I don’t like melodrama or larger than life visuals – Arnab
Every once in a while we come across people who let go of conventional paths and pursue things purely for passion. Arnab Kanti Mishra is one such filmmaker who graduated from IIT to build a career in physics but his natural inclination towards storytelling and understanding of visuals drew him towards filmmaking. His decision and hard work has paid off with his latest short film Safed Kabootar being selected in the Court Metrage section at the 69th Cannes Film Festival.
We caught up with Arnab to know more about his journey into cinema, the genesis of the film and his unique perspective towards life.
You come from an IIT background. When did you realize that you want to get into films?
I actually wanted to become an astrophysicist and cosmologist. Physics was my profession and filmmaking was my hobby but now it’s vice-versa. I’ve given 25 years of my life to Physics but I’ve been a filmmaker from the beginning. Since childhood, I would draw comics of 15-20 pages, which is actually story-boarding. And I used to write short stories. So I was always a storyteller through visuals. Even in physics I always thought through visuals and never through mathematical formulas. Which is why some of my professors always questioned my way of understanding the subject.
In our days we didn’t have many options, but in IIT, one of the things that we always did was watch movies. It was during this process that I realized that I could make a film too. I gradually honed my skills during our cultural events. After IIT, I worked for 14 months in four different companies and absconded from three. I never planned anything, rather I’ve always accepted whatever life gave me. I wanted to become a scientist; I never thought that I would be a filmmaker. But life made me a filmmaker.
It’s not easy to take a plunge and change career paths. What was your motivation and inspiration throughout?
I realized that this is my skill set; this is how I’m made. I was never afraid of doing anything unconventional. All through my life, I have never bothered about results, degrees or marks. If you’re better than yesterday, then you’re growing. There are some things where you don’t need motivation. It is life that gives you motivation. And I’m a filmmaker by destiny.
When you initially came to Mumbai, did you feel like an outsider?
I became a Mumbaikar since the second day that I came here. I like the work culture here. It doesn’t matter where you live, it matters how you live. Mumbai is the most professional city. And there are good and bad parts to every city but once you stay in Mumbai, you can’t stay anywhere else. This city owns me.
Was surviving in the city of dreams a struggle in any way?
I won’t call it a struggle. I have two legs, two hands, I was able to work and my eyes, ears, nose and mouth are all functioning. What else do you need? Struggle is when you can’t fulfill your basic needs. Just because initially I didn’t have a house and wasn’t able to sleep on a bed, that doesn’t make it a struggle. Agar aapko kahin pahuchna ho to raaste ke mushkilo ko itna tawajju nahi dete, balki unhe apnate hai (If you want to reach somewhere, you don’t focus on the difficulties along the way, instead you accept them)
How did you make your foray into filmmaking?
Everyone told me to go the conventional way, wherein I first needed to assist a big director. I joined Sudhir Mishra for an internship as an AD. But I realized that I could do more and better work than that of an AD. After the internship got over, a few of my engineering friends and I started a company of stereoscopic 3D. We planned on developing the entire instrument, content and camera for stereoscopic 3D. But after giving six months of time to the project, it didn’t work out for us as I was the only person who was involved full time.
I then started working with Ram Gopal Varma who was going to make a film in the stereoscopic 3D format. That’s when I also met Anurag Basu. This was during the pre-production of Barfi and he wanted me to join him immediately. But I had a commitment to RGV. However the film that RGV was planning to make got delayed indefinitely and my payment also stopped. That’s when I realized that it’s better to work for myself than to work for others under uncertainty. So I started my company called AKM Communications. My first project was a designing one and I gradually went on to do a making video and finally got a corporate film.
You’ve also co-produced certain documentaries. Tell us about them.
I have made several documentaries for brands such as Abbott Nutrition, ICICI foundation and many others. One of my most significant documentaries was during my institute days. Called Mook Dariya, the film was about Mumbai Koliwada. It was also selected in a couple of film festivals.
