Your debut film ‘Q’ have already taken rounds in some of the most prestigious national and international festivals, and now it’s being released on Netflix! How do you feel about it?
Ya, it feels great!
Q has been selected in many festivals around the world and the response has always been positive.
Earlier I did plan for a theatrical release for my film but while waiting for the CBFC’s response I got the opportunity to show it to Netflix. And I instantly went for it and it got selected as well. I feel so lucky that they have picked up Q. Netflix, as a platform, has a huge audience across 180 countries. That’s the best part. With a deal like this, you know your film will be internationally watched.
Congratulations on the film’s release! Now tell me something about your film Q, what is it about and how did you come up with this concept?
Q is a film about a little girl and her relations with people surrounding her, and then those who come in contact with her, and their combined destiny as the characters go through an incredible journey that comes to an unpredictable end.
Actually I keep watching many documentaries and take much interest in the news and other world affairs. So this concept of Q is inspired through many such real events that I happened to notice over the time. Though not based on one particular incident, my film is a fictional version of many such realities of life.
And since it’s a very realistic story it needed a realistic treatment as well. No background music used in the film, only Foley sounds and on location recorded natural ambience sounds. I wanted to make sure the audience feel the realism and be a part of it.
That’s brilliant! Tell me something about you, how did you get inclined in making films, when did you decide to be a filmmaker?
I grew up in Agra and was always into films but never thought it will be my profession of course (smiles).
But then I watched one particular film Shatranj Ke Khilariby none other than Satyajit Ray and it did change something in me. I started looking at films in a different way! Then, after my degree in Media Studies from Pune, I came to Mumbai and tried to assist people to learn the craft of making movies. But since I had no connection in the film industry I didn’t get any exposure. I did various odd jobs and side by side went on exploring filmmaking.
Finally I wrote my own script and started to narrate it to individual producers and production houses. Then after facing numerous rejections I finally met my producer who believed in me.
And that is how my first film ‘Q’ got made (smile).
Don’t you think that with films like Q you Independent filmmakers are the reason why the indie-film scenario is improving in India?
Yes may be it does. But honestly I have a problem when some filmmakers are called independent filmmakers and some not.
Today I choose to make “Q” and tomorrow I may choose to direct a fantasy film or a VFX film, may be even supported by some production house. But ultimately it’s my films, my story and my way of telling them. I even don’t like such categories like, festival film, theatrical film or an online film – films are films, stories are stories and filmmakers are filmmakers!
All the images are exclusively provided only for the use of this article.
In Conversation With Salony Luthra For Her Upcoming Short Film ‘Kajal’
interviewed by Sriram Sundar
Congratulations Salony on your brilliant performance in the short film ‘Kajal’.
Thank you very much!
Tell me something about your role in the film?
‘Kajal’ was a special journey for me!
It’s about a woman’s personal strength. And there are a lot of people who try to curb that, but then once you realize your inner power, it’s a totally different scene all together.
While I was doing the film I realized that we let so many people kill our personality and dominate us. Somebody will say something not nice to you and you start feeling you are not good enough. If that keeps happening over a period of time, you tend to lose your existence. It has happened to me as well, so ‘Kajal’ became a personal journey where I once again realized that I need to make something out of my life and not do something just for the sake of others!
Nowadays there are a lot of films based on women empowerment and ‘Kajal’ is also on those lines. So do you think the situation here in India is getting better or is it still the same?
In India, the conditioning of women is very different to the women in the west. As women, we are brought up in a way where our parent’s happiness and dreams are more important than our own. Our social structure is like that. After marriage, if your husband is liberal then you get to see a different side of life otherwise it’s going to be the same mundane lifestyle for you. Parental pressure for women is such that you forget your own personality. As women, we are very powerful but in India, we are not made to understand that. Hope people change their attitude towards women after this.
How did you prepare for the role? How hard was it to get into such a character?
Pakhi Tyrewala sent me the script when I was shooting for a Tamil film in Singapore. She also wanted me to put on weight for this.
I started observing women around me, like in bus stops, trains where they do not say much and just let things happen to them. Silence can be captured only when you are genuinely silent and it is more about what is happening inside you. So I guess I have given my best and done proper justice to the role (smiles).
What is your dream role?
My role in Tamil film ‘Sarabham’ is once in a lifetime kind of a role. The play that I am working on now is a two-actor play that any actor would break her legs for. I look for roles that empower me at the end of the day.
I have been fortunate to get the roles that I have done till now. I would also love explore World Cinema like French or Iranian films as I don’t feel the language as a barrier!
You gave us an award-winning performance in Tamil film ‘Sarabham’, you are part of several advertising campaigns and you are also doing theatre. So what kind of similarities or differences do you find between theatre, ads and movies?
All are beautiful forms of expression according to me. I had to do a lot of preparation for the Tamil films, as I was not familiar with the language. I like doing performance oriented roles but I will do commercial films if there is something interesting for me to perform as an actor. In theatre, being on stage with dialogues and so much happening around you is just a different feel. Ads are also very realistic and natural. For me, they are all very different and interesting mediums.
Great! And what are your upcoming projects?
Tamil short film ‘Oliyum Oliyum’ is doing the festival rounds right now. My play “Blackbird” is happening at National School of Drama’s (NSD) reputed International Theatre Festival ‘Bharangam’. I recently shot for an international film called ‘Forbidden’ which is also about the journey of my life. So those are in the pipeline.
