Desperate Times, Disparate Skills
Maverick filmmaker and writer, Sharat Katariya, speaks to Pandolin about his maiden feature film that discusses the travails that lie oft in the path of love while solving the many riddles of independent and small-budget filmmaking.
What is 10ml Love about?
Both the film and the director are really mad, funny, chaotic, and honest. The film itself is quite charming. Jokes apart, 10ml LOVE is about relationships and love. It broods comically on why love goes missing from relationships, how people knowingly or unknowingly try to get it back, how such plans misfire, and how people trapped in such dilemmas realize that there is no magic potion for unrequited or lost love.
What kind of inter textual referencing did you indulge in for the film?
There is no specific point of reference for this film, per se. I was trying to write a film around the idea of magic potions for troubles of love when I stumbled upon William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I liked it a lot. I like quirky comedies in film and theater a lot, anyway. I really identify with them. So I thought that I too would write one and do something that I cherish.
On which levels do you think would the audience connect with your film?
On all levels; the audience would connect in terms of the film’s comedy, its depiction of relationships, its performances, its settings, and its events steeped in realism.
Is this your first feature?
Yes, this is my debut film.
Could you please talk about your emergence and evolution as a writer?
The story of my emergence and evolution as a writer is very strange. I was never a writer. I was trying to make 10ml LOVE when Rajat Kapoor read its script. He was doing Bheja Fry then. He told me that I wrote dialogues well and asked me if I wanted to write a film for his team. I wrote the dialogues of Bheja Fry for Rajat and Sajid. Once the film became a hit, I started getting calls to write comedies. They became my trademark. I’ve been writing continually since. Therefore, in a sense, 10ml LOVE happened because I wrote Bheja Fry to begin with. The producers of both these films are the same. That’s how the transition has worked out for me. It was not planned, but somehow chance struck and it happened.
Do you hold yourself back in the face of criticism?
Not really. If a writer holds himself back, he’s not really writing. Whether people like it or not, you have to give it all that you have, your honest bit. You need to be true to your art. You should not repent at the end for not having done or tried things. This applies to all aspects of filmmaking. While writing, I do not care how I would be judged. My laconic temperament finds release in my writing. Writing feels both easy and liberating to me because of the lack of others’ retaliation and cross-questionings during the isolated and independent process of writing.
How would you describe your creative process?
I follow my instincts to the T and am not methodical. I rely a lot on the spontaneity of my crew. I always want them to be on their toes when they are working. I too am completely alert and ready for everything when at work. I feel that trust in instincts is a must for creative work and that there is no fixed method to it. You just keep working at your piece till you get it right. When you feel that it has struck that intense chord that you were looking for, you go ahead with it. It’s all about what you feel in the related moments of creation and creative decision-making. If there’s anything that bothers me, whether it’s a performance, a scene, a sound element, or a shot, I bring it to the attention of the concerned people and departments immediately and ask them to rework it.
How was it working with your DOP, the production designer, and the actors of the film?
I have known the film’s DOP, Neeraj Sahay, for a long time. He too is instinctive and chaotic just like me. The biggest directorial challenge for the two of us was the everyday question of where we should put the camera. As I don’t break my shots down, this question assumed even more importance. We devised a method to assess the answer to this question. We’d ask the actors to enact entire scenes before their make-up and costumes were done. They would thus personalise their spaces and form positions within their respective gridlines till we told them to not simply follow their lines, but to own the entire space, be at ease, and get their emotions across. They’d try various things and we’d keep observing them. When they’d start getting it right, we’d bring the camera, and start the shoot.
Meenal Agarwal, the film’s production designer, has great expertise in getting the right mood and location. I’m very grateful to her for the exactness with which she has made this film’s story stand out. She found amazing locations for us. Because of her we got to shoot in interesting and real spaces: 1) fields where there is no electricity; 2) valleys; 3) lakes; 4) significant locations such as Mohammed Ali Road. She was very motivating, always suggesting that we’d work things out some way or the other. She always kept emphasising the importance of looking at the location carefully. We shot a part of the film in woods. Although it was very difficult to get real woods in Bombay, she somehow managed a location that was densely wooded.
A brilliant thing about both these people was that they reported problems to me directly and did not speak behind my back. I too was quite open to suggestions and criticism from their end. In the beginning, others on set used to ponder why I always took their opinion? With the passage of time they came to understand that filmmaking is a collaborative enterprise and art in which everybody contributes to everything. In a film, everyone needs to know about what everyone else is doing. Sometimes Meenal would tell me that a scene is not working and limp. We’d then go back to the drawing board and start reworking it to add strength and conviction to it.