What do you enjoy more – making documentaries or feature films?
I enjoy both because each of them has a different essence. Usually in a documentary, you are not confined to anything – no defined visuals or frames. You come across things that you hadn’t even thought about. In fiction films you plan shots but in documentaries you don’t and sometimes you get the most beautiful shots without planning. That’s the best thing about documentaries. I’m someone who likes natural lights and candid filming.
Coming to your latest film Safed Kabootar, tell us about the premise of the film.
I had written Safed Kabootar in 2009 during my institute days. At that time I’d made two other short films but didn’t have time to make Safed Kabootar. It is a period film set in India in 1931. It is a story about a freedom fighter who was carrying important documents to the eastern headquarters. But he gets injured and accidentally visits his house, which he hasn’t visited for the past two years. This unleashes many secrets about his wife, their daughter and organizational activities.
Was it difficult to shoot a period film?
The process of making a film itself is very tedious. Creating that era with authenticity was tedious because it requires a lot of money. But when you decide that you want to do something then everything works out for you in the end.
So how was the film financed?
There was no funding; I invested my own money. Finding a location that resembled the 1930s was very important. Initially I thought that I could shoot it in my hometown of Hoshangabad, a small town in Madhya Pradesh that has such houses from the olden era. Then I thought of shooting at Halisahar in West Bengal but due to production and budget constraints, I thought it was best to shoot in Bombay. I searched each and every house in Aarey milk colony. And I finally saw a house that had a beautiful texture. The people living in the house were reluctant at first but after much persuasion they agreed.
My skill set is such that I can do a lot of things in a shoestring budget. I have made films that have a very high market value but I’ve made them in a small budget. Safed Kabootar was made in just Rs.90,000.
And how many people did you have in your team for the film?
Though I am mostly a one-man show but in certain projects I keep a larger team. I wanted to solely focus on direction for this film along with the edit.
My music director, Sarabjot Singh Kalsey has scored the music for all my films. He’s a great music director and we respect each other immensely. We’ve never had any creative differences. It’s been more than eight years that we are together. He’s also one of my very close friends.
For this film I also had a DOP, Shikhar Bhatnagar, who is a very good friend of mine. He did a fabulous job. Our relation is like that of a husband and a wife; we fight and work but churn out good stuff. The best part is that we don’t mind each others critique.
Did you make Safed Kabootar solely for festivals?
Of course! Short films are made for festivals. Mainly, the time limit and the structure of the film is made keeping the submissions in mind.
How do you define your style of filmmaking?
My style is very candid and realistic. I don’t like melodrama or larger than life visuals. Everything I show is real. I also don’t like to use makeup until the character demands it. And I prefer using natural light as far as possible. I am technically very strong and know each and every aspect of production and achieve it in a minimalistic budget. But I’m not a seller, I am a maker. I believe in selling things honestly unlike many people who want me to sell by adding glamorous elements.
So you must be a fan of realistic cinema?
Yes, I respect and like everyone who has made sensible cinema. But I’m an admirer of everyone who ever makes cinema because it’s a tough job. It takes lot of hard work. My taste can be different but I appreciate the efforts. Not only the director’s but also the efforts of the entire crew. Having said that, I’m a big fan of Christopher Nolan, Satyajit Ray, Peter Jackson, Raju Hirani and Ritwik Ghatak.
So far, what are the important lessons that you’ve learnt in your filmmaking journey?
The most important thing for a filmmaker is presence of mind. Everyone makes mistakes but a director’s job is to be attentive and be a sorted person. If he doesn’t go in deep and stays in the shallow, the product he makes will also be unrealistic and ugly. They say that films mirror society. But maximum films made these days do not reflect society because people do not think in-depth or put lesser efforts in research.
Lastly, tell us about your future plans.
I have written six feature films which fall in the espionage, biopic and pure drama genre. Largely they are all thrillers. I also have four short films with me at the moment.