Ranjan Palit is so soft speaking that in between the first and the fifth row at Max Mueller Bhavan’s partly refurbished auditorium, his voice was almost lost. But he is not a singer but a cameraman and filmmaker, a maker of some of the most well-received and critically acclaimed documentary pour une cause in the last three decades, and hence it was film and his camera that did all the talking. And what a cracker of a film he showed!

He was presenting to the city audience for the first time his new film In Camera which is in his own words, “pages from the diaries of a documentary filmmaker.” Palit is the best person to make this kind of a film which is part memoir, part autobiography and part a deconstruction of the art/genre that we call documentary. Palit started early after passing out of FTII and it was none other than Anand Patwardhan, the high–priest of Indian documentary filmmaking, whom he started with in Bombay My City. Since then, he has done about 100 films. “I turned fifty in 2006 and I had done about 100 documentary films. So it was in a way some mathematics and that elusive idea of reaching a landmark that made me stop and think. I had to go back and forth in time to know if what I was doing mattered to me and how!” So was born In Camera, a 90 minute documentary in which Palit goes back to characters, places and issues that he had met and travelled to during the course of his career. And he went back to know and understand not just the time-induced changes that affected the people he had chronicled for his films but also understand himself and his location vis-à-vis his films.  And it is here where lies the best part of the film, for this is unlike fiction, where characters ‘die’ with the film and unless resurrected in a sequel/prequel they remain dead/non-existent. In a documentary however, they are real characters and even though a documentary, even if they tell dystopian stories about Bhopal or Kashmir, the trapping of a narrative are still, there is still that factor of existing in a film and without. So Palit, in what is the motif of his memoir, goes back to meet the characters he had chronicled as they exist beyond the film, after the film, outside the film. In In Camera Palit positions himself not outside the narrative, but part of the narrative itself and visits his characters in real time. He revisits Kashmir (Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi), Shillong (Forever Young), Mumbai (Bombay Our city) and Calcutta (Ruchir Joshi’s Tales from Planet Kolkata), Pune (Kamlabai), Delhi (Roysten Abel’s In Othello), Eleven Miles (1990), and of course his most well-known ‘activist film’ Voices from Baliapal. “After Voices, me and Vasudha (his wife and frequent collaborator) gave up the idea of doing another activist film. We had made close to 15 visits to Chaibasa while making Voices and we were getting too close to the people or they were facing problems because of us. We got jailed. We got harassed. All fine but we became too involved with the cause and with the people. That was not fair to either. We had to withdraw.”

That perhaps explains that he has lately decided to shoot on celluloid for mainstream cinema and his first major motion picture in years is up for release soon— the much anticipated Saat Khoon Maaf. He is also the DOP of ace Bengali filmmaker Aniruddha Roychowdhury’s Aparajita, which is the first Bengali film to be shot entirely in the US.  Palit is excited about his feature prospects but not ready to jump into the excitement in haste. “Let’s see how they turn up. I have done my job.” That’s surely an understatement. Because his job till date, of which In Camera has enough testimony, has been path-breaking. And he is expected to repeat the feat in the features too.