The Ramayan – The great Indian story, ready for the world
Ramayana, the greatest epic from Hindu mythology has been the basis of innumerable television shows, film adaptations, books, comics, theatre and literature. It is now going to be converted into a short live action film called The Ramayan by three filmmakers who have visualized the epic like no one else ever has. Ronnie Allman, Vineet Sinha and Sean Graham are all set to take Indian mythology on par with titles like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. The filmmakers have started a crowdfunding campaign to make the film and the same is now live on Wishberry.
Here are excerpts from an interview with the Creative Director Ronnie and Co-Directors Vineet and Sean.
What drew you towards making a film on the Ramayana? Do you think it will have a global appeal?
When Sean (Graham), the Co-Director, pitched the idea of The Ramayan to me and I was so surprised as I had never even heard of the story before. It is so rich. I started to ask close friends if they had heard of the story as well. A couple of them hadn’t and I knew that there was a great chance to tell a story on a whole new scale and bring it to a global audience. So I joined the cause and came on board.
How is The Ramayan going to take you forward as a filmmaker?
Personally as a filmmaker this will be my most ambitious project yet, which is why I wanted to work on it. Sean and I believe in always doing things that are bigger than just ourselves. So, building a team is something we were really excited about. I am from an advertising background where you already have a crew signed on board when making a project. But it’s been exciting to see the team grow from 3 to over 50 now!
What kind of a visual treatment have you envisioned for the film?
Visually we are going for a magical realism like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. For example, we have been working with an amazing costume designer, Shweta Sharma, on keeping everything true to the time. We are using fabrics that would have been used thousands of years ago. We want the overall feel to be natural with hints of magical realism, so you feel like you’re part of that world. Natural lighting and a physical, prosthetic Hanuman to add to that. Overall, we want everything to live up to the quality of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.
How do you’ll plan to marry a grand scale into a short film?
Great question. There is so much in this story. Every time we talk to someone about the project, it throws light on something new that we hadn’t heard before. So realizing that, and knowing we were introducing this epic to a new audience, we wanted to keep it simple. In the short film we are just introducing the main characters in the story and giving you glimpses into the past and present about how Ram and Laxman got to their place in exile. We think this will work, because if you throw too much at the audience at once, they can get lost, and with this story we don’t want that to happen.
Could you throw some light on the CGI component in the film. How crucial will it be in delivering your desired output?
What CGI? I’m kidding, but it’s true and we want any effects done in post to be very subtle. We will be shooting most effects practically, just like they do in Star Wars. It’s more real and more fun. So in all it will play a major part, but you will not notice it, we hope.
What kind of research are you conducting for making this film? And where do you’ll plan to shoot it?
For the past three months we have been traveling all over India looking at where we want to shoot. We are really liking Shillong – great waterfalls, root bridges, and forests. Everywhere we go we try to dive into the culture and it only helps us more when thinking about costume and weapons. We were in this village outside of Shillong and noticed two young boys carving away at some bamboo with these large knives. They told us that their families had been making the knifes the same way for many generations. We loved how the handles were wrapped and how crude the tool was. It inspired us to design the weapons for our ‘Rakshasas’.
Do you think Indian mythology hasn’t had its due on the world stage, as compared to Roman and Greek mythology?
Yes, there is a major hole in Indian mythology around the world. Weirdly enough I have put a lot of thought into this very question. And basically I feel that it might have a lot to do with Bollywood itself. With Egyptian or Roman stories, those countries don’t have the production capabilities like Hollywood or Bollywood does. So naturally those stories where taken in by both Hollywood and Bollywood. But in India the Ramayana never needed to leave the country since you have everything here to make it. But now some of the stories are being exhausted. How many different versions of the Ramayana have been made in India? There is no excitement with audiences anymore. We realized this and that’s why we want to bring the Ramayana to an American and global audience and it will be in English this time. It’s going to be BIG!
What kind of things will you need to keep in mind while casting for this film? Will you be casting only Indians considering the premise of the story?
We want this to still be an Indian Epic. And to do that we are trying to bring on an all Indian crew and cast. Sean and I are the only two Americans on the project so far. We are really proud that we have been able to find the top talent in India. As for casting, yes, we want an all Indian cast as well. We are not only casting for who can look the part but we have to take into consideration that we are creating a English version of the story. So, delivering clear English dialogues has been a fun and interesting challenge for us.
Any thoughts on the platforms that you’ll would you be releasing the film on?
We have been discussing a few options for what we feel is best for this story. Since this is for a global audience it would make sense to enter into all of the major festivals around the world. But, nothing has been decided yet. It would be great to be picked up by Netflix or HBO, of course.
