JOURNEY OF A STORYTELLER M12
Both play an essential role in Robin
Mukherjee’s filmography up to his latest
release, Lore. Arthur J Pais reports
When the Booker Prize finalist novel The Dark Room found its way to award-winning British producer Paul Welsh,its writer Rachael Seiffert
said she wished a German writer and director would work on it.
“Call it serendipity; I told Paul I was
indeed German on one side of the family,”
says screenplay writer Robin Mukherjee,
who transformed one of the three stories in
the book into the film, Lore, which has just
begun its commercial run in North America.
Mukherjee — a cinema instructor, writer
and director whose work over 25 years has
stretched from art house cinema to mainstream British television (Roman Mysteries,
Eastenders, and Combat Kids), radio and
theatre — happens to be the son of a
German physiotherapist and Indian dentist
in the United Kingdom.
His frequent summer travels to Germany
had given him some insights into the Nazi
These insights helped him turn the disquieting but compelling story of a teenage girl
in 1945 who is left to find herself when her
SS officer father and mother, a staunch Nazi,
are interred by the victorious Allies at the
end of World War II.
Lore, who also believes in Nazism, leads
her four siblings on a harrowing journey
across a devastated country.
When she meets the charismatic and mys-
terious young refugee Thomas, she finds her
world threatened by feelings of hatred and
desire as she must put her trust in the very
person she was always taught to hate in
order to survive.
Berlin and I was in a train car which had
quite a few skinheads. Now, I don’t exactly
look like a German or a Brit, and they mis-
took me for a Turk. And they were very hos-
Lore in the book (and the film) grows up in
a sheltered world of open spaces, individual
fulfillment, and a very polite society.
Confronting the darker side of the ideology
is not made easy for her either in the book or
What was Mukherjee’s upbringing like?
“Though I was born
and brought up in the
United Kingdom and
belong there, Indian
music and other cultures
have been ingrained in
me right from the start.
My father was related to
(the late Pandit) Ravi
Shankar, and Shankar
would visit us often. He
has stayed with us.”
“Indians in England
often came home, and my
father had many Indian
doctors as his friends.
Many of them were mar-
ried to British women
and on a day we had a
party in our home, there
would be a whole of lot of
these British women in
gorgeous Indian saris. I
was learning a lot of
India in the 1960s,
thanks to the interest in Indian exotica in
Britain, but I did not go for the superficial
knowledge of India.”
Mukherjee began reading Indian classics
and novels when he was in his 20s and read-
ily admits that much of the inspiration for
teaching and directing comes from
“The emphasis is on the development of a
natural sense of storytelling through imagi-
nation, experience and the inherent under-
standing of dramatic law that resonates in us
all. Much of the inspiration for this approach
comes, curiously enough, from an ancient
Indian system of dramatic composition,
which I first encountered while helping to
produce Eastern Arts at the Queen Elizabeth
After pursuing his enquiries to India, he
became convinced that of all systems this is
the most human, least mechanistic descrip-
tion of what it is to write, he says.
While many standard methods, generally
led by script analysis, make for good teaching, this particular method makes for good
writing which is, after all, the point of a
Though Eastern in origin, it transcends
cultural conventions to be the nearest system available to a truly universal language of
drama. Its application to a variety of groups
and workshops in different settings has
proved its principles to be uniquely simple,
beautiful and practical.
“Drama becomes, thereby, not a construct-
ed artifact, but a realization of the human
impulse. Its simplicity makes it instantly
accessible. Understanding it requires noth-
ing more (and nothing less) than a love of
writing and a willingness to explore.”
Indeed, travels have played an important
role in shaping Mukherjee’s filmography.
If his German sojourns helped him with
Lore it were his India visits that led to him
writing the screenplay and facilitating the
production of Swara Mandal (Dance Of The
Wind) in Hindi in 1997.
“I was 30 when I first visited India, and I
fell in love with it,” he reminiscences. “I
turned into a Bengali in no time.”
“Rajan (Khosa, a debutant director) was
working on the film, but was finding it diffi-
cult to convince the producers to green light
it,” recalls Mukherjee, whose friend in
Kolkata suggested that he meet the like-
minded Khosa. “We then started working on
the story all over and we got the producers
The film focused on a young classical
singer Pallavi whose mother Karuna’s death
causes her voice to disappear, resulting in
the loss of her professional life, her husband,
and her students.
Slowly, Pallavi learns to sing again when
she meets her mother’s guru, Munir Baba,
and practices intonation with Munir’s young
The film was well received.
‘A little gem of a film,’ declared the magazine Empire.
Mukherjee says the film recouped its modest budget, but he found it difficult to work
on a similar film because there was not
much excitement over such projects in the
European funding sources.
Besides, his writing for television was getting busier and he would soon become one of
the busiest writers in the country, whose
episodes have featured such stellar artists as
Kate Winslett, Brian Cox, John Thaw,
Frances Barber and Andy Sirkis.
But now that films like Life Of Pi and
Slumdog Millionaire have been made and
have become very successful, he muses,
there could be another Swara Mandal in
the works. ;