Say Hola to Sandeep Mohan
With an interesting concept, a quirky name and unique screening sessions, Hola Venky’s director Sandeep Mohan takes us through his journey of making this film.
To make a film with a three member crew would have been a tough task. Describe the journey from writing the script to finishing the shoot.
When I saw my first film get a decent release and good reviews it gave me the confidence to go ahead and keep making movies. Once you cross the “fear-barrier” and are willing to open your heart through your movies to the world, there is no stopping. Making a film with a three member crew or making one with a 100 member crew are tough tasks. It’s the same hill one has to climb. It was my conscious choice to make Hola Venky with a three member crew, driven by need to keep the budget to a bare minimum.
I wrote the script for Hola Venky in Feb-March 2013. This was one of the scripts that just flowed easily. I knew my budget was 10 lakhs and I wrote it accordingly.
We shot in San Francisco for 23 days and in Mumbai for 3 days. We stayed over at a friends’ to save costs. Roger Narayan, the lead actor and Sonia Balcazar were the only trained actors in our cast; the remaining actors were techie friends who fit the role.
You have had issues for a UA Certificate for your first film. Was that a driving point for this film?
Love, Wrinkle-free, my first feature got an Adult certification because of which my TV rights got stuck. It led to a lot of stress, especially for an indie filmmaker starting off his filmmaking career. I feel the censor board officials are out of touch with the world around them and are not consistent with their rating. We have vulgar songs and dialogues in mainstream cinema and they get away with UA certificates because they are backed by the big players. In that sense, Hola Venky is like a protest movie with no violence. It’s an Indo-Mexican comedy film about a techie losing two per cent of his dick.
What camera did you use to shoot Hola Venky with? Describe the visual language of the film.
Hola Venky was shot with a DSLR Canon 5d Mark 2. We used natural to minimal lights because of the budget. We were shooting guerrilla style and had to hurry in most locations. The idea was to stick to simple storytelling and not worry too much about technicalities.
Do you think your films resonate with the audiences?
My films have a market. I feel my films are engaging. It doesn’t exactly follow the Bollywood structure and has a universal sensibility. That should make it appealing to a larger market. With two movies under my belt, I am finding my own audience, and I will work towards increasing that audience base.
You cannot make a decent living only by making indie films, so I also do ads, write for others and direct corporate films. I am doing what I love responsibly. All one needs is 3 to 4 meals a day to sustain a family. That doesn’t cost much if you think about it. I don’t have any expensive tastes.
What really drives you to make the kind of cinema you do and how does it work out financially?
I love telling stories and telling them through the medium of films, helps me explore ideas and themes that I otherwise am unable to make sense of. I don’t think of pleasing a producer or a financier while writing scripts. I go to a coffee shop near my house or travel around, write my scripts, raise the funds through friends or through crowd funding, then I put together a small team, cast, direct it and market it through social media and if possible get a release. I have been carrying my second hand projector and screening my film in cafes, bars, homes and corporate offices. It’s an adventure. I believe in “Nishkaam Karma” – I work from my heart not with financial results in mind. It spoils the fun. I make sufficient to live decently. Anil Ambani has to jog to lose weight; I keep making indie films and lose weight.
Have you ever seen a travelling cinema? The concept has been in existence in India for a long time. How do you work out the logistics of travelling around? Is it viable?
I have only heard about travelling cinema in rural areas, but never heard about it done in the cities. My audience is urban, young at heart with universal sensibilities. So I came up with the idea of travelling with my movie and projecting it in various unconventional places. The niche audience that I am targeting doesn’t have the time to come and watch my movie in that single show in a faraway multiplex. So I decided to take the movie to their space, and give them a fun experience. I am present at the screenings for a Q and A. Lots of people in the audience have never experienced this kind of movie-viewing. Everything is viable if done correctly. In fact, every new idea looks stupid or non-viable for those who are scared of risks. I have always been a risk-taker. I have seen enough tough times in my life. So these kind of smaller challenges don’t worry me. I will keep at it and follow my heart to any destination it takes me.
Is it a choice to work solo or have you gone through the rigmarole of approaching studios and production houses and then chose to go the indie way?
It is a choice to work solo now. At least right now, I am able to write and make the films exactly as I want. There is no interference from anyone. I have had some experiences approaching production houses and studios and honestly, they seem to be good guys too, except I think they take a lot of time. They love to sit on things. But I don’t have that kind of time. I don’t want to die waiting for one of these guys to give me a green signal. I might as well utilise that waiting time to make more movies and improve my craft. If they go ahead with one of my movies after 4 years and if am still alive, sure, let’s do it!
There are only two categories of films – good films and bad films. My aim is to put my heart into my movies and make a good product. That is what I try to do with the limited resources I have.
How did you sell/distribute this film?
Hola Venky released in the theatres in San Francisco and San Jose last month. We had a four weekend run. Lots of Indians, Mexicans and Americans came in, bought tickets, and watched the movie. We also got a restaurant to sponsor us. With both things we were able to recover 75% of the money we spent on making the film. We have more screenings lined up in the US and India. A few companies have shown interest in acquiring the rights for it and we are currently in talks with them.
What does one need to be prepared for, budget for and account for to survive as an indie film maker?
For my films, not only do I write and direct, but I am constantly thinking like a producer. How to stop wasteful expenditure. I prefer to make my movies look rich without having to spend the crores. For good budgeting, it is important to tell a good story that engages without spending too much.
Which filmmakers have been your creative influences in India and internationally?
Woody Allen, Truffaut, Alexander Payne, Wes Anderson and many more. I can relate to the kind of stories they tell.
What are your upcoming projects?
Hola Venky is my second film. I am also part of a movie called X– a collaborative film made by 11 filmmakers which is in the edit stage right now.
– By Priyanka Jain
More information on screenings:
26th March@ Art Chamber, Calangute, Goa – 7.30pm
28th and 29th March at 8pm@ Kochi at this address: Valavi towers, Providence road, Off Banerji road, Cochin
30th and 31st at Bangalore – Chaipatty Teafe at Indiranagar
3rd April at Pondicherry
6th April at Mumbai -Powai
More updates on facbook.com/holavenky