The Colour Of Love
Team Chauranga talks about the film’s unique journey, being recognised at some of the most prestigious film festivals, and how close it is to the real-life incident that inspired its script.
BOI: Let’s start with how the story came about, how the film started rolling, and how Bikas got everyone on board.
Bikas Ranjan Mishra (BRM): It started with a simple newspaper headline about a boy who gets killed for writing a love letter. I wrote the script’s first draft and applied to NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab. I was selected and that’s where I met Onir. Those were the early days of this film’s journey. The film we shot was the tenth draft but Onir had read the first draft in 2010 and he told me, then and there, that he would like to explore the possibility of working together by introducing the film. Although inspired by a real-life incident, it is not a documentary or even a reconstruction of the real incident. Rather, I have used a creative device, whereby, instead of exploring the actual incident, I have explored society.
BOI: Onir, why did you come on board for this film? We are asking because making a film is all about money…
BRM: I still ask Onir why he chose to produce this film. I guess the answer is that, for Onir, at least, making a film is not all about money, or else Onir and Sanjay wouldn’t have made this film.
Onir: Like he said, I read the script soon after Locarno (film festival). Actually, at the airport, Bikas asked me if I would like to read the script after we finished the Lab. It was coincidental that I was in the same Lab with my script and we both had the same mentor. I read the script and liked it immediately, so I shared it with Sanjay (Suri) and asked him if we should do the film. Sanjay was equally fascinated with the script. For us, right from the time we started working on films together with My Brother Nikhil, we have always wanted to do films we believe in and the kind of films we like watching. First, the story should excite us. Then – and maybe this is not the wisest thing to do – it has become a habit to think of the economics later. We first decide to make a film and then go about trying to make it, and in our own little way, it has always worked. Everyone refused to make My Brother Nikhil but it happened because we believed in it. Everyone refused to make I Am and we crowd-funded and made the film. Similarly, Chauranga was not an easy film but we believed in it and I told Bikas that it would take some time. We didn’t know how we would raise the money but we wanted to do it. I remember having set a deadline, saying that if it does not happen in the next 15 days, then Bikas could take it back. But it happened. I believe that if you really love a story, you will find ways to tell it.
BOI: What about you, Tannishtha and Sanjay? Sanjay, you are also co-producing the film.
Sanjay Suri (SS): Yes, Onir and I produced it together. The journey started with My Brother Nikhiland we made Sorry Bhai, I Am and now Chauranga. There are two more films in post-production. To digress a bit on the earlier question… I think we are more like ‘out of the box India’ rather than ‘Box Office India’ but we are happy with the way we are. So money is important but that is never a deciding factor to get attached to a film. Going back a little… Onir discovered a film at the Lab and one of our other projects which Onir was writing, Shab and Chauranga, were in same Lab. That is where they discovered the latter script and mailed it to me. I think they were on the lookout at the time. He mailed me the script. I loved it just as much as he did but we wanted to meet Bikas and understand his vision. We also needed to gauge his level of patience because I had to tell him that we would make the film but that it would take some time. The film, after it was made, it won the Best Film at MAMI last year and the Best Film at IFFLA (Indian Film Festival Of Los Angeles) Grand Jury Prize. So this film has had many milestones. This also validated our faith in the film, not that were ever deterred, but continued it enough till it was completed, and now hopefully enough that it will get written about in Box Office India (Laughs) or at least get a mention.
Tannishtha Chatterjee (TC): …for making an ‘out-of-the-box film’! (Laughs). Actually, Onir and I have been friends for a very long time and had always wanted to do a film together. Then, one day, he called and said that he was not directing this film but the script was really good and that Bikas was directing it. He asked if I would like to read it. I liked it, I met Bikas and we just did the film. I had a great time in Santiniketan, shooting for the film. I was treated to the best Bengali food and I had a lot of fun. We shot in a beautiful, pristine village… our villages are so stunning! I am very glad that I did the film and films like these are difficult to make and release. What I appreciate about Sanjay and Onir is that they always make it a point to get a good release for all their films, and that’s what we are expecting for Chauranga as well. Also the fact that we won all these awards gives it validation. There are many independent films that are being made but in today’s times but MAMI is probably one of the best Indian film festivals and to win the Best Film award there is no small achievement.
