I had an overpowering emotion to make a film in Gujarati – Abhishek
Abhishek Jain is the founder of CineMan Productions Ltd. in Ahmedabad, the production house which is at the forefront of redefining Gujarati Cinema. Abhishek has to his credit two successful Gujarati films, which defined the new-wave of Gujarati Cinema and created a large audience base for Gujarati films in recent times. CineMan has also recently collaborated with Phantom Films to co-produce three upcoming Gujarati features. In a chat with Pandolin, Abhishek talks about his filmmaking journey, his idea of storytelling, CineMan’s vision and new-wave Gujarati Cinema.
What was your motivation to make a Gujarati movie? What was the journey like?
When I went to film school, I had decided that I would come back and do something here. The intention was to take formal training, work and train in the industry and then explore what I really want to do. While in film school, I saw a lot of films from across the world and also several regional films, like Bengali, Tamil and Marathi movies. But there were hardly any Gujarati films that were being talked about like Bhavni Bhavai, Dariya choru, Hun Hunshi Hunshilal. This seemed quite interesting because not only are Gujaratis a big audience base, but historically the first production house was Gujarati and the first studio was made by a Gujarati. We have a lot of contribution to the film industry, then why are we not participating in our own regional film industry! So I had an overpowering emotion to make a film in Gujarati. I’m from a business background so I thought that if I have to start something new what place better than where there’s no market.
Where did your first few stories come from?
My stories have always come from my observations and instances from my life. My stories develop when there’s an angst in me about something. If we talk about Kevi Rite Jaish, since childhood I’ve been surrounded by Gujaratis and I’ve seen their fascination of going to USA. I’ve seen people talking about going to USA without knowing anything about the place they are going to or about their intentions of going there. Going to USA is not bad; going anywhere is not bad. But doing so without any intention or without knowing what’s at stake, is like following the “Herd Mentality”.
With my second film Bey Yaar, the angst was about the easy money that is currently flowing in Gujarat and how the youth is reacting to it. You can hear of teenagers from college talking about investing in real estate or buying an Audi. And that surprised me. The value for money was something that created a lot of angst in me. So I took the backdrop of art and decided to tell this story.
What are the stories that you wish to tell next?
There are a lot of them. But right now the focus is on streamlining talent and finding a right balance of people in the organization. We want more youngsters to join us. So right now the focus is not on stories but on talent.
What is CineMan’s vision at large? And how do you nurture talent?
It’s very difficult to get the right kind of people. I am not looking at extremely talented or superficially talented people. I don’t want overnight sensations or one-film wonders. But what I’m looking at is good human beings, people who are patient enough, who can sustain and deliver consistently. CineMan believes in nurturing talents. For example, I can vouch for Mikhil Musale who was one of the first people to join CineMan. Now after six years of being with us, he’s making his first film without any film school background. I don’t want the kind of people that come to my office and say “Sir hamaare pass dhamakedaar script hai and so on…” I believe in nurturing in-house talent and then giving them a chance. So one has to be a part of the fabric and then they can contribute. So currently, CineMan’s focus is on producing talents.
For an industry that is being reinvented, how do you keep a balance between “Popular” and “Experimental”?
Right now the industry is at such a nascent stage that one can’t think of making an “offbeat” film or an arthouse film. The goal is to reach out to the maximum audience and expand the audience base. We are trying to make something that works with the audience and something that is palatable. By that I don’t mean that we are repeating content. If you see Bey Yaar, it was completely different from Kevi Rite Jaish. And the third film that Mikhil is directing is a thriller that talks about a hit-and-run accident. This is completely different from the usual stories that we see in Gujarati films.
Speaking of Bey Yaar, even though it is the story of two friends, you brought in a backdrop of painting curation. How did you take the call of introducing the art scene, which I believe was a bold attempt in Gujarati cinema?
Essentially, I try to communicate in the language that the audience understands. I understand art just as much as the audience understands; I’m not an art expert. I can’t decode the painting the way an art curator could. So I thought to myself, how do I talk about Vincent van Gough’s work in a way that I could understand it. And I communicated it to the audience in the same way. So obviously we tried something bold, but it was something that was easily understandable.
Was there always a conscious decision to come up with urban-Gujarati stories?
No. I wanted to make a film that I could relate to. So if no one comes to watch it, I should still be able to sit and watch it (laughs). But coming back to the question, we attempted to make films that we could understand. Something that we have grown up with for half of our lives. If you remember, multiplexes came around 2000 and right now we’re in 2016. For the last 15 years, I remember making choices about the films that I wanted to watch when there were multiple films playing in the multiplex. So I wanted to make something that I could go and watch, and a couple of people whom I relate to, could go and watch. That’s about it. There was no such divide between urban and non-urban. But urban-Gujarati films was my marketing strategy. I wanted to push people to go and watch my movie when they have to make a choice. So I placed the movie in such a way. That tag was used to differentiate our film. I’m a marketing person basically. So I’d try to serve the platter in a way that you think you have not tasted something like this so far.
How can the larger audience watch your films? What are the options for the people outside Gujarat?
This question came to me when I was amidst releasing Bey Yaar. We wanted to create other avenues than just a theatrical release. So we put it out on Google Play, Flipkart, Amazon pay-per-view and iTunes, and now Netflix as well. But the problem is that in India, a lot of people don’t want to pay for the content. And that is a big issue. But digital is the way to reach out to maximum audiences.