Content-driven cinema has few backers in Mumbai. So we have to go looking for production funds in Europe. It opens things up for us. We talk to people who believe in our kind of cinema. Any partnership that respects the content of the film more than the star cast is a huge boon. That is exactly what I want as a filmmaker.
In India, the kind of cinema that I want to make is perceived as non-commercial. The mainstream players do not want to touch it. That is how it has been since I made My Brother Nikhil in 2004-2005. We approached several studios and private producers, but nobody was interested. So we (actor Sanjay Suri and I) decided to produce the film ourselves.
Conventional Hindi film production houses do not want to back a film that deals with issues of sexuality.
From experience I knew that the I Am series would have no chance of finding backing from the studios. It addresses themes like child abuse, homosexuality, and single motherhood and it did not have big box office stars. So we had to go in for crowd-funding. The Rs 1.5-crore film was entirely crowd-funded.
I am really happy that the experiment worked out for us and we were able to raise enough money to complete all four short films that constitute the I Am series. It is a film literally made by the audience. Crowd-funding through social networking sites is catching on.
Even after we completed the film, no studio was ready to pick it up for distribution. But now that I Am has won two National Awards, the film is suddenly being hailed by the industry.
The censors wanted to give I Am an ‘A’ certificate. I had to fight tooth and nail to get U/A. The censors had a problem because the film touched upon the issues of child abuse and homosexuality. If a violent film like Agneepath can be given a U/A certificate, why can’t I Am be given one?
Big Bollywood films have loads of gratuitous sex and graphic violence but the censors have no issues with that. But when a film addresses vexed social or political themes in a realistic vein, all hell seems to break loose.
As a society, we are hooked to happy films, films that do not raise uncomfortable questions and compel us to think about what is wrong with the world.
We have no problems with escapist films that promote regressive values, but when a small independent film tackles reality and calls a spade a spade, we get all uptight.
Today, the focus in India is overwhelmingly on sheer entertainment. Such films are forgotten soon after they are out of the theatres. But what the likes of Ritwik Ghatak, Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor made were precious films. They will never be forgotten. They are a timeless part of our heritage.
My next film, Shab, is about complex relationships. It is a love story of a call girl and a gigolo. It is going to be an Indo-French co-production. International funding is necessary because there is lack of conviction among the Indian studios.
European cinema is far more evolved. Marketing is left to others; the writer-director is free to focus on the creative aspects. In India, a filmmaker has to think not only about the making of the film; he has to worry about marketing it too. As a filmmaker, I will do what I want to do and I will do it my way. It isn’t easy. For me, cinema isn’t just entertainment. I want to make films that have contemporary significance. The emerging trend of independent filmmakers is a happy augury. Despite all the challenges that confront filmmakers like us, today we do have reason to look ahead with hope.
(As told to Saibal Chatterjee)