I hope that people come for the racing and stay for the story
Navneet Prakash’s Sons of Speed is a passion that has grown into a film. A racing enthusiast himself, Navneet will be documenting the lives of Freddie Hunt and Mathias Lauda, sons of racing legends James Hunt and Nikki Lauda respectively. In a country that has a limited audience for racing, here is a team of people who are willing to push conventions and highlight not just the technical aspect of the sport but weave a more personal and humane story around it. We catch up with Navneet amidst his crazy shoot schedule to understand the thought behind this film, the challenges of making a film around racing and the experience of interacting with the young racers and their families.
Sons of Speed appears to be born out of your love for racing. How and when did the idea of this film first strike?
I’ve been watching racing ever since I was a kid and have friends who like racing too, so we used to discuss racing all the time. Plus I have other friends who are involved in racing professionally as well. But racing is not a popular sport in our country and very few people are involved in it, professionally even fewer. Last year I happened to go to Kerala and that’s where I learnt about a racing championship organized by MRF. It happens all over the Middle East, India and many places. I became friends with Jose Pottamkulam Ootta who was part of the racing circle in South India. He has a racing brand and told that me that he’s getting Freddie Hunt and Mathias Lauda to the country to take part in an event and race for him. It was primarily a PR event and they wanted to publicize that the sons of racing legends like Niki Lauda and James Hunt will be coming for it. Since I knew about racing and am a filmmaker as well, they asked me to make a small video for them. That was the initial idea.
I met the two racers and spent some time with them on the first shoot. And I realized that these guys are very interesting. I was able to connect with them very well and vice versa. We started discussing at length about how they got into racing, their lives and so on. That’s when I told the organizers that I wanted to make this into a feature length film. It’s not something that I’d want to waste with just a small video because it’s a good story and should get due coverage. And I was ready to take the onus of raising the money and doing whatever is needed to make this film happen.
India doesn’t have the infrastructure for doing non-fiction feature length film; nobody does feature length non-fiction content here. But my producer Divya and I were ready to make it. Jose provided the initial finance but then we started raising money on our own and put in our own money as well. That’s how the film happened.
How significant is it to have a subject that you are passionate about?
It is really important. A film like this is not easy. It’s not like fiction where you have a ready script and a team who is going to work with the script. It’s more complicated because we are spending hours and hours to make real life interesting. There is a lot of drama in real life but to capture it and make it acceptable and interesting enough for people takes a lot more effort than it does in fiction films. Unless you are very involved in the subject you can’t do justice to it. And anything can happen in a non-fiction project. Also being passionate helps you get an angle, which somebody who doesn’t understand the topic may not get. Knowing the ups and downs of racing in general will help us ask the right questions to the people involved.
You spoke about tapping the right angle for the film. So what is the angle or the objective that you’re exploring through this film?
The structure of a non-fiction film is such that you always have an outline in mind. You cannot have a concrete story because you don’t know what is going to be the outcome a few months later. I have thought of a couple of treatments to follow this story. There is a starting point, which is these two racers coming together for the first time to race. You then follow their lives and keep making an outline. You gather and process information, for instance, draw parallels between what’s happening with them today to what happened with their champion fathers years back, to how the media is reacting and so on.
I want to make this film not only for people who like racing because that’s still a much smaller number compared to people who like films in general. My idea is to make it a film that is interesting enough for everyone to see. And I’m not making the film for India alone but the international audiences too. It does have a lot of information for racing enthusiasts, amazing race tracks, lots of technical lingo but primarily it’s the story of two guys who are living parallel lives – they both have champion fathers, both decide to get into racing and so on. It’s like a feature story on two people who have endearing personalities and very interesting lifestyles, their relationships with their fathers and the legacy that they carry on their shoulders. I hope that people come for the racing and then stay for the story.
So when you first met Freddie Hunt and Mathias Lauda, were they open to the idea of being filmed?
They didn’t even really ask me what the film was all about. I asked them if they would give me their time and patience and told them that I’d try and give them an honest story to the best of my ability. I want to give an honest portrayal of what they do, what they have been through, what they may go through and so on and then see how people take it. See, everybody wants to know about people who come from a known family name and what happens in their lives.
