Abhishek Chaubey, Honey Trehan and Konkona Sen Sharma are embarking on a new journey together with their film, A Death In The Gunj. The film not only marks the transition of Konkona Sen Sharma from actor to director, but also that of director Chaubey from a director to producer and of Honey Trehan, who was Creative Producer on Talvar, to producer. Chaubey and Trehan are stepping into a new zone with their recently launched production house, MacGuffin Pictures. The trio talk about their new venture, the film’s script and how they came together as a team.
Box Office India (BOI): It’s a new beginning for all of you – for Honey Trehan, from casting director to producer; for Abhishek, from director to producer; and for you, Konkona, from actress to a director. Tell us about your journey and what made you decide to start this new venture.
Honey Trehan (HT): Abhishek and I have been working together for 12 to 13 years and most of the films we worked on were under Vishalji. Then Abhishek started making his own films and I was a part of them too. I started as associate director for Vishal Bhardwaj and with Abhishek I started off as a second unit director for his films -Dedh Ishqiya and Udta Punjab. I worked with him as a casting director on his films too. So we were always working together. Even with the scripts that I write or plan to write, Abhishek is actively involved in them. So, we were, like, what is that one thing we can do together? And we both wanted to turn producers. I thought we were adequately equipped to set up our own production house but we thought that we need to launch it with a very good film. Things progressed when I was travelling from the Udta Punjab shoot to Talvar’s set. I met Konkona on the sets of Talvar I pitched another film to her, she asked me who was producing the film and I told her that I am.
Konkona Sen Sharma (KSS): I was, like, why don’t you produce my film? I was also looking for producer.
HT: I had heard about her script from Vishal sir and that she had written a beautiful script. Later, I read the script and I asked her what was the status of the film and she told me no one was onboard as yet and no one is producing the film. So I told her that I would produce the film. Abhishek also loved the script. It is a beautiful script and she had written it like a film and not just a story. It was not just a project that you shoot. But it was written with such detailing and precision in terms of editing too. Abhishek was also very impressed and we were, like, okay, this is a good film to launch our production house with.
BOI: Konkona, you have directed your first film with debutant producers…
KSS: (Cuts in) I don’t think they are debutants because they have much more experience than I have and I am very grateful. I mean, it was just a story in my head then and I simply wrote it down as a script. I didn’t think of it like I was writing a script. I just had a big idea in my head and initially thought that I would give an hour long narration to people. I thought I would get someone to write it but I would have had to explain it to someone else. Finally, I decided to get an assistant who would help me with the final draft as I am very bad with technology.
So we wrote the whole script and then I went to the NFDC Lab, where the script went through several changes, 6-7 drafts, and I had a great mentor there who helped me. Initially when I spoke to people about the story everyone liked it. But it was when I spoke to Honey that everything came together. I was so relieved that somebody else could see the film in a same way that I saw it. I feel very grateful to get this opportunity where I am making what I had in mind, and with people I know so well. I have known Honey and Abhishek since Omkara days and also through the years. So it is a set-up that I have faith in and can trust creatively and otherwise as well.
BOI: Abhishek, how did you decide to make the transition from director to a producer?
Abhishek Chaubey (AC): It is a natural transition in our industry, where most directors have turned producer and the rest are waiting to make that leap. I think the reason we do that is to have more control and more power over the kind of films we want to make and the way we want to make them. It also helps one understand this medium better, by becoming a middleman between you and the film. That is why I turned producer, and to do it with Honey was great for me because Honey has great knowledge of enterprise, which I completely lack.
HT: Being modest.
AC: (Laughs) It helps. I wouldn’t have been able to do it alone, I have a great partner and we have a great script. No sooner had we thought of starting a company than Konkona’s script came to us. It’s very funny because I knew about the story for many years and, one fine day, Vishalji told me that Konkona had written a script and I was…
KSS: (Cuts in) It is also because he knows my parents.
AC: Yes, so Vishalji told me that Konkona has written a script and when I read the script I thought it would make a great film. Although I had always believed that Konkona had a lot of talent, I was surprised with the quality and detailing of her writing. I feel extremely lucky to be making this film as our first production with Honey.
BOI: Both of you have worked in the industry for a long time. Did you wait for that perfect time, perfect film, to turn producer?
AC: We are lucky that we decided to turn producer at a time Konkona’s script came to us. It was a stroke of luck. We didn’t have very high standards and it could have been very difficult to find a story or a script that we liked. So we are fortunate things turned out the way it did. And the reason we turned producer… we have been in the industry for more than a decade so the time was right.
BOI: Did you do any homework before turning producer?
AC: Convincing ourselves was the hardest part.
HT: When you are a technician, you are always abusing the producer, so it is a big deal to actually become a producer.
BOI: Does budgeting kill your creativity, now that you have turned producers?
HT: Not really. We are producers by default, we all are film directors, we all have that kind of background. So all of us think like directors, we never once told Konkona to cut down on costs. Just yesterday I was talking to the cameraman and he said he needed an equipment for 12 days. I told him he could have it for 30 days, if needed, nothing should go wrong. Our director should feel that she have everything at her disposal. And Abhishek handles most of the creative work. We try to divide our work.
BOI: But you have not balanced budgets before.
AC: Yes, but even as a filmmaker, the budget is your responsibility too. You can’t say that bhai, mein toh film bana raha hoon budget aap dekh lo. We don’t do that, at least, not with films that I make or films that I have been part of because we don’t make full-on masala movies. So, if the film is hatke, we prepare a budget that is reasonable. It was part of our training while we were with Vishal sir, ke bhai budget dekho aur samjho, see what it costs. He taught us that. So I know how to make a budget, how much a camera costs, etc. Being a director it is important to know these things.
HT: Yes, being a director, these things are important. You have to understand how filming cost works, how they are made, it is not only about having a vision, locking a script. There is more responsibility and the working with Vishalji really helped us understand budgets, what kind of production is needed when somebody is shooting, how something can suddenly cost more. A Death In The Gunj has an ensemble cast but it is not a big-budget film and because it is not a very big film, we have to be smart about how we use our resources. For example, we know we need a quality camera to shoot this film. So we look at cutting costs elsewhere because this equipment is necessary.
BOI: Vishal Bhardwaj knew both of you would turn producer someday. How did he react when you told him you were finally taking the plunge with this film?
HT: I saw an instant happiness on his face, that people who have been working with him for so long are taking a step forward. He has always been very supportive and he said that whenever we needed him, he would be there.
AC: He knows we will always be there for him and we too know that he will always be there whenever we need him. We know he will support us.
BOI: These days, filmmakers announce the release date of a film before it even goes on the floors. Have you decided on a release slot for A Death In The Gunj?
AC: No, it’s a film we want to take to various international film festivals, so once we do the festival circuit, we will release the film in India.
BOI: Other than this film what are the other scripts you have been approached with?
AC: We met five to six new directors recently and listened to their script narrations. I want to keep listening to new stories so that I stay in the loop about what is being made and what new directors want to make.
HT: But right now, we want to get this one right. Mushkil se producer bane, aisa nahi chahte ki ek film banaye aur phir dukaan band karde aur purane job pe wapas chale jaye. (Laughs)