BOI: Both of you have done a lot of out-of-the-box films. Some of them have succeeded, some of them haven’t. But times have changed and films like Ankhon Dekhi and other such films are doing very well. Do you think the time is right or you just have to promote…
SS: I feel there was always a market for films like this. The ’70s saw some great independent films and it was called ‘parallel cinema’ then. But then mainstream actors started doing parallel cinema and the lines got blurred. Chauranga is ‘Indian cinema’ and Bollywood is part of Indian cinema but Chauranga is not part of Bollywood. There have been instances… like the beautiful Marathi film Killa being showcased in Gurgaon, which means it’s a healthy trend. Ankhon Dekhi, Masaan, Killa and Court… Films like these are finding an audience.
The challenge lies in the exhibition modules and there are enough distributors today who would come forward and service your distribution. They may not put out the money but they will service your distribution. So the challenge lies in marketing this film. That’s one challenge, and the second is exhibition. The consumer pays 300-400 per ticket plus 150 on popcorn plus coffee and parking. That amounts to 600-700 on an independent film. I think that’s where the challenge lies. That is where many decisions are taken. When people spend that kind of money at a multiplex, they usually want something larger than life, and then you are pitched against films made with hundreds of crores of rupees. That’s when the three-crore and four-crore films find it difficult. India does not have anything like the European distribution set-up or the outhouse chains or outhouse cinemas in the West. I think once the exhibition is changed, films like this will definitely see bigger numbers, much bigger numbers, at least five to ten times more than now. Today an independent film stops at 6-7 crore, theatrically, yet there is a business potential of at least 20 crore. But there are many cities we have not been able to tap because they feel that people won’t watch them. I was in Kanpur once, and there was a documentary being showcased. It was being screened at a 150-200 seater and an extra 75 seats had to be brought in. So the audience exists – but not for 600; they are probably there for 100-150.
BOI: What are the challenges you face while marketing a film like Chauranga?
SS: Paid news… I think this is one of the biggest issues.
Onir: That is one of the biggest tragedies. The media is supposed to encourage anything good whether good art or good cinema. Let me give you an example. When we won the National Award for Best Film and Best Music for I Am, the news featured in a tiny space in one of the leading dailies on the fourth page, while the Best VFX, which was a very big film, received front-page treatment. But that was four years ago. Now, despite winning the Best Film Award or whatever, you will never be featured. It is sad because often those films don’t have the content; the full-page article will be about clothes, shoes and everything else that has nothing to do with the film. Here we have a film but we don’t have those marketing products to market the story. The media, instead of supporting those voices, is actually contributing to killing that voice.
SS: The entire ecosystem of creating awareness for independent cinema doesn’t exist. The ecosystem works for mainstream movies and it works wonderfully for the makers and studios and publications, because the entire wheel is greased and they are riding on big money. But, 10 years ago, people didn’t realise they were creating a Frankenstein monster and now they are paying for it.
Onir: Also, in terms of pure commerce, I don’t see why someone should pay the same amount of money for something. Isn’t the price of travelling business class very different from economy class? Both passengers have the same destination but the experience will be different.
SS: But then you have a chance, you can charge more as our films are very good! But, getting back to talking about the challenges… you don’t lose hope, and I don’t know if we are suicidal or commercial filmmakers, but we generally like films that we can carry home. Films that make us think, engage, educate, provoke, start a dialogue… I like those films. I watched Masaan and I was thinking of the film for the next one week. And if some films are like popcorn, you need to digest popcorn as well! (Laughs)
Onir: We are always being told that. When we did My Brother Nikhil, people told me it was before its time. When we did I Am, it was before its time. So we were, like, okay maybe, somewhere down the line we will be the first ones to do a certain kind of film, we will be the first ones to introduce crowd-funding, after that everyone did it. It feels good to know that we pioneered certain things.
BOI: And a producer who is also a director?
BRM: I think it was for difficult for Sanjay because he had to play a double role. He had to deal with production hassle and he also had to play his role. It wasn’t difficult for me and it was, in fact, easier because I didn’t have to deal with the tantrums of an actor. He was always worried about the money.
BOI: What are your expectations from the film?
Onir: I think anybody and everybody who makes a film, a 100-crore film or a 1-crore film, wants people to like it. That is most important and you want it to do well within its own space. We are proud of the product and hope that with every film, our films’ reach increases.
SS: It is all about reach, to reach out to the discerning audience. It is about theatre mapping and figuring out how to reach those centres, because if you think about spreading out yourself, then you need to create awareness. I will be happy if my film does well in Cochin too.