Wish you all the best Salony and thank you very much for talking to CinemaForensic!
You made the path-breaking cinema ‘Gulabi Aaina’ back in 2003 and sadly enough it was banned in India for all these years. Finally in 2017 it’s getting released on Netflix! Tell me all about the journey of this film!
Ya Gulabi Aaina was my first film. We made it in 2002, because there was hardly anything in terms of LGBT cinema apart from may be few films like, Riyad Wadia’s Bomgay (1996).
Back then, we pitched this concept about ‘two gay people in love’ to several channels but they kept rejecting it because of the content. For them it was not appropriate for the family audience. And so, finally we only decided to make Gulabi Aaina, it was a self-funded project.
We shot on a shoestring budget, and we got help from many friends of ours who believed in the project. Also before this, I did a lot of television, so I kind of had a goodwill too. But that time we did not have any aspirations like who will be the target audience or how are we going to promote this film, festivals or release or this and that. All we wanted was to make the film!
Getting somebody for the character of ‘Samir’, who plays this bisexual guy in the film, was a little difficult because no body wanted to play that role. Getting the drag queens were relatively easy because I knew them, I mean they were real life drag queens whom I asked to act in my film.
And then the Indian Censor Board said it was vulgar and offensive, but the fact is there’s absolutely nothing vulgar in Gulabi Aaina!
Actually the problem was that they were just not used to seeing men dressed like women and yet being so comfortable; not at all apologetic of who they are! The film also questions patriarchy; like in general it is the men who prey upon women but here the drag queens are preying upon a man who is reduced to a mere sexual object. I guess that really made them uncomfortable.
So we applied for the censor certificate three times before finally giving up (laughs).
So what was your next step, what did you do?
How long can you stay with one film, you need to move on. So we moved on to make my our next film Yours Emotionally!, which was actually sexual in content; Gulabi Aaina was a saintly film compared to this one (laughs).
Yours Emotionally! is actually about lust and how it develops into love, you know. And also the film questions ‘what is identity in India?’ All these identity boxes – gay, bisexual, transgender – they all come from the west. Earlier people just lived their lives here without being categorised and identified by such terms.
Anyways, so this film, we didn’t even submit to the censor board (laughs). It got screened outside India and distributed in the DVD market – that was a very big thing for us!
Though I have tried a lot of different genres in television, i mean thrillers, comedies, hetero-normative stories and all. But then I felt that making LGBT films – it’s a niche that I want to occupy, and it gives me the most satisfaction. It didn’t give me money though (laughs).
But ya, coming back to Gulabi Aaina, it even went on to become a part of a university’s curriculum on ‘gender and studies’. And now it got released on Netflix! Great!
That’s really great! Tell me something about your latest documentary “Breaking Free” which recently won a National Award for editing, right? How did it all begun?
The thing is that my earlier two films Gulabi Aaina and Yours Emotionally! were both self funded films but then how long can you fund your own films? It doesn’t work that way. It is very challenging in India to make LGBT-themed films. So my third film 68 Pagesgot the funding from the Humsafar Trust and Solaris Pictures. We had a great cast Mouli Ganguly, Jayati Bhatia and Joy Sengupta. But we didn’t manage to get a release because it dealt with HIV/AIDS.
And then I had a long gap from 2008 to 2014. I did not feel like making a movie at all.
At that point to time I started documenting LGBT events and lives, doing documentaries, as they are comparatively far cheaper than doing narrative films. And being a gay man myself, I had easy access to our community and of course, everyone felt that these stories are needed to be told. So from 2008 onwards I started documenting the community like interviewing them, talking to them. I had 300 tapes of my recordings that said different stories of people!
All that first led me to do Purple Skies, a Public Service Broadcasting Trust funded project which told all kinds of powerful stories from our community, some angry stories talking about violence and injustice, while other stories were happy and romantic. The film went on to several festivals and was shown on Doordarshan too!
Then at the same time Supreme Court said that the Delhi High court verdict on Section 377 is not valid, and it was a very difficult time for our community. Being an activist for the last twenty years, I personally felt that with one stroke all our hard work has been demolished and it was back to being ‘you are illegal’. The documentaryBreaking Free talks about the effects of Section 377 on the community. It traces right from the first case till the latest and shows how the law had been misused. How many LGBT persons are being blackmailed, how the police are twisting the law in order to abuse and harass the innocent people.
But like all my films, Breaking Free also has happy stories of young people coming out, being romantic and everything. Being part of the community, it is an insider saying the story, and the film was also a great personal journey for me. It got premiered in 2015 at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and went on to screen at several international film festivals. It was a great surprise and joy when it got selected for in the Indian Panorama section! And then it went on to win the National Award for Best Editing, which was like a crowning glory!
It was an honor to receive the National Award in Delhi; my family had come there when I received it from the President, it was a moment of my life!
While Breaking Free has won accolades and acclaim, not a penny has come through the film till date, but we need to see about its release and distribution as well.
A great honour indeed, congratulations to you Sir!
Thank you so much!
And finally when did you decide that you wanted to be a filmmaker? Were you interested in cinema from your childhood?
Well, I used to watch a lot of movies in my childhood. Though I am from South India, my mom and I used to watch Hindi films.
In 1980’s, we had only two options in India, either you become a doctor or an engineer. So after getting done with my engineering, I did my Masters in Visual Communication from IIT Mumbai. From there onwards I was interested in making films.