Why did you’ll choose to go the crowdfunding way for this film?
Well for one, a lot of our audience back in America doesn’t know about this story in detail yet. We wanted to give them the opportunity to bring an epic story to life and to get them just as excited as we are to make it. Crowdfunding is also a great test to see if The Ramayan will be accepted the way we hope it will be. We chose Wishberry over Kickstarter or Indiegogo, because again we want this to be an Indian epic. So using a trusted crowdfunding platform in India made a lot of sense. And we worked directly with their teams, which made it a lot easier and more collaborative.
Which filmmakers have served as an inspiration in your own work?
Personally, Spielberg has been a huge influence in my work. He was the first director to really make me feel something when watching a movie. Another great filmmaker is Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Drive and Vanhalla Rising. His use of color is so vibrant and makes my eyeballs go crazy every time I watch his films. Valhalla Rising is actually a movie we have studied to get a sense of what the exiled world of Ram and Laxman could look like. It’s very moody.
Vineet Sinha & Sean Graham
What inspired you’ll to make a short film on the Ramayana?
Sean (S): We are in love with the story, and so is everyone else. We wanted to make something big and worthy of India. Last year, India came up with Bahubali and Bajirao Mastani which were unprecedented and did really well in the country.
Vineet (V): We started going through the Ramayana and Mahabharata and other Indian mythologies, which needed to be showcased on a global platform. We chose the Ramayana because it was so appealing! It is the great Indian story, ready for the world. It has so many themes within a single story! It is the story between two brothers, true love between a husband and wife, unchecked power, and with Hanuman, there is unquestionable devotion! So we just said ‘Jai Shree Ram’ and jumped straight into the project.
What challenges would you have to overcome in the making of this film?
S: The biggest challenge would be to get people on board for this project, in terms of sponsorship. We are going to have an international crew who are highly experienced and experts at VFX and costumes and prosthetics. So, convincing investors to help raise the kind of money required will be a challenge.
V: Also, there are like 180 versions of Ramayana which exist. It’ll be a challenge to do justice to the core of the story and make it recognizable at the same time. South Asians are already pretty familiar with it. To make it more recognizable, we’ll have to do a bit of analogy with its characters. Like relate some character to Gandalf and Hanuman with a monkey character and so on.
What is going to make The Ramayan different from all other live action movies that have been made?
V: Speaking of India, Bahubali and Bajirao Mastani were spectacular experiences but they didn’t become global phenomenons because of the language constraint. With The Ramayan, we intend to use English, and besides Hindi and Tamil, dub it in 20 other global languages. We want people to be able to watch it in China, Australia, Sri Lanka and everywhere!
S: We are creating this version of Ramayana which is going to be so unlike the version that came out in the 1980s. In that version, the production couldn’t do justice to the story. The background and characters didn’t look like they belonged. But now, we have such incredible technology for the VFX and have cameras that shoot with amazing detail. Also, the prosthetics used will be really superior too.
Could you tell us about the scale of the film vis-a-vis the budget?
S: Even though it is a short film, it is going to turn out expensive because of the effects. We are going to show the key scenes in the film and the visualization of these key scenes will be as real possible. They are going to have all the characters that we love. There will be a realistic Hanuman with the appropriate VFX.
V: Our main focus will be to get the expressions of the characters right instead of the background of the film. The more eyeballs we grab, the more number of people will talk about our film. There are two versions of Jungle Book being made in Hollywood at the same time. We need less than half the budget of any one Jungle Book movie. My target is to get at least 15 million people to watch the film. I know that is being a little too ambitious. We have estimated the film’s budget to be 130,000 dollars.
Why did you opt for crowdfunding?
S: Not many people know about crowdfunding and its potential. It is not just about money. It gives investors the chance to participate in the making of the product right from the beginning. Crowdfunding will help us involve actual audience into the creation of the film. It will create awareness about the product while the product is being made.
V: With crowdfunding, there is also an emotional attachment with the product. Whether it is the Pebble Watch or any other product, there has been innovation at every step. The product’s marketing starts in the earliest stage of its creation. It is a very natural and organic process.
Ramayana, with its intense storyline and numerous sub-plots will be a challenge to consolidate into a short film. How are you going to go about it?
V: We are going to focus on iconic scenes like Ram and Lakshman’s vanvaas, a bit about the Lanka sequence and so on. It is going to be a huge challenge because Ramayana in itself is 24,000 verses written in 7 books! We are going to keep the most interesting parts!
Why make Ramayana now?
V: Ramayana is now! Now is the time. We have the technology and a story that needs to be told to the world.
You can be a part of the making of The Ramayan by contributing to the project here.