In Conversation with Rohit Mittal – the very talented writer/director of Autohead!
interviewed by Souranath Banerjee
Rohit Mittal – the young independent filmmaker who is not afraid to experiment with the ‘form’ and ‘content’ of Cinema!
His film Autohead is been considered as one of the most innovative films at this year’s Mumbai Film Festival and immensely appreciated by all.
In Conversation with Rohit Mittal as he talks about his journey as a filmmaker!
Welcome to Cinema Forensic Rohit!
Autohead, your debut feature film got such positive reaction from the crowd recently at Mumbai Film Festival. What do you have to say about it?
It’s great. Honestly I was a little scared to screen the film in India and MAMI being the first Indian screening. Because the thing is that it’s a different kind of format in terms of the treatment and all, it’s a Mocumentary and so I didn’t know how the audience will react to it. But thankfully it was great!
We have already been to five festivals before, MAMI was the sixth one and every time the reaction of the audience has been positive. I will be going to New York in a couple of weeks for the South Asian International Film Festival too!
That’s great Rohit, congratulations again!
Thank you. We hope to do some more festivals may be till Feb or March next year and then probably go for a small theatrical release.
But then again when it comes to distribution in India, I don’t have to prove anything to anybody now, since the film has been received so well in the festivals and the reviews are so very positive. And I actually don’t see a point in running behind distributers to release it.
And thanks to technology, I can say this now that I am also looking at digital release probably – anyway that will give me a wider audience. Channels like Amazon and Netflix, I have heard that they also pay well. So there is a higher possibility that I go for that and that’s fair enough because I would want to be in an environment where I am respected as an artist and you know like I don’t have to do the same things that most people have done in the past.
So me and my film’s co-producer, we are kind of relieved that we also have this digital option and again, I am not trying to prove anybody that I am the next Bollywood big thing, it doesn’t even exist for me!
As you said your film is a Mocumentary it’s kind of a new genre in India right? So what made you choose this genre?
I have always enjoyed watching experimental genres – be it American or European films, particularly Mocumentaries because you are always breaking the fourth wall and then again you also have to justify the presence of camera. And then you can experiment with the narrative as well, the way you treat scenes – it’s real, sometimes it’s very real, sometimes it’s hyper real – you are mocking reality itself, often mocking the film-narrative itself. And of course it’s mocking documantary, that’s given for sure. A very intriguing format where the possibilities are endless!
Then in treatment also you can use jumpcuts, handheld camera and things like that. I really enjoy – you know when I watch some of these French New Wave films all they did were use handheld cameras and jumpcuts!
That’s so true! So after you wrote the script, how did you plan the production part?
We took four months of preproduction, I needed that time to spend with my actors – workshops and everything. And in that time we started looking for different locations as well. Sometimes I would go with my actors on these locations and rehearse. And lot of times I would randomly roam around the city checking out new places, and at the same time making changes in my script to adopt according to the locations and things like that.
And Autohead is more of a street movie, I think 70% of the film is on the streets. I wanted it that way. And because of certain constraints of money I wanted to be pretty sure about the way the shoot had to be executed. We had exactly 15 days of shooting plan and it had to be very precise.
How important is the working with the actors for you?
Very important. The more time you spend with them the more you can trust eachother.
What I feel about acting is – yes, it has to be real but is real enough? It has to be interesting also. So then we take off from realism and merge the actor’s self-awareness and imagination – then only it gets more interesting. That is why I like to give my actors freedom in terms of movement and behaviour. Plain realism doesn’t really work for me, and since it’s a Mocumentary it’s always about questioning the real!
And the post production part, how different was it to edit a Mocumentary?
(Laughs) It took three and a half months just to edit the film! Because you know honestly there is no narrative. My film is kind of anti-narrative!