Then I did a lot of television – Rishtey, Gubbarey, Kagaar, Krishna Arjun, Pyaar Ki Kashti Mein and all, before finally deciding to make films.
For me the whole idea of using Cinema is to pass on social messages in an entertaining format, that really is what intrigued me. Every scene that I write till now is to get an emotion or a reaction back from the audience!
Overall an interesting journey till now, I have always taken roads which I didn’t know where it will lead me to. Even when I came out as a gay man it was a complicated decision, it was in 1990 when very few people used to come out.
If ‘Gulabi Aaina’ was made now, what do you think, i mean could it get released?
Gulabi Aaina being a 40 min short film it maybe challenging; you see, very few documentaries or short films in India gets actually released in theatres. Distribution system neither supports short films nor the movies that are away from the mainstream. If Gulabi Aaina was made now and sent to the Indian Censor Board, I know it would have got an ‘A’ certificate. But with ‘A’ certificate, you can barely get theatres for release.
So I personally think Netflix is a much better option for this film as people can watch it how and when they want to watch it.
Our latest film, Evening Shadows on which I am currently working will be a theatrical release though (smiles).
All the images are exclusively provided only for the use of this article.
Milind Dhaimade – an independent filmmaker who believes that everybody is born for some purpose in life and for him it is film making!
His film Tu Hai Mera Sunday is been considered as one of the most entertaining films at the recent Mumbai Film Festival and immensely appreciated as well.
In Conversation with Milind Dhaimade as he talks about his journey as a filmmaker!
Hi Milind, Welcome to Cinema Forensic.
Thank you so much.
Your film ‘Tu Hai Mera Sunday’ was screened in Mumbai Film Festival and got a very positive response. Feels good?
I never thought of Tu Hai Mera Sunday as a festival-film at all. It’s a very ‘happy’ kind of film, if you know what I mean. It’s a Bombay-story and bits of it is from my life. So when we got selected for Film Bazar and for BFI London Film Festival, I was pretty shocked! I mean wow! looks like we have made something that also has an international appeal (smiles).
But for me the real joy is always home you know. You want to know what will people think in India, in Bombay. We did some screenings and we always got positive responses from the audience. And that’s why Mumbai Film Festival was fantastic for me, home ground – the ultimate test and it all went so well!
Superb! So tell me how did it all start, you have an advertising background right?
Yes. See, though I come from a non-filmy background but from my childhood I was very much interested in theatre and films.
But I come from a tough family where people expect you to have real jobs. Then somebody told me about advertising where you can be creative and also have a job, like I can write and make my own stuff. And that’s how I started the journey of advertising and I enjoyed it very much; a great training process of instantly thinking on your feet, thinking of 10 different things at one time and all. But at the back of my mind this filmmaking thing was always there.
So when did you start planning to make a film?
Actually there was no proper plan as such. It was not like ‘ok look, so after ten, twelve years I will make a film’.
While making ad films I met some very good filmmakers and had a great time working with them. Soon we (me and my wife) were way up in the corporate ladder, we could go higher as well but at some point you realise that the higher you go the lesser is the creativity part you know. It’s more of people management and salaries and stuff like that. Then we realised that we are getting away from the things we liked to do, it’s all about sustaining in the corporate goals and all.
At that time in 2005, me and my wife had a chat and decided we should do what we always wanted to do. So we quit our jobs and started planning to make a film. For me it’s like from a very early age you know that you are born for a purpose and you kind of know that you are gonna do it somewhere down the line no matter when. So I was pretty sure about this. The only thing I didn’t know was how?
So by this time you have decided on a particular story?
I started developing a few stories, and then what happened, I had a friend in advertising, Vinay Kanchan and they have a group called Juhu Beach United. So these bunch of guys play at Juhu Beach every Sunday. They come from mixed background and they just love playing football. So it just struck me that what would happen if these guys couldn’t get a place to play on a Sunday – what would they do? That’s how the story started developing.
Finally in 2008 I started writing this, and I took my time. As I said there was no plan or deadline as such. So for one and half years down the line we kind of had the final version. And also over the years I have picked my team, it took time but it’s very important that you choose the right people with whom you want to work.
Then the other thing was shopping the script. Not that we went to too many studios but you also realise that there is a certain film culture here which is little weird, basically it’s not based on scripts but it’s based on casting and actors. But this film is about everyday guys – if you put some high profile stars in it – it simply won’t work. And we were very sure whom we wanted to cast and the casting directors Anmol (Anmol Ahuja) and Abhishek (Abhishek Banerjee) did a great job. Be it Barun Sobti, Shahana Goswami, Pallavi Batra, Avinash Tiwary, Vishal Malhotra, Masnvi Gagroo, Rasika Dugal, Suhas Ahuja, Nakul bhalla, Jay upadhyay and Shiv Subhramaniyum – it was a perfect cast.
So finally we decided to fund it ourselves, put together whatever money we had and the best part is my wife agreed! Surprisingly! (laughs).
And finally in 2015 we started putting it together, by then the script was locked and the casting was done, and the funds ready. Then I spent six months with my music director Amartha Rao, doing the songs and the music. Each song is based on some idea in the film so – we wanted the songs to be really special! And ya, so by May 2016 we were on floor, shooting it.
And so for how many days did the shoot went on?