It was the same working with the actors too. As they gradually became part of the madness we were creating, they stopped questioning it. My laconic attitude meant that 1) I wouldn’t talk too much with any of them, and 2) they wouldn’t come to me with many questions. It seems to me that even though I kept changing the script every second day and kept giving them new drafts, they liked the story and the script enough to stick to them fully and well.
Would you classify 10ml LOVE as an Indie film?
I would say 10ml LOVE is a true indie film as it is independent of the star system, the usual grammar of normalized feature film writing, and all other cliché elements of a regular comic entertainer. There is also no big producer backing it.
Who is that one key person you like to express gratitude the most for your film?
I am really grateful to Shiladitya. He saw the film at Osian Film Fest, liked it, followed it up, and gave us his views on it. I realized that he is the right guy to release the film as he seemed to believe in its significance and identity. We had ten hour long conversations on phone about planning, improvising, and making things work in spite of the constraints of money. We feel that the film would fare well in today’s liberated film-watching market.
Would you classify the film as realistic?
Yes. The treatment of the film is very realistic not just in terms of acting and locations, but also in terms of the lack of unnecessary melodrama. It emotional plane is the emotional plane of real, socialized people. You see, we all have dramatic elements and incidents stitched into lives, but our ways of expressing them or reacting to them is different the expression drama generally comes to assume in Bollywood cinema. As the film has fantasy and magic elements anyway, it would become incredible for audiences if it was laced with melodrama and overacting. The whole film, therefore, has been handled carefully and kept really simple.
Is this film actually you?
Yes, this film is a true representation of my voice as a writer. When you write for a director or a producer, there is a lot that comes from them. You are their writer then. 10ml Love, on the other hand, is completely my voice and bears signs of no one else’s influence.
What kind of equipment did you use to shoot the film? Is your choice of equipment somehow related to your desire to create a specific style in the film?
We shot the film on Arri 435. We used Kodak stock. As opposed to the current trends of getting your film digitally interfaced, we left it in its analogue state. Nothing happened that could be called post production. It, therefore, is an organic film. It also has some day-for-night fantasy parts that we managed in spite of our low budget. We shot the whole climax in four hours flat, and the film took a total of twenty-eight days.
There are two things to filming on film that are central to the aesthetic of 10mm LOVE: realism and organicity. When you shoot on film the realism generated assumes fantastic proportions. Secondly, film has its special organic texture. 10mm LOVE will release digitally, but it was not shot for that platform. We have tried keeping the 60’s and the 70’s Hindi cinema look in the film.
Could you please recount some interesting episodes that could give us an insight into your shoot?
In Lonavala, we would wake up at 2 am on location and shoot. The whole film is set within the space of one day and one night. We shot a lot during the twilight hour, early mornings, and nights. We went to Goa by train in AC 3 tier, searching for a church we could shoot in. Once we found a church we could use, we came to know that we’d have to pay Rs. 10,000 for it. We bargained, settled for Rs. 5,000, as payment, and finished our shoot in a day. Our actors were annoyed a little when they realised that I was taking my chances and didn’t have a fixed, foolproof location in Goa. I persevered in spite of difficulties because my instincts told me that things would work. We were quite lucky that things really did work out. For example, Rajat broke his foot on the first day of the shoot. He, therefore, had to change his look in the film. Yet again, I felt that we’d manage, and we indeed did.
I wrote the script of the film in 2005. Recession struck when we were about to start shooting, and we wobbled. But somehow we managed to pull through.
I wanted Resul Pookutty to do sound for us. When we had just finished editing, he won an Oscar. I got scared and thought that he might not do our film anymore. But I somehow managed to squeeze in some time with him, informed him that we were on low budget, and asked him if he was still interested. He told us that we were thinking stupidly and that he’d kill us if we went to anyone else. It was such a lovely surprise to know that Resul’s spirit towards creative cinema hadn’t changed even after he’d won the Oscar. I was thrilled.
What have you learnt from the film?
My first short taught me to be honest. The second one made me get my production skills right. 10ml Love made me positive, honest, and relentless. I would ask all struggling filmmakers to be relentless, never give up, and be free in their thoughts. We all start out with the idea of a masterpiece in our minds, but by the time we reach the middle of our shoots, we just want to wrap-up. By the time the film is finally ready, you want to get done and be away. That needs to be taken care off. I was lucky as I never gave up on any department for the sake of reaching completion, and I am very proud of it.