No one will pay Rs 700 for a ticket for a film by an unknown name
Ten features, eighty documentaries, shorts, ads, corporate films, theater plays and a few awards in his kitty, Delhi-based Prashant Sehgal is a content and busy filmmaker who has adopted unconventional routes to realize his dream career. In an exclusive chat he talks about his journey and the platforms available for indie filmmakers in the country.
We recently discovered Fliqvine, an online platform for indie and short filmmakers to showcase their movies. How did you get to know of it and how has been the response to your films showcased on it?
There’s another feature film that I did recently, Hola Venky, as a cinematographer. It was the first film that went for sale on Fliqvine. That’s how I got to know about the platform and put my directorial projects on it too. Hola Venky has widely traveled to a lot of festivals and written about a lot, so it got a tremendous response. The latest film I put up was Diary Of an Overly Reactive Middle Aged Teenager (DOORMAT). As I am busy shooting another film I haven’t been able to promote, yet it has got a good number of views. I made DOORMAT a year and a half ago and sent it to a few film festivals before putting it out on sale on Fliqvine.
When it comes to finding a platform for independent films, what is the biggest hurdle for filmmakers like you?
I was chatting with this person who runs short film festival in the US, and he said the biggest competition isn’t the other film festivals but someone sitting on a couch with his laptop. We need to get them up from their couches. It holds true here too. PVR Director’s Rare makes an effort to release short / indie films in theaters, but if you want to go watch a PVR Director’s Rare film on a weekend in Delhi the ticket is Rs 1,500. Without a known name or big star, no one is going to pay that kind of money. So, those screenings go pretty much empty. Even on weekdays the tickets costs Rs 700-800. If you can watch a Salman Khan film for Rs 200 then why would you pay Rs 700 for a non-starrer film? I wouldn’t do that, so I don’t expect anyone else to do that either. So, a platform like Fliqvine gives a lot of power to the filmmaker. It lets you decide the pricing, decide how you want to customize your page, add pictures, posters, etc. instead of letting the cinema halls decide it for you.
Besides festivals and online, I don’t think there are any platforms for shorts and indie films. Jamuura recently made an anthology of four short films, titled Chaar Cutting, and released it, but I am not sure what kind of response it got. It’s tough to get people to go and buy ticket for short or such films. I think it is going to be a long way before we have more platforms. In case of short films, we keep hearing that some theaters are planning to feature a short film related to the feature before the show but it has yet to happen.
During our initial conversation you mentioned that you first came up with the film’s title, DOORMAT, then conceived the story. Can you throw light on that aspect of your film?
I was just seeing a lot of news articles in general and realized that women were being treated quite badly, not in something as gruesome like rape, but something as simple as in relationships, society, etc. So that’s how the title acronym DOORMAT came to my mind. So I came up with the idea of a diary format. Then I got this friend, Sakshi, who is also the actress of the film, to come up with some story ideas. Based on her experiences she came up with three stories – one, of a girl child going through parents’ divorce, two, of a woman going through an abusive relationship, and three, of this girl who wants to become an actress. Being a filmmaker, I felt I knew most about the third area so we decided to go ahead with this one. We wrote a whole bunch of ideas around this framework, which made sense. Also, we wanted a very casual and non-rehearsed feel about the film so we wrote script and what we wanted to achieve through each scene, but didn’t try the dialogues. For most scenes, we would go over the scenes for the story to move forward and then she would think of the lines in her head and say them casually.
The film has a very unique narrative, there’s only the girl talking to the webcam throughout. Did you always want to make it like that?
I am also involved with a lot of theater in Delhi. I am highly impressed by the famous storytelling style called Dastangoi. So, there are people sitting there and telling you the story without any action. But they do it in such a way that they weave their whole world for you and absorb you in it. I thought of experimenting that art form with my story. Since DOORMAT is set in today’s time, I adopted the idea of a web diary.
Tell us how did you end up casting Sakshi Bahadur, who is also the writer of DOORMAT?
We have known each other since three years and I had done a few short films and plays with Sakshi. So I always had her in my mind for this film. Since she is also a very good writer I asked her to develop the story too. I told her to keep herself in mind while taking the story forward.
In how many days did you shoot and finish the film?
The whole shoot took seven-eight days and it was shot in Sakshi’s house as it would be convenient for her to manage so many costume changes for the film. Editing took quite a while. Each and every scene has its own music, but I didn’t have money to get music composed so I either took stock music or Apple’s sound loops. So finding the music and color correction took around a month.
What camera did you use to shoot?
I shot it on 5D Mark II and used four-five different lenses. First, we did a few tests with a webcam and then tried to replicate the visuals through my camera.
What was the budget of the film?
It was a three-member team (Sakshi, assistant director Nandita Anand and himself) and the filming equipment and locations belonged to us. The budget for this film was Rs 10,000.
Is it easy to find people to collaborate on such indie projects in Delhi?
Because of National School of Drama it is easy to find actors, some are good and some are not so bad.
DOORMAT is a small film so one understands you shot, directed and edited it. But looking at your extensive filmography you wear many hats in film-making department.
I am a techie, who went to NYU, US and learnt film-making. I also took a workshop in Pune in cinematography. But neither do I have that extensive film-making background nor does Delhi have a big film network, so you end up producing, directing, shooting, editing, your own films. Sometimes you even end up acting when professional actors fail to turn up for the shoot. That apart working in different capacities with other filmmakers is a good learning experience.
You have been making films for the last six years and worked on shorts, features, ads, documentaries, etc. yet you are far away from the fame or money. So, what motivates you to make one film after another?
A lot of people ask me that. I have done 80 odd films, short, documentaries, ads, features, corporate videos etc. I had a well-paying job at Adobe when I decided to get into film-making. People thought I was crazy to do so. I knew it was not going to be easy (to crave a career in films). I couldn’t leave everything and move to Bombay (Mumbai) as I am married and have couple of kids. The other way I figured out is to start creating a portfolio and the best way to do that is by making short films. It doesn’t cost a lot and one can collaborate with like-minded people. And every time you make something and it gets appreciated, not only does it get your name out there but also gives confidence and boosts self-esteem. So, that keeps me going.
Also, film industry is not like a conventional industry where you get a degree and become a top director. The struggle process is compulsory. One can go to Bombay and live with ten other people in a tiny flat and assist bigger directors but I took a different route, which I knew would take me longer to get popular. But now I am quite busy, people call me to do workshops or make corporate films. In between Aamir Khan had called me to feature in an ad for his show, ‘Satyamev Jayate’. Recently, I was an Executive Producer in a mainstream film, Mantra, starring Rajat Kapor, Kalki (Koechlin), which was shot in Delhi.
Any other films in the pipeline?
I recently shot a film called Bhanware, starring TV actor Shaurya Singh. I am also working on another feature film which should take off around year-end.
Don’t you plan to move to the cine capital of India – Mumbai – and make mainstream movies?
My best example is filmmaker Nila Madhab Panda, who made I Am Kalam and, yet to release, Kaun Kitney Paani Mein. He does all his work from Delhi. Also, most films are not shot in Bombay. So, why does one have to be there? I am not averse to moving there. But I don’t have any plans. I am happy with working here and it keeps me busy. And I definitely want to make a mainstream film.