It was a 38 days schedule – mostly Bombay and a few days in Goa – a week or so. It was amazing because 38 days was 38 days. Nothing went off track and everything was fantastic! My producer Varun Shah had planned it beautifully. Normally whoever comes out of a film shoot comes out with a regret, barring whoever has invested in it but here everybody was happy, everyone enjoyed. All of my crew are actually writing to me saying ‘now make the next film’. We had a great time!
That’s so cool! So after the shoot got over did it take much time in the post?
Yes, we took our time in post as well. It took around six months, I think by 2015 December it was done. We also had some international buyers and distributers interested in our film, so some time went in getting an international cut as well. They wanted a shorter version.
So when is ‘Tu hai mere Sunday’ going to release in the theatres?
See the good thing about this film is it’s not totally a festival film nor entirely a commercial film. It can be very well enjoyed by the audience, intelligent audience. So currently talking to people about the whole distribution and marketing plans – and I am realising a lot of stuff about ‘making-a-film’ Vs ‘selling-a-film’. And that making is actually very easy – like 25% of the whole process. The harder part is of course selling it. But then we have lot of positive responses, but we just have to choose the right kind of partnership. So, it will be releasing soon.
All the best for the release of your film Milind and now tell me something about you, like when did your get interested in filmmaking?
Well, as a kid, when I think back now – I always loved movies. I had a ritual of watching one film a week without my father knowing about it. I would flick money from his wallet and I would go alone and watch films (laughs). Yes, all my childhood I have seen movies alone!
But that time of course I wasn’t thinking of movies as a career or so, it was just my passion. And my favourite thing was to watch these movies and then narrate them to my friends and that too I would put my own masala in those stories while narrating them. I think I loved entertaining people and also the attention!
With my friends I used to do plays in my locality when we were just six, seven years old. During the summer time we didn’t have much to do, so we would write our own crap and perform. Once I remember we saw The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and we made our own play based on that. It was rubbish but that’s how it all started (laughs).
I was supposed to study science and get a decent job, the typical middle-class Maharashtrian path all chalked out for me. But in college I soon realised I was not cut out for science and ended up joining commerce. My dad freaked out and finally decided I should go for CA. I also promised I would study hard. But then I got introduced to theatre and that changed my life.
There was this intercollegiate competition where me along with my friend put up a play and it won all the awards! And after that there was no looking back for me. We started writing, acting and directing our own plays and I thoroughly enjoyed this process. I liked directing more than acting and so I slowly shifted on this side of the camera.
So in college we were obsessed with theatre and films, and now when I look back it’s great, I realise this is what I always wanted to do – making films!
Alankrita Shrivastava – a filmmaker drawn to telling women’s stories, inspired by different forms of art, who sometimes uses books and paintings to prepare actors!
Her second film, Lipstick Under My Burkha was selected and well appreciated at this year’s Mumbai Film Festival.
In Conversation with Alankrita Shrivastava as she talks about her journey as a filmmaker!
Hello Alankrita, welcome to Cinema Forensic! Lipstick Under My Burkha got such a positive response at MAMI this year – how do you feel about it?
Thank you. Yes, it is very exciting, very heartening to know that it’s been so well received.
It is a very gratifying feeling for a film maker when people are watching and enjoying their film; also it is very interesting to see the reaction of people, even from other cultures. My film is rooted in a specific Indian cultural context. So it’s exciting for me to see the universality of emotions and characters cutting across cultural barriers!
Yes indeed. Lipstick Under My Burkha – such a unique name and also a very different storyline, so how did you come up with this idea?
I don’t know, I didn’t think about it consciously. There was this thought that just emerged in my head – that I wanted to tell the story of four women who are kind of cloistered, want to do more with their lives and how they go about doing it.
Even though I am brought up in a very liberal and educated background, I still don’t feel fully free and so wanted to explore that feeling. Sometimes I feel like something is holding me back. I thought that it would be interesting for me to explore that in a way where there are also external things holding you back, not just internal things. The whole idea was that how one can sort of break free even while being cloistered.
That’s very interesting, and when you wrote the script of the film how did you start with it – like you have written the script in one go or like …
No, this script is a very long story in itself, because I thought of the title and the essential concept more or less at one go. I wrote it in 2012 and took it the NFDC Screen Writer’s Lab. That was a very helpful experience. But that time I was also trying to write another film which finally didn’t happen.
So, then at the end of 2013 I decided to work on the script again.
And then I got my friend Suhani Kanwar, to help me with additional screenplay, and Gazal Dhaliwal to work on the dialogue. So the script developed over time.
Most good scripts come out like that only huh?
Ya? (smiles). I don’t think any writer intends to be like that but then sometimes it takes long. But I agree because I feel if you let a thought stay for a longer time it just matures in a way, it deepens.
So, after the script is final, then how do you plan the production, like how did you get in touch with the producers, and what about the casting process?
Casting Koko (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Ratna (Ratna Pathak) was relatively easy – I sent the script to them and they liked it.
Mr Jha had come on board as the producer earlier, since I had been working with Prakash Jha Productions for many years. They produced my first film as well.
But for the other two girls and for selecting the rest of the cast I will give full credit to my casting directors Shruti Mahajan and Parag Mehta. They worked really hard. We tested a lot of people and then finalised Plabita (Plabita Borthakur) and Ahana (Aahana Kumra). So I honestly give credit to the casting directors and my assistants for digging out the many gems in my film. They did a fantastic job!
