, Bengali culture is Durga Puja, art discussions,
and the book fair.'
Durga Puja is one of Kolkata's
biggest celebrations © Prithwish Basu/Flickr
Could you describe Durga Puja for a first-time
traveller to Kolkata?
'Durga Puja is a festival that is very close to a Bengali's
heart. During the season (September or October), you can see the
festivities everywhere - and pandal hopping [visiting the Goddess
Durga displays, to whom the festival is dedicated] is quite the
thing to do. For me, the festival is all about people, happiness
and food. No one has problems during the festival - people are
happy and stress-free. Maa Durga [the Goddess] is in town - let her
solve the problems!
It's also junk food time, as it's a great source of income for
people who put up food stalls. Dressing up, eating and going out is
part of the culture.'
Kalimpong and the wild northeast
of India are among Ghosh's favourite travel destinations © Abhijit Kar Gupta/Flickr
Which places in India are on your bucket
'I inevitably end up going to the same places, and am not a very
planned traveller. But I'm addicted to the northeast of Bengal - I
love the hill stations of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. I
also love Goa. And I'd love to go to Kashmir - that's on my bucket
Tell us about the street food culture of
'Street food culture in Kolkata is bigger and cheaper than in
Mumbai. Mumbai's street food is a little more international, as it
offers dishes like Middle Eastern shawarmas. In Kolkata, it's all
about local treats like Mughlai parathas, puchkas and mutton
I also love Kolkata's pice hotels - the casual restaurants where
you eat to your heart's content and pay a maximum of Rs 100. These
establishments, which traditionally cater to working-class people,
have been around for many years - and you can get a standard (and
delicious) thali of fish, dal, mutton, and rice.'
Colourful Kolkata is a
must-visit destination © Aotaro/Flickr
Finally, what does India offer that no other place
'Warmth - in terms of the people. A place is made not by the
architecture, but by the people. They'll make you want to come back
again and again.'