Deben Bhattacharya interviewed by Kevin - Part 6: A place called home

I consider myself as much a European as an Indian. Why should I consider myself only an Indian and lose the richness of life I’ve gained from the best part of my life? I am sixty. For thirty-three years I have lived in Europe, so I’m a European, and then I’m Indian. I have lived in three cities, London, Stockholm and Paris. In London, I have my closest friends, lifelong friends, possibly partly because of the language, because my French n’exist pas! In Paris I have friends. In Sweden I lived for ten years, but the Swedes have an extraordinary habit of non-communication which I could never reconcile. I began to feel isolated and lonely in spite of extremely kind friends. There is ample reason why I should live in London. As well as my closest friends being there, I earn most of my living from London, my company is registered in London, and I pay British Income Tax! The major part of the work has been through London: The BBC – since that day I started with Alec Robertson, it has continued: three, four, five, six, eight programmes, every year, for the last thirty years. And the work with Argo. There was work with Roger Fiske, and now the work with Robert Layton; Robert and I have worked together for twenty years. So, I should live in London. Yet London doesn’t give me that closeness of feeling, that feeling that I am living in a city, that I am involved with the city, and yet free from it. I have that feeling in Paris, because I first came to Montmartre in 1955 and fell in love with the quarter, partly because of the people. 52 Rue Durantin – that was my first home in Paris when I came to live here. Later I was able to buy this little flat high up above Rue Lepic – five storeys and no lift – what a climb with the shopping! In spite of my lack of French, I get along with the shop-keepers, market traders and all the other people that make Montmartre so special.

I tell you what Kevin, in this city of Europe, I don’t feel distinct. I know the French have a very bad reputation for being selfish, egotistic, this that and the other, but somehow, as far as I am concerned, I feel absolutely free. I’m not aware of my colour, I’m not aware that I’m different from the French, and so on, in Montmartre. My grocer scolds me, scolds my wife that I don’t let my girl go alone to the school! I never hear that, anyone giving that lecture in London or Stockholm. They wouldn’t dare. But this kind of scolding to me is communication, this is contact, affection, and that makes me feel at home in Montmartre. I wouldn’t say this is all Paris, but Montmartre has this village quality which I love, within the heart of a great city, and honestly I’ve never felt I was a stranger in Paris. You can have friends everywhere, and because of that you can choose a place to live. Here in Paris, I can live with everyone – not just the French, or the Algerians or the Turks – but with everybody.

I have been lucky enough for my work to have been appreciated all over the world. Most recently I have made two Tibetan films and another on the Painted Ballads of India. I’m hoping to make three films in China, one in Bangladesh, and another in Nepal. These are my plans, and – c’est la vie – let’s see what happens. I’ve lived all my life in that way and I shall go on doing so! I have never been rich. I don’t suppose that I will ever be rich, but I have been lucky with friends, and so fortunate in doing work that I love. What more does anyone need?

Text taken from Kevin Daly’s taped interviews with Deben Bhattacharya
Interviews recorded 23rd and 24th February 1982, Rue Lepic, Montmartre, Paris
Transcribed and edited by Michael Daly
Copyright © 2010 Michael Daly