And so after the cast being decided, did the production start write away?
It took a while. We finished shooting in the first half of 2015. I was editing for a while. Then I took the cut to the Work-in-progress Lab at Film Bazar. The lab was very helpful, because we had editors from other parts of the world, and programmers and producers who were part of this panel. They watched the film a few times and gave us feedback and then an editor actually worked with us. My editor Charu Shree (Charu Shree Roy) and I both gained a lot through that process and made some dramatic decisions about the overall edit of the film.
For me what is nice is that I have really grown with the project because it has almost been like film-school like thing. The screen writer’s lab, the edit lab… And even the actor workshops with Atul (Atul Mongia). He is just fantastic. I learned so much as a director working with Atul, about how to work with actors.
It’s really been a process you know and it’s still going on (laughs) – currently we are finalising the distribution deal for the film’s release and again that’s a challenge.
Wish you all the best Alankrita. Now tell me something about yourself – how did you become interested in films, like from the childhood – your journey as a film maker?
No, actually I went to this all-girls boarding school in Deharadun called Welham Girl’s School and there we had this activity class – where the senior girls would make audio-visual films which were screened at the annual day. It was like huge screen and thousands of people watching. I saw that when I was in a junior class and I just wanted to be one of the girls in that AV team. So I joined the Audio Visual class. I guess that was the beginning for me. I felt the power of telling the story through this medium. Also I always used to read books since I was very young, then my father always told me stories – so this storytelling process was always in my mind. (smiles).
I did my BA honors in journalism from Lady Shriram College and did lots of media internships during that time.
And then I did my masters in Mass Communications from Jamia Milia Islamia. After that I was very clear that I wanted to do films. I started working with Mr.Prakash Jha as a trainee assistant, then one thing led to another. I assisted on Gangaajal and then I was chief assistant on Apaharan, I was associate director on Rajneeti and in between I was executive producer on Sudhir’s film Khoya Khoya Chand and also another film called Dil Dosti Etc. In-between I made my short film (Open Doors with Tisca Chopra), and after Raajneeti I directed my first feature Turning 30!!!
And finally some films that influenced you, made an impact on you as a filmmaker?
I’m not that influence by films in terms of my thought process but I am much more influenced by books, especially female feminist writers like Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison and most recently by Elena Ferrante.
I am not sure I love watching films as much as I love reading books. I love making films though!
Thats really interesting because most of the filmmakers say that films have been their major inspiration but for you it has been books!
Because you know, what I feel is that, honestly if you are expressing yourself in a certain medium, that doesn’t mean that all your influences have to come from that same medium. I think film is after all a coming together of different art forms!
So while directing Turning 30!!! the references I gave to my actors were paintings, and excerpts from novels which I felt represented their characters in the film!
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).
Rima Das – an actor turned writer/director, a rare combination of a spiritual soul and a beautiful smile!
Her debut film Man with the Binoculars : Antardrishti was recently been selected, screened and very much appreciated in this year’s Mumbai Film Festival!
In Conversation with Rima Das as she talks about her journey as a filmmaker!
Hello Rima welcome to Cinema Forensic!
Thank you so much. My pleasure.
Your debut film ‘Man with the Binoculars’, originally titled as ‘Antardrishti’ recently got selected in MAMI and it was very much appreciated by the audience! What do you feel?
I am very happy!
Actually my film was earlier screened at Cannes this year and it recently got officially selected at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival too!
And being a regional film (it is in Assamese) while I was writing the script, I was sure that may be only 30% people will like it. Because ‘silence’ is one of the main characters in the film and I didn’t know if it will connect to the audience. Though I didn’t have any particular audience in mind while making it but then again I was scared; specially in MAMI being the first public screening in India. But people really loved it, even the youngsters liked it. That really encouraged me!
And now I can think about the release of the film. I feel a little relaxed (laughs).
Wow! Silence being the protagonist of the film – that’s really interesting! Tell me how did you come up with the story of your film?
One day at a friend’s place, I saw a pair of binoculars. He told me he was planning to gift it to his retired father. That intrigued me. I wondered what the old man would do with the binoculars. What would he look into, what would be see? And that became the primary idea of my film, and then there are four different love stories also played in the film.
And yes, Silence – actually the films that I could really relate to are those which have more of silent moments you know. Then in Mumbai there is so much noise, I feel people need some time to breathe, and through my cinema I want people to understand the beauty of silence. Personally silence always relaxes me.
So from being an actor to a filmmaker – how did that happen?
While into acting I was always interested in direction. Then I got to know about the 5D DSLR camera, a small wonder with which I can do all my experiments.
Actually in 2009 I made my first short film, ‘Pratha’. It was selected in Chicago Short Film Festival and some other festivals as well. So that way I got some confidence. I understood that I just needed to tell my story, bought a 5D and in the next one year I did almost ten short films and music videos. I kept on experimenting.
But then for my first feature I needed time, and to avoid any external pressure I didn’t want to involve anyone else. So this film is self-produced. I realised that I needed a good cinematographer and lot of time – then only my vision can truly come out in my film. My film is more of a visual thing – it’s a visual poetry!
That’s brilliant! So how was the shoot like?
I wrote the script for almost one and half years while in Mumbai. Then I shifted to Assam and within eleven days I fixed all casting, costumes, location, props everything. Thanks to a bunch of energetic youngsters from my village and my younger cousin-sister Mallika Das who were helping me with all these. Only my cinematographer and the main actor were professionals. Other than that everyone was inexperienced, just helping me out.
