A film finds its own viability and survives on its own – Spandan
Cinema is everything for independent filmmaker Spandan Banerjee. After his stint as a cartoonist and in the advertising industry, he formed his very own banner called Overdose Films, where music and humor play a crucial role in the stories. Through his recent film City of Dark that recently premiered at the New York Indian Film Festival 2016, the filmmaker has found a new way of exploring dark subjects. While speaking to Pandolin, Spandan reveals how his upcoming projects will take a break from his usual style and treatment, which has often been compared to musical forms.
Tell us about your film City of Dark – the genesis of the idea and the storyline.
City of Dark comes out of the negotiations and the attractions of living in Delhi. It is out of love and hate, which often collide if you live in Delhi. The three characters are all outsiders to the city in a sense, and their meeting over two trips across the city is a part of some of our odd experiences that come as a part of spending your years trying to fathom this city and its vastness, in the kind of people you meet here and their responses.
The story is essentially about three characters; a man and a woman who are attracted to a stranger, except that strangers have secrets and agendas of their own. So it’s about these characters and one common premise that is mistrust and how mistrust leads us to think in a certain way.
City of Dark comes out of the negotiations and the attractions of living in Delhi
When and where was the film shot?
It was shot over two-three years in Delhi. There are some real situations in which the actors, as characters, were thrown and the rest, of course, is fictional. It has a curious mix of real and unreal which is definitive of life and I wanted to keep it that way in this film.
City of Dark deals with a city hopeful in the day and unkind after dark. Does dealing with dark subjects come naturally to you?
If you see my earlier films, they are not dark. I like to deal with subjects with a generous sprinkling of humour. It helps to take things with a pinch of humour, be it moving houses and displacement in To-Let or my three-part documentary on our struggles with English language, called English India which recently premiered at Hot Docs 2015. Humour is necessary in my films along with music.
City of Dark is my way of getting into dark subjects in the films that I make. After this film, I want to explore a different kind of language, a break from my earlier style and treatment, which has often been compared to musical forms. To-Let was compared to a jazz film, Beware Dogs of course was a rockumentary and so on.
The next few fiction films that are at various stages of development and planning are dark and I have truly enjoyed. They are getting into areas of discomfort and self-revelation, the darkness within and psychological games. In fact, I was recently looking at the three screenplays, which will be produced at some point, and thinking about almost all of them are in the genre of thriller, horror and psychological revenge drama.
I like to deal with subjects with a generous sprinkling of humour
The film had its premiere at New York Indian Film Festival 2016. What kind of expectations did you have from the festival?
NYIFF is one of the loveliest film festivals and they curate cinema from all over India. I have had a long relationship with this festival as Beware Dogs, my 2008 rockumentary, which premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival had its U.S premiere at this festival. I have had a great time interacting with people and audiences in New York and it gives a great sense to what kind of films the Indian diaspora appreciates. And two of my co-producers are from U.S.A and are a part of the Indian diaspora here and they related to the story of City of Dark from day one.
Be it City of Dark or your previous films, you have often caste actors who aren’t part of mainstream films. Is that because they relate and respond to your style of working?
Actually, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty who plays one of the principal characters of City of Dark is one of the most popular Bengali actors with a huge fan following. He has in fact been the face of Feluda, the famous detective created by Satyajit Ray. So he is really not a non-mainstream actor but yes I have no such rules. I am happy to cast actors from alternative and mainstream spaces depending on the project and its requirements.
The subjects of your documentaries or films have always been quite diverse. How do you choose your stories?
I think there are so many subjects around us in our everyday lives; if I could I would make many many films on everything that catches my imagination and visual fancy.
And I like subjects that I can give a unique visuality, like language. English India will be a documentary in three parts tripping into our country through its languages and laughter. Beware Dogs, way back then, was a rockumentary around the band Indian Ocean, which was actually niche at that time in 2006-2007 and then went on to become a very popular one with a mass cult status.
There is also a lot of realism in your films and documentaries.
Realism is the necessary form for documentaries. Real people and real subjects are a part of the discipline of documentary filmmaking. In fact in documentary forums where my films have traveled, I have often been told that they see a lot of fictional and artistic elements so I am not sure how to take it. I am still curious about how my films are received or interpreted.
Real people and real subjects are a part of the discipline of documentary filmmaking
How important is music?
Music is very very important for me to survive and to function. Music is everything, it’s like breathing. It brings life into everything and anything. It will always be a very intrinsic part of my films, it doesn’t matter how it is used as songs or as a structure.
What role has Delhi (a city you almost disliked in the beginning) played in your journey as a filmmaker?
Delhi doesn’t function anywhere in any journey of a filmmaker because it is not a film city. I liked the city because I enjoyed the space and freedom and the fantastic friends I have there. Yes, it has inspired my earlier films. I have been lucky to be able to take the positives from the city even though it is seen as a difficult city, which it is, but then what is not difficult in this world. And City of Dark talks of this aspect of the city. And yes I love to stay in Delhi but I no longer live here like before, as I have made Goa my home and I am also constantly traveling between Bombay, Goa and Calcutta.
And what is cinema for you?
Cinema is everything for me, it’s the only device that holds and shows you the time you want to see. Or you don’t want to see.
Has your background in advertising helped you market your films?
I was not in the marketing department of advertising so it doesn’t have any relationship with the marketing of my films. I was in the creative department and I was writing, designing and directing films. I am still doing that but I am now doing it on my own from the day I founded Overdose Films, around 12 years back. Overdose is an independent house and we do films and designs. And I wish that I, as a filmmaker had some marketing know-how, that would have helped my films and me.
Cinema is the only device that holds and shows you the time you want to see
You once mentioned somewhere that you have stopped caring about viability as a filmmaker. What is it then that helps and keeps you going?
I don’t know in what context I have said that but which filmmaker works for viability. How do you create a zero risk project in the case of a film? There are certain things we forget and decide to leave outside the door when we choose cinema or independent films. But at the same time, all my projects were actually viable which allowed me to do the next project. By this time we have quite a set of eclectic films. So I guess a film finds it own viability and survives on its own. My job is just to make it.
What are your upcoming plans?
I am working on two fictional projects and several others are in development. There should be a new film by mid-2017 ideally but you know how films are, till it isn’t done one can’t say anything.