The concept of specialized villains has disappeared – Soumik Sen
Director cum screenwriter Soumik Sen is best known for his hard-hitting directorial debut Gulaab Gang. The director is back with a new film, but this time he ventures into the digital space. Sen has directed the four-part web film Badman that is available on VOOT, the digital platform by Viacom18.
The comic caper features the original badman of Hindi cinema, Gulshan Grover, as an actor who wishes to now be the hero and not the villain. In a light-hearted conversation with Pandolin, Sen opens up about the mockumentary approach and concept of self-parody, the benefits of digital platforms for writers and directors and his experience of working with Gulshan Grover.
After a stream of movies on the big screen, what encouraged you to experiment with the digital space?
Digital is the future; so far a lot of cinematic experiences were related to big screens, where you wish to go to a theater and watch them. But as devices are getting more sophisticated and entertainment is getting more personal, the future is getting digitized. In fact, you can already watch a lot of films on the phone. Therefore, there needs to be content that is directed in such a manner and films that have a certain kind of matter. There needs to be a story that can be consumed on your phone and that was the idea behind Badman.
How did the concept of Badman take birth and how was it working with Gulshan Grover?
Badman for me as an idea was to essentially show the lack of relevance that Bollywood villains of the 90s have today. We grew up on Bollywood scenes where you had underwater dens and sharks, villains like ‘Shakaal’ from Shaan and so on. Actors like Gulshan Grover or Amrish Puri specialized in these roles. But if you look at cinema today, that idea is a novelty. Today you don’t have specialized villains, that concept has disappeared. That was the reason behind making this film. It is about a world where actors who used to play specialized villains have no relevance, so how they are now trying to reinvent themselves. Also, the idea was to do a mockumentary around it – cast a villain who doesn’t have villainous roles written for him anymore. In recent times Gulshan Grover has done roles that are not out and out black, so for somebody like that to find relevance in today’s time is difficult. And we thought of using that as the central idea and carve a comedy around it.
Working with Gulshan Grover was great fun. He is extremely enthusiastic and moreover, he understands the craft extremely well. He was made to do quite a few ridiculous things in the film, including self-parody. I think it takes real guts to say, “Yes, I am Gulshan Grover and I am making fun of myself.” He did not change his name; he is playing himself and it is kind of self-parody. It was really heart-warming to see Gulshan Grover and other actors be so sporting and come on board and lend their name to a film like Badman.
How difficult was it reinvent a villain into an aspiring hero in a humorous manner?
Writing the story wasn’t really difficult. The thing about comedy is that the more real the situation, the easier it is to turn it into something ludicrous and then comedy follows naturally. So Gulshan Grover trying to become a hero at the age of 60 in itself is funny and then you just have to follow it through.
What was the treatment and approach to directing Badman as compared to a full-length film?
This is a full-length film, the only difference is that it is broken into four parts. But you have to work within certain budgets and that I think is the biggest constraint. The audience that you are reaching out through this film is a niche audience. One of the reasons for this is that it can be viewed on your phone. But at the same time you cannot compromise on the basics of the film, which are the nuances of the story, which come from the writing. Other than that we had a very tight shoot which had to be carried on very efficiently and effectively and I think that was the challenge, making the film in the kind of time we have done. I shot the entire film in 13-15 days and that is really difficult, but you have to do it because you are working within in a certain time-frame with a certain kind of cost and budget.
So far, how has the response to Badman been?
Very good, in fact, we were invited to a couple of international film festivals. VOOT cannot be accessed by people outside, but the film will travel eventually. I think Viacom18 has plans to take the film internationally as well.
What impact do you think will a platform like VOOT have on writers and directors?
I think it will be great; there will obviously be various stories coming out that will reach out to more people. There will always be an opportunity for any content that you will probably not see on the big screen, content that will be too edgy for a mainstream television audience. Such stories will thankfully find a platform here.
Would you want to explore more avenues on the web? Please talk about your upcoming projects.
Yes, there are a few ideas for a web movie. Besides the web, there are a couple of movies that I am working on. Also, there is a story that I have written, which is based in the year 1911. The film will be directed by Shoojit Sircar and will feature John Abraham.
Could you share key tips that one should keep in mind while making a web film?
I think the content, that is your story, needs to be good as people have very little attention span today. Therefore, if there is something that doesn’t engage them even for a very short period of time, they will switch to check a Facebook notification. Since this (content) is playing on their phone the chances of that happening are high. Therefore, it is really important to hold their attention.
Also, when you are a filmmaker you need to realize that if anybody finds your film even remotely boring, they will find something else to do. This is also relevant to the big screen. You have to keep people entertained and hooked.