My protagonist is working for more than 40 years, he is a National award winner actor! So again it was a challenge for me to direct somebody so experienced along with all the new faces. But I was very sure that I will do only two or three scenes a day, and there were lots of retakes also specially for the long takes.
You also acted in the film right?
Yes, but I don’t think it was a very good decision, probably the only thing I regret while making the film (Laughs). I feel I could have concentrated more on direction but at the time it was also difficult to get some other actress, so I had to do it.
But then also everything went perfect and you have made such a great film! Now tell me something about yourself, where are you from?
See I belong from a very small town in Assam. I grew up watching a bit of television but then again my father being a teacher – it was always like studies come first. I wasn’t aware of much of cinema,
specially world cinema.
But from my childhood I was interested in acting, even in school and college I did plays and all. Then I decided to come to Mumbai and try out acting as a career. But being from North East my Hindi and English were not so good; I was always the best in my hometown but in Mumbai it was very difficult – I got insecure and went into depression.
But one thing that happened good in Mumbai was that I got exposure to world cinema and I got addicted to them. And then I wanted to create, I think that is when the transition from an actor to director happened for me.
And what are your inspirations, any particular films or film makers you particularly admire?
See I like to watch all kinds of films, from Tarantino to Bergman – everything. But then again Iranian films, films of Wong Kar-Wai. Oh and then Terrence Malick – I somehow connect with him more because may be I am a spiritual person and so … I also like to know what is life and all these things you know.
Even Pather Panchali by Ray inspired me a lot!
Even while working on my second film ‘Village Rockstars‘, a story inspired by incidents from my own rural upbringing, I keep taking inspiration from the these great film makers.
It’s like a privilege to watch such directors you know – ‘aisa lagta hai ke humne toh kuch nehi kiya, humme toh bas dekhne ko mila hai!’
All the best for your second film! It all sounds like an awesome journey Rima, congratulations once again!
Thank you so much. Ya, now sitting here and looking back it feels amazing, it’s like a miracle! (laughs).
A sensitive writer, an innovative director and also a fabulous actor – yes that’s Akshay Singh for you ladies and gentleman!
His film Pinky Beauty Parlour is already creating an audience for itself even before it’s been released.
In Conversation with Akshay Singh as he talks about his journey as a filmmaker!
Hi Akshay welcome to Cinema Forensic!
Thank you so much.
Your debut film Pinky Beauty Parlour created such a buzz in the Mumbai Film Festival recently and you have just revealed that it’s also been selected in the Goa International Film Festival! Congratulations – how does it feel?
Thank you! I am really happy, really glad, in fact I got overwhelmed with the response which my film have got!
Usually I had this idea that in festivals only those films get appreciated which are really intense you know. My film though it has a very serious issue but the treatment is very entertaining – it’s a multi genre film – there’s suspense in it, it’s a black comedy and
satirical as well. And then again it’s a social drama about the issue of the skin-colour bias which is very universal issue in a way.
Actually even before MAMI, the first screening we had was in Cannes Festival. There we had a market screening, people from around the globe were there and the response was again very encouraging.
So I was hoping MAMI will also be good but then again I was nervous. The first screening happening in India and being an Indian film, an Indian story – I was expecting a reaction that will give me an idea of how will it go when the film gets actually released in the theatres. And then you see people queuing up for your film and for the first screening some 30 odd people could not see the film because it was house full!
MAMI was indeed a great platform for me and this time they have organised it so well – yes, I am thankful to them.
The reaction of the audience was really good after the screening. Did you felt it too?
Ya. In MAMI the best thing that happened was after the screening I heard someone saying a dialogue of my film! It’s so encouraging when people say ‘apke film ke dialogues bohot sahi hai’ and being also the writer of the film that feels really great – i mean this is something every filmmaker craves to hear right?
Even there is a song in the film that is very catchy – a kind of folk fusion. And for the lyrics of this song I had given a few specific words to my lyricist like ‘talcum powder’ and ‘phair phair gal’ which actually means ‘fair, fair cheeks’ – you know in UP the pronunciation is a little (laughs) … and many people told me that I should promote my film through this song!
Some people after the Q n A session told me that ‘you are a revolutionary filmmaker!’ I was like ‘why?’ – but I think it was because we started a campaign called “Let’s unlearn”. It’s like the skin-colour-bias is something we are taught, not something we are born with. So let us unlearn this thing – you see? One person asked me ‘Do you really think your film will make a difference?’ and I said ‘Ya it might. Now since you are asking this question it is making a difference. And then this is only the first screening!’
Even Aj Tak covered this campaign in a big way.
So how did it all started, i mean the whole journey of this film?
It all started exactly one year back. We started the shoot in October last year. Because my film is based in and around Dussehra, so I shot the whole sequence in real locations in Varanasi during the festival! Lots of guerrilla shoots (laughs).
When I started planning for this film, I chucked out one thing out of myself – the fear of failure!
While writing the script – actually I get many ideas specially when I am travelling and listening to music but I used to keep coming back to this one again and again. This was not even supposed to be my first film – I have written another script which I sent it to Script Lab, Film Bazar, and it initially got selected also. But by then I was so much into this script of Pinky Beauty Parlour, i simply had to make it.
