Filmmaking is an art that reflects you – Nitin Kakkar
[dropcap]”I[/dropcap] make films for the audience and I make films because I have stories to tell,” says writer – director Nitin Kakkar. His debut film – Filmistaan, recently won the National Award for the Best Feature Film in Hindi. And that is no easy feat. Filmistaan has also toured and won top honors at various national and international film festivals including the 2012 Busan International Film Festival, International Film Festival of Kerala, 2013 Jaipur International Film Festival and more recently the Indian Film Festival Los Angeles. It will soon also see a theatrical release across the country.
The filmmaker, with such revered accolades up his sleeve, in a freewheeling chat with Pandolin speaks about his love for filmmaking, the birth of Filmistaan, the journey of its making, the challenges faced and the ride ahead.
From a horror show on television to a national award-winning film, please tell us about your journey. Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker? Did you receive any formal training?
Everybody comes here to make films. I didn’t come here; I was born here, so even I wanted to make films. When you start walking the path you realize it is not as easy as it seems. In this country with over one billion people, everybody wants to be a part of media and there are many who want to do films.
With regards to television, there is a saying that goes ‘you do what you want to, you do what you have to’. I always wanted to do movies but for the survival part I had to do television. In television you don’t have a choice but I knew that I didn’t want to do daily soaps because it is not my cup of tea. So I was trying to do what I was offered and that was where thrillers came in, political thrillers, crime-based thrillers etc. and that is how it happened.
[pullquote_left]There is not one trigger point. It’s just observations, you see things, you grasp things and then you come out with the concept.[/pullquote_left]
I haven’t received any formal training. There are two problems in formal training, one is the finance that you need to enroll into film schools, which I didn’t have. Secondly the time that goes into completing your film course. You need to be a graduate to join a film school, so you have already invested time in your graduation and then put in 3 more years in film school which is a lot. By the time you get out and start making films you are already 26 – 27 years old. Both the reasons were a deterrent for me.
How did the genesis of your debut film, Filmistaan, happen? Any inspirations while writing?
There is not one trigger point. It is not like I read something and thought about this idea. I have been working on another script that was exploring the Indo – Pak relationships, which was based on the stories of Saadat Hasan Manto. While doing that I was very much interested in the way things are between India and Pakistan. And I am a movie buff and do study films in my own way. As Tarantino said, “I’ve not been to a film school, I’ve been to films.” That is where it comes together and that is how Filmistaan was born. It’s just observations, you see things, you grasp things and then you come out with the concept.
How did you choose the title ‘Filmistaan’ for the film?
We were contemplating on the title. Our first title was ‘Bombay Talkies’ but that is already with Anurag Kashyap. Then we had a working title called ‘Cinema’ for a long time but realized that someone had taken that too. So as we were discussing, there is a gentleman called Ashok who was the creative head on the film and he suggested ‘Filmistaan’. We did have our initial inhibitions on the title but it just fell in place with the concept of the film.
You have integrated a sensitive topic like Indo-Pak with elements of humor. How did this marriage happen? Why did you choose a genre like this for your debut film?
Filmistaan is not a comedy. I don’t know how to bracket it into a genre but it’s a lighthearted film. I think we take life very seriously. If you really look at it, there is no problem. It is all generated. I would like to believe that there is a political agenda behind what we have been fed over the last 60 years. We have created that entire barrier. Sometimes all you need is a hug to make it up. I know in the case of India – Pakistan, it may not be as simple as that, but it can actually be that simple. I wanted to look at the issue from a very common perspective and at the same time wanted it to not be preachy. I just wanted to say that at the end of the day it is about humans, not countries.
[pullquote_right]It was very difficult from a script point of view because there is a very thin line to walk between slapstick comedy, good humor and buffoonery.[/pullquote_right]
What are the elements that a filmmaker has to consider while dealing with a sensitive topic like this?
It was very difficult from a script point of view while writing and executing it as well. That was because there is a very thin line to walk between slapstick comedy, good humor and buffoonery. So I was very conscious as the writer – director of the film that I should not be going into a zone which my film is not demanding. The good thing was that since I was the writer and director it was easy to keep that in check. As far as sentiments of the people are concerned we were conscious about that also. In the film we have no anti – Pakistan or anti – India slogans. The film is not about saying that my country is good or your country is good, both have their share of problems and we need to kind of come out of it.
Please tell us about the shoot of the film? Where did it take place, which camera and format have you used and how much time did it take?
We have shot the film on 35mm using the Panavision camera. With everyone going digital, it was a different decision but we had a shoestring budget. For us, affording a 35mm camera was a luxury in a way. Our initial schedule was for 30 days but we couldn’t afford the film in that so we cut 10 days of our schedule to get a 35m camera. Because it is our tribute to celluloid, our tribute to all the films we have seen over the years, we wanted this tribute to be only on the celluloid format and not digital.
We have shot in Bikaner in summer. It was very difficult as shooting in the desert is not easy but to get the tone of the film, summer was the right time because the desert goes barren and drier which was the backdrop we wanted.
We shot in a village as the film is set in a border village. We had to adapt the setting to our requirement. The basic structure was there but there was a lot of detailing involved. The art directors Urvi Ashar and Shipra Rawal took care of that and we had a lot of discussions over making it look the way we wanted it. For example, it was a Hindu village and we wanted to make it look like a village in Pakistan. So we made changes in a subtle manner and not in the face.
How did you go about choosing the cast of the film? Is there a specific rehearsal method that your actors underwent?