So the film can be placed anywhere – the end of the film could be the beginning of the film. Then of course we had the script but then when you have so many options in the edit it’s more like always a challenge to make it better. And again as I said before, you have to always justify the camera and in editing and that becomes a problem. Because you cannot suddenly jump to an angle or a shot which will completely destroy the idea of a Mocumentary. We had to be careful about that. Then again there are lot of jump cuts but they are actually not random cuts, they were planned even before the edit.
So in this film we have a lot of times taken many bold narrative steps and that is a plus for editing a Mocumentary!
That’s great! So, you were the writer, director and also the producer of the film?
See, the idea for me was to get enough money to shoot and edit the film and then I had to show it around to people to get the money for the grading and DI and everything else. So after the editing I waited for almost two months to get the rest of the funding. Then I got the other producer on board, so I would say it took seven to eight months after we finished the shoot – three months of editing, two months of waiting, and then again three months to finish it off.
Overlooking every aspect of production was a challenge for me. Every night I would come back from shoot, transfer all the footage, at the same time go through all the bills, pay everybody – but it was fun! When I look back it was this rush and there was lot of energy and I don’t even feel like I have worked hard because it was so much fun!
And honestly when I was making the film I never really thought that the film will go to a lot of festivals or anything like that. I didn’t have any festivals or market in my mind – it was just about the film and the passion of making it!
And as you said before the interview started you are currently writing your next script. Tell me something about your next project?
I have two scripts actually, one is already finished, the second one I am writing. And I am still talking to people, may be this time I will have four-five different companies producing the film. But I am also kind of being careful about that, because answering to a lot of people can drive you crazy!
Now tell me something about yourself Rohit, where are you from and how did your passion for film evolve?
I am from Bombay, born and brought here. When I was 18 me and my family shifted to Pune. I studied law there! But then it was never my thing (laughs). Even in the law-school all we ever did were watch movies and write screen plays and make short films. Me and some of my friends use to run this literary magazine – so you know it was all about that. But looking back I think it was one of the best times!
But then when I graduated, I had to get a job somewhere because there was pressure from all side. I took a job in Bombay in a law-firm but it was a horrifying experience. I hated that job!
Even then I was writing and making short films and videos during the weekend. And by the end of the first year I got so frustrated that I left. For the next two-three monthes I was just thinking like where to go and what to do. That was when I decided that I have to go to a film school just to have that kind of space for myself; not really for training purposes but also to explore things on my own. That is why I went to New York Film Academy. I was there in the NewYork campus for four months and then I moved to the LA campus. I was in LA for around two years. I studied there and also worked there after graduation. I worked with Roger Corman, the king of B movies, and I was working with him on a daily basis; was a part of both the development and the editing team. And it was one of the best learning experience of my life!
I got to see a lot of B movies, and other very rare films there. One thing I regret is I didn’t steal those dvds from there because I just can’t find those movies here (laughs).
But then when did you decide to come back to India?
The idea was never to get stuck to a job or stay in the US just for the sake of it. Making 2000 dollars a month – that was never my plan. For me it was always to make a film!
In LA the scene for independent film makers is not that good, it’s very expensive there. That is why I had to come back and by that time I had this idea about making a film about somebody who is a criminal but at the same time it’s not just about the story – I wanted to do something with the ‘form’ of the film. How can I change it, do something new with it, make it interesting – that thing was constantly nagging me. Some famous filmmaker said in an interview to ‘rip apart the form’ – it was his advise to us – digital filmmakers. So I was constantly thinking about it. So that is when I finally came up with this Mocumentary.
And then a lot of Indian so-called indie movies pissed me off because they were mostly about social issues, emotional, very Satyajit Ray kind of films which I hated at that time. I don’t have problems with Ray but it has to go ahead from there right? It all got stuck. Why are they still trying to perfect the same story? So why not critise it and question it? This was also one big reason to make Autohead.
It is so rare for filmmakers to experiment with the ‘form’ nowadays – thanks for being so innovative Rohit!
Thank you. And the kind of response I got in MAMI – for some kids who were watching Ray and Ghatak in their film school, Autohead came as a shock to them. And I was like – Yes! mission accomplished! (Laughs).