Around July we had a test shoot; I crunched my whole script into five pages and the whole thing was like a short film. So we hired a bungalow in Madh Island and our whole team was there. And me and my wife decided on some guide lines – like nobody will raise their voice during the shoot.
So from this one day test shoot we got the confidence to go ahead and shoot the whole film by ourselves!
Wow! And so you decided to produce your own film right?
Initially I had somebody who wanted to produce the film but at one point of time it was getting delayed because of the funds and all. And I needed to shoot the film in October because Dussehra is in October and my film revolve around that period. And again I knew I can never recreate anything like that. So we had the test shoot and all, we were confident but still we didn’t have the money (laughs).
And then one evening I came back home and told my wife ‘Let’s shoot the film. Let’s plan the first schedule’. And that same evening, you won’t believe me, within ten minutes I got a message from Citibank that you have a pre approved loan of this, this and this – and I was like ‘Wow the amount looks good!’ Seriously man, the universe really gives you if you really want something from your heart!
I totally believe in that Om shanti Om dialogue!
That was awesome! So you started production right away after that?
That was 29th of September when the funds came in and Dussehra was on 20th of October! So we didn’t have even one month pre production time. But the script was so detailed – I must have written more than twenty drafts and then lost count of it. So after working almost two years on this script I was crystal clear about every detail. And being the writer and the director there was no conflict there and so the shoot happened very smoothly.
We had to get up at 4 in the morning but the team was so charged up! We shot in real locations, we even shot a real Ram Leela and people didn’t had a clue! There I completely improvised a scene – just told my DOP to follow me with the camera and I went ahead and said live in front of the stage ‘Yeh 101 rupeeya Pinki Beauty Parlour ke taraf se’ – that whole thing was so spontaneous and completely improvised (laughs).
Again during the Ganga Arti shoot, there is a scene where Sulagna Panigrahi had to go and sit on those steps by the Ganges. And we got it all planned and shot the whole sequence but by the end of the shoot people started to recognise her. Then we had to quickly wrap up and take her away. But it was such a sensitive emotional scene.
You know in number of scenes I haven’t used dialogues at all, specially in scenes when a character is expected to react I have made her go quite, no music nothing. Because I believe silence speaks a lot!
Very interesting! Tell me something about yourself, when did you decide to be an actor, and then how did the transition from an actor to a writer and then a director happen?
I had my schooling from Dehradun, boarding school. I belong to a place called Ghazipur – a small town near Varanasi. So in my school I used to write skits in the annual functions and all, which were mostly spoofs of films. So from that time I knew I had to do something in the film industry. So gradually I realised I wanted to become an actor.
So the moment I passed out from school I decided I need to do theatre and for that I have to go to Delhi. So for my graduation, since I was a good student I got to a very good college in Delhi university. So my family was also happy. But I was more interested in theatres than studies. Soon joined a two year course of Performing Arts and did many plays.
Then after graduation it was time to come to Mumbai. And because of my theatre background I started getting work in television. And in television you are paid well, so that sometimes pushes you in that mode where you get relaxed. So that happened to me as well. In 2003 I got my first break in a show called Kashmir! I got praised for my role by Farooq Sheikh, I still have the message which he sent me!
I learnt so much from the director of the show – the technicalities and all but it was always like what if I had directed this shot myself? I would always sit near the monitor and i think somewhere it was there in my subconscious mind that I want to direct.
I did a few films as an actor, decently made films but not very well promoted – so people are not aware of them. Then I started writing and soon I was writing for some of the big names in the industry. But still somehow things were not really happening and it kind of made me angry.
Ultimately I decided I have to direct my own film now!
So you being the writer, director and also an actor in Pinky Beauty Parlour, it must have been an incredible journey for you!
(Chuckles) In the time of post production I didn’t have any assistants because I didn’t have the money to pay them. So I was alone doing everything. There were days when I slept in the studio only. But this whole thing was a blessing in disguise. I have conceived this idea, like from the first word that I have written till the post production – and today I know everything is my vision and I cannot blame anybody. So this was the journey and I loved it!
And then also after completing the film we didn’t have enough money for marketing and distribution, so we are going for crowdfunding through Wishberry. So in a way we are asking for money also and at the same time our film is getting promoted!
It’s just that I don’t sleep much otherwise everything is good (laughs). It’s huge pressure because me and my wife’s savings are all gone while making this film but then again we made the film in our terms!
And I think it’s people like you who are giving us that platform where I can talk and reach out to my future audience!
My pleasure Akshay. That’s the least I can do specially for films like yours that are made with such integrity and good taste.
Thank you. That’s very encouraging you know, thank you so much!
Nowadays it’s difficult to find the right combination of talent, determination and humility all in one person. And Pulkit, the young and gifted filmmaker have all these qualities and that too with a great sense of humour!
In Conversation with Pulkit as he talks about his journey as a filmmaker!
Hi Pulkit welcome to Cinema Forensic!
How does it feel to watch your first feature film Maroon on the big screen at the prestigious Mumbai Film Festival?
It’s Great! It’s also a very weird kind of feeling I must tell you. You know when your film gets selected in the film festival they do a technical check, so they called me for that. On 24th morning I was sitting alone in the theatre and they played my film. Suddenly I started crying you know – what was happening! Something that I always dreamt about – I felt my career, my schooling, my college, came to Bombay, just being 5 years in Bombay and now watching my own film in the big screen – it was a superb kick!