While writing the script I did not have any actors in mind. But I knew that this was not a script for the stars because it was talking about the stars. Sharib Hashmi, the lead actor, who is also a friend, has been part of the writing process as well. He has been credited for writing in the film. But you don’t let your emotions be your casting director and cast someone because he is a friend. You cast him because he is a good actor and you feel that he can do justice to the character. So I did screen test other actors too but Sharib was the most suited for the role. With the other actors like Kumud Mishra, Gopal Dutt and so on also, we met, spoke and then came to a point that they would do the film.[pullquote_left]When you are making your first film every step is a challenge. From the finance to taking favors and telling people to believe in you when you are a no body and asking them to support the film.[/pullquote_left]
I am not a very rigid director but I believe in preparing. But preparing not to a point that you lose spontaneity as that is also a thin line to tread. But we were very conscious of the fact that we had to shoot the film in 20 days. We didn’t want any discussions happening on the sets. So we would meet, talk, read over and over again, discuss the script thoroughly, change all the things that didn’t feel right and come up with the final shooting script. In that manner you save time on the shoot and everyone knows exactly what they have to do. We had lots of readings and discussion as part of the preparation process.
You have worked with cinematographer Subhransu Das during your television days as well. How was the working relationship on the film? What kind of expertise has he brought to the table?
Subhranshu (I call him Chintu) and I began assisting together. We dreamt together about making films and also made a short film on which he was the cinematographer. All of my life, whatever work I’ve done, 80 – 90 per cent of it has been with Chintu. He is a DoP who goes beyond the script, his involvement in the film is so brilliant that it can get addictive. He is completely there in the process when the things are happening. Now that we have done our first film together, I’m glad that whatever we dreamt together, we are slowly getting there.
What kind of music/background score has been used in the film? What was your essential brief to Arijit Dutta?
This is my first project with Arijit (Chinku) whom I’ve know since earlier. I’ve heard his songs and I liked them but wasn’t aware then that they were his songs. We have songs in the film which are used as background score, they are not lip-synced. My brief to Chinku was that we wanted music from the soul. There was no stress of making it commercial. That there should be a tadak – bhadag song, we wanted music that would take the story forward and unveil the layers of it.
[pullquote_right]Go for it with all the zest and power you have and trust me things will happen. If it’s not happening that means you’re not trying hard enough.[/pullquote_right]
What were the challenges faced during the film?
When you are making your first film every step is a challenge. From the finance, to the budget, taking favors and telling people to believe in you when you are a no body and asking them to support you for the film. And I can’t thank people enough who have been on board this film because they have not worked for money but for the love of the film. We are a close-knit group that has come together and made this film. There is not one step that was easy on the film. Except the fact that the 20 days that we shot in the desert, because all of us were so in love with the film, were a cakewalk. We didn’t realize when the shoot schedule got over as it was a fun process. It has been a tough ride all the while but because of the team we had, it became pleasurable. 20 days were really short for a feature film but you don’t have a choice.
Do you think the industry is now more open to new filmmakers? What words of advice would you like to give newcomers?
The industry is opening up for sure and there is acceptance. Though that is a fact, there is still a long way to go. The struggle is far bigger if you are from a non-film background. But the worst portions in our life are responsible for the best times. Filmmaking is an art that reflects you, the life which you have led. And that is why there are varied kind of filmmakers in our industry. There is space for everybody; that is the beautiful thing about cinema.
My advice to them is to be at it. Nobody has the right to judge you than yourself. Go for it with all the zest and power you have and trust me things will happen. If it’s not happening that means you’re not trying hard enough. If you are not from the industry you have to make a larger effort that those from the industry. But the hunger which you have in your belly will drive that. Talk less about your work and do more.
Shringar Films recently acquired the rights to your film and will release it across India. Can you tell us a little about this association? Did you envision your film getting a theatrical release?
We have been showing the film to all the corporate productions houses even before the National award happened. We had the funds to make the film but not to distribute it. Sadly the fact is that the cost of distribution is far more than making the film. In that process we also took it to Shringar Films and fortunately they saw the film, loved it and took it in just 4 days. I’m glad that they believed in the film and then it also won the National Award. The film was initially going to release in June but it is now postponed. So I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that my film reaches the audience.
I definitely wanted the film to have a theatrical release. For me, I make films for the audience and I make films because I have stories to tell. It would be my story, my way of showing it to you but it would be something for the audience. Because when a film reaches its audience is the actual time that it gets completed.
Which other film festivals will Filmistaan be traveling to? Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Filmistaan will be traveling to New York, Seattle and Stuttgart film festivals. As for upcoming projects, I have two scripts ready. I can’t say that I’m making them right now as I am still looking for funds. But I’m hoping that once Filmistan releases, someone comes forward and believes in my work and my next film. I know only one thing and that is to make films.[box_info]
An affable Bollywood buff and wanna-be-actor Sunny, goes with an American crew to remote areas in Rajasthan to work on a documentary film. One day after pack-up an Islamic terrorist group kidnaps him. When the group leader find that the inept terrorist had mistaken their prisoner for the American crew-member he decide to keep him hostage until they locate their original target.
Sunny finds himself on enemy border amidst guns and pathani-clad guards, The house in which he is confined, belongs to a Pakistani, whose trade stems from pirated Hindi films, which he brings back every time he crosses the border.
On this shared wavelength, Sunny wins some brownie points from his stern guards. Soon, the two factions realize that they share a human and cultural bond. They decide to deliver their ward back to his country. The film shows how cinema can be the universal panacea for co-existence.