Bengali director Chowdhury films in Glen Park

Bird and Beckett owner Eric Whittington and Bengali actress Janakiraman Padmapriya

By Murray Schneider

“Camera!” No, not John Huston directing Mary Astor in the “Maltese Falcon” on Stockton Street.

“Action!” No, again. Not Alfred Hitchcock directing Kim Novak in “Vertigo” atop Nob Hill.

“Take one!” said Aniruddaha Roy Chowdhury, directing Padmapriya, the young star of his film, “Aparajita Tumi,” on Chenery Street.

On a sunny summer morning, Bird & Beckett Books and Records, albeit briefly, became a sound stage to Tollywood, the Bengali language commercial equivalent to the Hindi language Bollywood.

Danny Yanow, a South San Francisco seventh grade teacher who lives on Persia Street, heard about the shoot and came over from the Excelsior.

“I love these movies,” he said, “their dancing and their beautiful women.”

As befitting cerebral Bird and Beckett, though, Yanow was about to be enlisted in service as an extra for a more art house sort of film.

Shooting several scenes of his movie at Bird and Beckett, Chowdhury is no novice to the craft of filmmaking.

Chowdhury’s first film, “Anuranan (2006), won Best Feature Film in Bengali at the National Film Awards, India’s equivalent to the American Oscars. His second film, “Antaheen” (2009) won four NFA Awards two years ago, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography.

His film company, numbering some 15 crew members, descended upon Glen Park at 9:30 A.M. It will remain in the Bay Area for one month, with additional locations in Berkeley and San Jose.

Chowdhury’s no stranger to books, either.

Extras waiting to be filmed in the movie Aparajita Tumi.

“There are prominent bookshop scenes in “Anuranan,” said Eric Whittington, owner of Bird and Beckett, who stood behind his store counter throughout much of the filming, which took most of the morning. “Books are clearly a big influence on Chowdhury.”

Whittington had learned of Chowdhury’s project from Bishu Chatterjee, a bassist for drummer Jimmy Ryan who plays jazz at Bird & Beckett each month. Chowdhury and Chatterjee know one another from India.

Chowdhury stood next to his star, dressed in a modest skirt and sensible pumps. Taking time from discussing how she should stand and move in a scene, he said, “I love books and music.”

He positioned his young actress in front of Bird and Beckett’s window display, while outside, his director of photography, Ranjan Palit, framed the shot.

“This bookshop is very cozy,” Chowdhury said. “The ambience is nice and it has the right kind of books. I loved the store right away.”
He moved Padmapriya a bit closer to the window, which displayed the work of Van Buren Street’s Dolan Eargle, as well as that of Picasso and Matisse.

“This is the first shot of the day,” he reminded her. “Act natural and divert your eyes.”
The dimuitive actress brushed aside strands of brown hair with one hand and held a book with the other.

The shot took several takes.

Behind her, several extras, who had learned about the filming from craigslist and who had traveled from Sebastopol to take part, hit their marks, nonchalantly leafing through books displayed on the new fiction and non-fiction shelves.

“Get her out of frame,” said the director of photography.

Film crew from the movie Aparajita Tumi at Bird and Beckett.

While extras perused the books, Padmapriya stared through the window, automobiles parked in parallel tandem on Chenery.

“Cut!” Chowdhury said.

Filmmaking, even on Chenery Street, involves lots of hurry up and waiting.

Outside, the crew began setting up for a street scene to be staged above Carrie Street.

Jeremy Lipsin, a June graduate of Analy High School in Sebastopol and who is destined for Sarah Lawrence College to study drama, prepared for his movie debut.

“This is awesome,” he said. “I’m an extra in a movie.”

His mother, Susy, walked over, fresh from her early morning drive from Sonoma County.

“We left at 6 o’clock. The things I do for my son!” she said, “This is a great send off for the melting pot he’ll experience in New York.”

While Padmapriya waited as a cameraman set up an establishing shot, the lead actress, a real-life graduate of NYU in Manhattan, looked thoughtful.

“The film is about relationships,” Padmapriya explained. “I play a young economist who grew up in San Francisco.”

The film is based on a novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay, a Bengali writer who has published well over 200 books of poetry, fiction and essays in his 60-year career to date.

Chowdhury moved his actress farther up the street. At his signal, Padmapriya walked assuredly toward Bird and Beckett, followed by a trio of extras. She turned into the doorway adjacent to the bookstore.

“That’s alright,” Chowdhury said, “we can edit around it.”

Megan Stafford, who is a high school classmate of Jeremy Lipsin and is scheduled to attend U.C. Santa Cruz this Fall, smiled.

“It’s neat to be here,” she said. “Jeremy and I had a fun film class together.”

Hiten Vora, a cameraman from Mumbai, thought so, as well.

“San Francisco is too good,” he said. “The scenery is too good and the lighting and weather are fine.”
Back inside for one last scene, Padmapriya strolled to the bookshelves, which housed children’s books. The extras took their places.

The set director, Neha, asked Whittington for a book bag to serve as a prop.

Padmapriya affected a worried look, as the script called for. She peeked from behind a stack of Harry Potter fantasies. The camera rolled. She blinked.

The scene was shot.

It was a wrap.

Neha announced that there would be another shoot in Golden Gate Park, for any interested extras. Jeremy Pitkin’s mother took notes.

The crew gathered up its gear.

Whittington looked satisfied. He’d sold some books, well before he normally would be open for business. He greeted people new to the neighborhood, and best of all he contemplated a reciprocal visit to India.

In January 2012, in time to see the opening of the film he’d just hosted, he’s off to Kolkata with his family to see its premiere.

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