And then I was very nervous on how people will react, because you always love your baby, but the film is not for you na? So during the actual screening I couldn’t watch the film with the audience. I left the theatre. I came down, had coffee, cigarettes; and my assistant who was there in the theatre, she kept messaging me – like people are smiling, giggling, how they are reacting and all that.
Even after the screening, the question answers and all, I met the audience – ya it was superb. I know I will make another film but this thing won’t happen again – the first time experience – it was like ‘pehli baar apko pyaar ho gaya‘. Very beautiful feeling!
Congratulations again Pulkit! Now let’s begin from the beginning. Tell me something about yourself, your background.
I was born in Bihar, Muzaffarpur. My parents still live there.
As a kid I was never good in studies (laughs). Actually my father being a businessman in Bihar I had so many restrictions – because at that time in Bihar children of businessmen used to get kidnapped a lot. So I wasn’t allowed to play with other kids, it was just going to school and back to home. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t know what was happening around the world. Even in the newspapers it was always stories about crimes and murders. May be that’s why I am so keen in making dark films (laughs).
But the best thing happened to me in Bihar was music. Since I wasn’t allowed to play I got interested into Indian classical music – I played Tabla for thirteen years!
And so I asked my father to get me out of Bihar. And after 10th my dad got me admission into a boarding school in Haryana and I passed my 12th from there and that too with superb grades!
Then I took admission in Amity university Lucknow but I never wanted to be a graduate. So I didn’t attend any classes and just before my final exams I shifted to Mumbai!
It was May 2011. I got admission in Barry John Acting Studio but then again I realised i am too shy to be an actor. Then I tried assisting few people, some of the big shots in this industry. And within two years I became an associate and made good money but still there was no satisfaction. Night after night all you had to do was watch foreign films and copy references from them. I don’t believe in this module.
So, then me and Jyotsana (Jyotsana Nath is the current producer of Maroon), we both decided to quit our jobs and start something of our own.
And soon I wrote my first short film Bombay 1992, but that time we went over budget on the film. So I had to sell my car, ask money from my dad and finally the film got made. This short film taught me how important it is to control your budget.
And then how did the journey of Maroon got started?
Actually before Maroon I wrote another script in 2014 and one of the big studios was backing it at the time but due to their interference in the casting I had to take leave from the project.
Then it was very difficult, people here in Bombay they don’t entertain you, don’t trust you – why will they talk to me, why will they listen to my script? You go to a producer and they ask who is the actor? Then if you go to the actor he asks who is the producer? So independent directors are always in trouble.
So after writing the script of Maroon I narrated it to so many people, everyone loved it and they said ‘you should make it’ but no one actually stood by me. That’s the sad part.
But then Jyotsana was brave enough to come as producer and make this film happen because it was very important for me and Jyotsana to set an example – and we really did it without any compromise!
So after you wrote the screenplay of Maroon you were sure of Manav Kaul as the lead?
I approached Manav in 2014 with a different script of mine, a satire – controversial and dark. Manav said it will be difficult to get this film funded and even released and asked me to write something else instead. He even assured me that he won’t charge a single penny from me!
And then I wrote Maroon. The idea was there with me for some time and I wrote the full screenplay in just thirteen days! I was assisting a friend of mine who was in the hospital and there only I wrote my first draft. And on the 14th day I went back to Manav, narrated the script and he said ‘let’s do it’!
How difficult was it to shoot the entire film within the specific time and budget constraints?
We started preproduction in June and we finally shot Maroon in October 2015.
We didn’t have any production team and we didn’t even know much about production. So a friend of ours, Vivek Kajaria who is a well known Marathi film producer – I asked him for guidance and he came on-board. So we took an estimation of how much money we have in our hands and how many exact days can we shoot without compromising the film.
The good part was all my actors, be it Manav Kaul or Sumeet Vyas didn’t take any money from us. They just loved the script and said ‘we will make it’!
So we shot the entire film in 15 days without a break!
Everybody got so tired. And then again I wanted the film to be handheld and the Alexa camera is very heavy – so my DOP Soumik Mukherjeewas drained and frustrated. For actors also, specially for Manav – what did go in favour of his performance was the actual lack of sleep which his character did require!
Three months of preproduction, fifteen days shoot, three months for sound and for music another four months!
Wow! So how did you plan out the sound design and music for Maroon?
The basic sound design of the film was there in my very first draft. Sound plays such a important role and I always wanted that sound should be the hero of my film. So yes Mandar Kulkarni did a great job.
And for the music Sagar Desai came on-board only after the edit of the film. When I met Sagar I asked him to see the rough cut without sound, without music and asked for his suggestions. And he was so excited and came up with so many ideas – I really liked his excitement.
And lastly Pulkit, now that you have made your film and I am sure you will keep making many more and keep inspiring us, which are the directors who inspired you?
Till 10th, 12th standard I didn’t have much exposure to films. While in Lucknow I started watching a bit of Hollywood films for the first time.
And then of course after coming to Bombay I started watching the so called classics. The first film that really inspired me was A Short Film About KillingbyKrzysztof Kieslowski. Then I watched films of David Fincher, David Lynch andHitchcock. I am always attracted towards dark kind of cinema because I really feel we all have a dark side that we tend to hide from everybody. And I know every one loves to watch dark films.
Thank you so much Pulkit for sharing your journey with us!