So I told them that I’d show them whatever I shoot and get their approval before taking it forward. And they’ve been very open about their personal lives. Also you can see that their personalities are very different. Freddie is more outgoing, conversational while Mathias is more subtle and not that talkative and that comes out when I talk to them. But they’ve never withheld any information and have been more than happy to talk.
When it comes to the shooting of the film, how much percent has already been shot?
We’ve shot a lot of the racing but haven’t started going deep into the family aspect. They have spoken about the family, about their relationships but we are yet to start spending time with their extended families, their friends and others. So there is no definite number that I’ve personally given myself a deadline to stop shooting by the end of next year. That’s not because of logistical reasons but because when you get involved in a story like this, there’s never an end. You will always find more angles. I’ve currently shot enough for the first act of the film and have a decent start from where I can get people engaged.
Cinematographer Mrinal Desai has shot the film. How crucial was his expertise on this film?
I met Mrinal through a friend and we hit it off from day one. He has worked with a lot of international producers and directors and has got a certain system to work with, which is unfortunately not found in India. I have another DOP Bhavesh Raval, a known name in Marathi cinema, who is as crucial as Mrinal. He basically handles a lot of secondary camera, which is equally important. They both don’t understand racing at all. So I sat them down before we went for the first schedule and explained what is it that we were doing. We have a good understanding on ground. I handle the primary unit with Mrinal and tell him what to shoot and then let him be because he knows how to capture the entire flow properly. I just had to give them some initial information for the first two schedules but now they understand everything and are very keen on understanding racing. And they have been fantastic at their work.
And did your association with Producer Divya Menon happen?
Divya and I work together for G33k films. She’s from Kerala and that’s where I met Jose who is Divya’s friend. She’s been very important to this project from the first day and was very supportive about taking it to a larger level than just an event-based video. Divya has worked with me earlier too but those were fairly smaller projects. It’s been a great mix from the start where I’m good with the creative and she’s great with handling the money and other aspects.
Why did you’ll choose to go the crowdfunding way? Since the film involves noted names, didn’t you try approaching financiers?
When we started the project Jose put in some of the money initially. But then it turned out to be a much bigger project than what we had initially planned. So we started putting in our own money, did other projects on the sides to help run this film and even our crew started working with us without any pay at the beginning. So a lot of these efforts were made to mount project. Then I did start approaching financiers and producers but it’s a very difficult film. I don’t blame them because there is no benchmark to a project like this. There are no numbers that I can give them.
The USP as well as the biggest problem of this film is that the entire crew involved in the film is Indian. Had I collaborated with a production house from some other country or if I were making a film on something more relatable to our country, it would have been easier. It’s very difficult to find someone who can understand the topic and is ready to take the risk of introducing a non-fiction feature length film. The film will need at least a crore and a half for completion. And to expect an Indian producer to put in that money for a topic that he doesn’t understand, an audience that he doesn’t understand and with a medium that he’s never worked with is a lot. So we met a lot of people but nobody could really understand it.
Tell us about the crowdfunding campaign and how can people help?
We’ve been trying to crowd fund on Indiegogo.com and Ketto.org. We want to raise around 30 lakhs, which is a small amount for the completion of the film but a good amount to shoot the next schedule and get some basic infrastructure going for the film. It’s not easy to raise money out of India, but we’re trying to raise it. But as much as we want the money, we also want the awareness. We want people to know about the project, to help us out by talking about it and sharing it. That would also help a lot.
With whatever that’s been shot till now and going forward too, what are the challenges in your way?
I think the biggest challenge is mounting a feature length project. Be it anybody, no matter how experienced you are, a feature length project is always a challenge. A big thing that I’ve learnt is that you need to constantly inspire yourself and the team to keep pushing and that it will pay off later. And like I mentioned earlier, there’s no benchmark for this project. Had I had someone on the team who had done a feature length non-fiction film before, it would have helped. But we are working on a blank slate and learning each aspect of the film step by step.
Sons of Speed is currently crowdfunding. To contribute to its making visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hunt-vs-lauda-sons-of-speed#/ Or https://www.ketto.org/sonsofspeed