The drug is an excuse; the journey is the crux of M Cream – Agneya
Bringing in a new wave of revolution in Indian cinema is the young and budding writer-director Agneya Singh. His feature film, M Cream, is said to be India’s ‘first stoner movie’, which traces the journey of four characters who set out to find a mythical drug. But the movie goes beyond just the drug and as Singh puts it, “deals with the spirit of the rebellious youth.”
Since 2014, M Cream has travelled to festivals all over the globe, bagged quite a few awards and created quite a buzz amongst the youth. As it readies for release in India on July 22, we chat up with the young filmmaker to know more about his journey, his thoughts regarding the current generation and his fascination with counter-cultural subjects.
Tell us a bit about your background. What pursued you to choose filmmaking as a career?
I have always been fascinated by films and photography, so I started out with photography and then moved on to documentary filmmaking as well. Post which, I decided to go to film school in New York. The kind of films that I saw during my growing years left a mark on me. I think that the cinematic medium is a great way to connect to people and that was something that really fascinated and intrigued me. When I was in New York I actually began to understand how powerful narrative filmmaking was and that lead me to make M Cream.
As a filmmaker, what kind of subjects or themes fascinate you?
Subjects concerning the counter-cultural aspects of society; things that are usually dusted under the carpet, are subjects that have attracted me. Particularly issues that impact my generation. During the 90s everything was at the height of commercialism but now, I think, there has been a backlash against that. In the last five years, a lot of young people have started questioning society, parents, school teachers and the government and that is revolutionizing things today. And that is the heartbeat of democracy. The youth is expressing itself in all sorts of medium – films, art, music, literature, journalism, and politics. This instantly attracted me and I felt that here is a story that has to be told.
What was the idea behind writing M Cream and what would you say is the crux of the film?
I grew up in Delhi and we all had a friend, who had a friend, who had made a journey up to Himachal. At that young age it was a very fascinating thing for us. We had absolutely no idea what it was, this magical drug, that apparently changes the person completely and gives them the ultimate high. That kind of a story is very relatable to young people. The film is about these young people who go to the mountains in search of a magical drug. The drug is really an excuse; the journey is the main crux of the film, and it is a coming-of-age story. Most importantly, the film is about today’s youth, it is a process of self-discovery. M Cream is by the youth and for the youth.
How did you go about the casting for this film?
We have a fascinating cast! Since this is not an overtly dramatic film, we were clear that we needed particular people for the cast. The film is more about the subtext; in fact, it is a very poetic film. That is why the dialogues for the characters have a lot of subtext, which had to be fleshed out, and so we needed actors who were willing to do that. Also the subject of the story revolves around a drug and the film could be controversial, so we needed actors who were willing to take the risk.
I think we were very lucky to find this cast. A lot of the cast belong to a rich theatrical background. The character that Imaad Shah plays is, I think, very close to his real life. For Ira Dubey, even though it’s a very different character, she found it to be an interesting and challenging role. And we are very lucky to have her. We also have Tom Alter and Lushin Dubey who are fantastic. And there’s Auritra Ghosh and Raaghav Chanana who play the other two characters in the journey. It is a very fresh cast whose potential has not been fully tapped in cinema and they have all delivered fantastic performances.
What kind of research was done before writing the film?
When I was much younger I made the journey myself and it left an impact on me. Himachal (Pradesh) is such a beautiful place in itself. The drug is only an angle, an important and rebellious one, but this film is a lot more than the drugs. The movie is more about young people coming to terms with life and with growing up in a world, which doesn’t make sense to them. That really is the core of the story.
There are a lot of movies that have dealt with the idea of drugs. What makes M Cream different?
There are some people who are saying that there have been other stoner movies, but I think that the way we have dealt with the drug is different. Other films have drugs in sequences or parts, whereas in our story, M Cream is a character and it plays its own little role. That is why we think it is India’s first stoner movie.
How would you define this new generation of youth?
At one hand it is very confused, while on the other, there is this great curiosity and desire to make sense of the world and follow your own voice. The most important thing about this generation, as opposed to the previous generation where you were basically told what to do, is that today a lot of young people are questioning what is the right thing to do, whether it is the job that they are expected to do or who they are meant to marry or what politics they’re meant to subscribe to. They are questioning things.
Young people are now trying to be true to their voice and that is extremely important. If we look at the last few years, we can see that there has been an intensity with which young people are speaking up and raising their voices and that is very encouraging. Of course a lot of young people are misguided. Even in the film, which also deals with escapism, a lot of young people opt for parties and drugs. But on the other side there is confrontation, there is a middle point, and hopefully the film shows that.
Drugs are a very sensitive issue in our society. What apprehensions did you have while make the film?
I think there will be a lot of people who will love the film, but I think a lot of people are going to hate it, but that is fine. This is the difference between a mainstream film and an independent film. It is all about taking risks and today, all the independent filmmakers are willing to take those risks. Plus, if you are committed to your goal or vision then you are bound to alienate someone or the other, because if you want to be true to your voice, not everyone else is going to agree with that.
As for the movie, a lot of people, particularly the older audience may not agree with the drugs or the sex, but when you see the film you realize how powerful things can be. I don’t think it is a negative film at all, I think it is a very encouraging movie for young people who are taking an interest in the world around them. That is the message at the end of the day. To the older audience, I would appeal to them to try and look past the drugs and sex. It is a rebellious movie and whether they like it or not, it is a part of the reality now. I hope they see the movie with an open mind.
But don’t you think that the audience that will see the move might be very niche?
Yes, it is a very a niche audience, with the the urban youth being targeted, there is no denying that. But we received a huge response on social media and even the response to the trailer launch was wonderful. The film does deal with subjects that are counter-cultural and controversial and there are many people who would not have been exposed to this side of the story at all. For them it would be very hard to digest because they haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to these counter-cultural aspects, but I hope they do see it because I feel that this is something that people can relate to.
Also, though the subject is niche, I see the audience changing in India. Moreover, what would have been considered to be niche once, in today’s time can be seen as the truth. I think a film like M Cream and many other independent and some Bollywood films that have come out in recent times, wouldn’t have even seen a release around 5-10 years ago. Today the audience is growing and people wouldn’t want to see the same poor-boy-rich-girl story. They want to see something fresh, realistic and challenging, which a lot of filmmakers are doing. It is a risk, it is the beginning of the new movement in Indian cinema and if we don’t take the risk now, then there will be no films like these in the future.