Being one of the jury members of the India Film Project 2016, independent filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor talks about his journey in filmmaking and his ideas on the purpose <g data-gr-id="118">behind</g> making films. Excerpts from an interview:
How did you become a filmmaker <g data-gr-id="147">form</g> an engineer?
Oh man! That is a long story. Filmmaking happens to be a passion. I think all of us are wired to do one thing well. Several years into my previous job, it became apparent that I wasn’t interested in doing what I was doing so I started thinking about what really interested me and decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker. So I quit my job came back to India and made the first film. Fate was kind and the movie fared well so I did not have to go back to engineering (laughs). The script of Hyderabad Blue came as <g data-gr-id="208">function</g> of my experiences and it was strictly based on the amount of money I could spend in making the film. I wrote about something I knew and followed it through till the end.
You are known as the most successful independent filmmaker in India. What are your views on independent filmmaking?
The idea of filmmaking is to just tell my kind of stories and get all over the board with different genres in my own sensibilities. The idea behind the term being coined as ‘independent’ is that your decisions are not being driven by the market. Filmmaking is a very very personal journey, it is usually one person’s individual view and there is no right or wrong. It is an art form. When it is governed completely by commercial forces and every decision is made or unmade based on that, then there is an enormous degree of compromise. Independent filmmaking tries to tell stories that the filmmaker genuinely believes in and those are not driven by any of these forces. I have always wanted to tell stories in a certain way, I have been lucky to have had an audience who have followed my films. As long as I have the independent feeling intact, I think I will be as happy to make those films.
What inspired you to be a filmmaker?
The passion and the joy of storytelling! There are so many forms of storytelling- some are verbal while others are written. I find films to be the most powerful and satisfying form of storytelling. The writing element needed for storytelling has been there <g data-gr-id="151">in</g> me, but for a <g data-gr-id="168">film</g> it is always the complete product. Even writing a novel is a completely different skill set. I find my greatest joy in filmmaking.
Most of your films are based on the threads of human relationship...
Most films usually are based on human relationships because it is how you see the world. I am drawn more to the <g data-gr-id="164">common-everyday</g> hero. I do focus on relationships but I think what I am more drawn towards, is the <g data-gr-id="165">common-everyday</g> hero we encounter in life- one may call it the human spirit. When I write my stories I focus on the micro details based on which most relationships play out. Usually in a lot of feature films they focus on the drama and the spectacle. I don’t know whether I make a conscious decision but even though I dabble in different genres I am always drawn to these small details because of which these relationships work.
Both Iqbal and Dhanak can be termed as children’s film... How did you deal with children’s films so differently that both adults and children enjoyed watching them?
I never wrote these films for <g data-gr-id="170">children</g> to begin with, especially Iqbal. Since Dhanak had two children in the lead roles I knew there would be an association with children’s film but I wrote it on the basis of how I would see the world through a child’s eyes. It is very encouraging when you find out that the kids also relate to it. It was only when we released Iqbal that we were surprised to see how the children really loved it. But when I made it and we conducted multiple screenings, we only kept showing it to adults.
When people make “children’s films”, they dumb it down. Even when Disney was making films in the 50s till the 90s, they realised that surely, the kids would drag their parents to watch the films, but it wasn’t until Pixar came along that they decided to make films for both adults and kids by infusing enough intelligence and relatability for the grown-ups to enjoy as well. That is when these films found an adult audience as well. Now since I do not dumb my stories down and write for kids, it automatically is enjoyed by the adults and thankfully also by the kids.
Who are your <g data-gr-id="116">favourite</g> actors and directors?
Most of them are from abroad (laughs). When I came into the industry I had a dream to work with two actors- Om Puri and <g data-gr-id="200">Nasseruddin</g> Shah- and I worked with them in my third and fourth film respectively . Out of the more recent actors I love Nawazuddin Siddique and Irrfan Khan. Honestly from the international <g data-gr-id="187">field</g> there are about 50 actors I want to work with! Some of my all time <g data-gr-id="198">favourites</g> are Tom Hanks and Colin Firth who I find to be sublime while Benedict Cumberbatch is a new hot <g data-gr-id="199">favourite</g>.
Among directors, my <g data-gr-id="159">favourite</g> ones are the Coen Brothers, Phil Solomon, Steven Speilberg and Clint Eastwood. And in <g data-gr-id="160">Bollywood</g> the two people I have always admired have been Hrishikesh <g data-gr-id="145">Mujkherjee</g> and K Vishwanath, a Telugu director. I have definitely been stuck in a little bit of a time warp with the Indian directors.
Since you are interested in working with a lot of foreign actors, what are your views on collaborative movies?
Well, it is a tough and long process but it can happen. The world in shrinking to a smaller place and I hope it happens soon and I am also working towards it.
During the BRICS Film Festival last month it was discussed that the member nations should release each other’s films. What are your views on that?
It is not that easy actually, only when stories are relatable can the films find an audience. It is often said that cinema is universal, but it is not true, some themes are universal which is why a film like Dhanak has done about 48 film festivals all over the world. Some themes translate well, but everything does not.
India has never had a history of watching world movies, it might be easy to say we should release each other’s films but who will watch them? It is only the younger generation, the 20-somethings, who are now completely <g data-gr-id="182">internet</g> plugged and open to a wide variety of films, it is this category of viewers who are embracing cinema from all over the world. But prior to <g data-gr-id="186">that</g> India has never had a history of film viewing, we just like to watch our own films. Predominantly Bollywood plays well usually where Indian Diaspora is major. Collaborations may help gain the audience, but it also depends on the content of the film.
Filmmaking is a long and complex process, which is why sometimes you just want to be in your comfort zone. With foreign technicians with whom you can’t communicate without translation, it becomes very tiring. I sometimes cannot work with technicians who cannot speak Telegu, Hindi or English- the only languages I know well. It is not easy doing a collaborative project unless it makes economic sense at the end of the day.
What are your thoughts about the 50 hours challenge in India film Project? How do you judge a film?
You are just given a finite amount of time and a topic and you have to write, direct, shoot and edit the whole film and deliver it in fifty hours. I was eager to see what these new kids have to bring to the table. I always expect a film to talk to me and then it depends on how I react to the film. The unfortunate part of being a director is that then comes the breakdown as you start judging the lighting, the camera work, the sound design- but I only come to it if the film as a complete product has appealed to me. To judge them on a creative aspect is very difficult for the restricted time limit.
How did you come up with the ideas for your films about social issues?
I never dealt with social issues, other than Lakshmi, as a means to make a film. I only have to find a story first and then all the social issues I am passionate about. I weave it into the story only if they are relatable. But the only film that I actually came to make purely from my conscious decision was Lakshmi. I was very clear that I wanted to tell this story and then I went looking for a story to eventually find Lakshmi’s story. A film at its core has to entertain first, then as a special benefit if you can bring some kind of social change that is great but the first idea is to purely entertain.
What would be your message to young and aspiring filmmakers?
Years before I was finding the courage to give up my regular life and become a filmmaker I stole something and made a simple B&W poster out of it and put it on the wall opposite my bed- it is Nike slogan- ‘Just do it’.