Anyone who sees Haraamkhor can connect with the title – Shlok
His is an inspirational story of sorts. He first developed an interest in cinema at the young age of 14. He then gave up his studies to slog it out in the industry and slowly worked towards achieving his dream of making a film. And that dream did come true. Shlok Sharma whose debut feature Haraamkhor created a buzz across the festival and film fraternity and is now getting a much-awaited theatrical release believes that there is no shortcut to success. In a freewheeling chat, Shlok takes us through his journey, opens up about his inspirations, his relationship with Anurag Kashyap and the making of Haraamkhor.
You started writing stories at a very young age. Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
I was in class 9 when I wrote my first script. Of course, back then I did not know that what I had written was called a ‘script’. It’s not like I had seen any extraordinary films and decided that, “Yes, I want to get into filmmaking.” But I’ve always been inspired by people and things around me and always try to incorporate reality into my stories. So when I wrote the story back then, which was a love story, I told my father that I wanted to direct it. And my father said, “Who do you think will even entertain you?” But I was interested in the field and wanted to get into it, though I didn’t know how it would happen. I shared the same with my father. I was 14 years old at that time.
The good thing was that my father taught yoga to Gulzar Saab from before I was even born. And later taught Vishalji (Bhardwaj) too. My father then spoke to Vishalji and Gulzar Saab who insisted that I complete my graduation and then look at the future. Of course I didn’t listen to them and quit studies midway. But no one took me seriously till the time I came of age. And after years of trying to convince all, I got my first break as a production assistant at Vishalji’s office. I’ve been lucky to at least get that first chance, which is very difficult for most people to get. But even after that first chance it is completely up to you, how you work and how dedicated you are towards the work. I believe that I’ve worked sincerely and did whatever work was given to me. I wasn’t ashamed to do the smallest of things. And that proved very helpful for me.
You then became an assistant director…
There’s an interesting incident to it. I was working as a production assistant on The Blue Umbrella, and Dipa De Motwane (Vikramaditya Motwane’s mother) was the line producer. She was talking to someone about railway tickets and how the agent was asking too much money for confirmation. I was overhearing the conversation and when she kept the phone I offered to get the tickets for her. She was shocked at my offer but I was very confident. At that point I didn’t know that she was talking about tickets for the entire film unit (laughs). I then had to book all those tickets by standing in the line, not once but multiple times because you can’t book more than six tickets at once. I did that for almost two months but got all the tickets. Vishalji saw this and was impressed with my hard work. Post this incident I got the chance to become the third AD on Omkara. I have worked very hard at the ground level and that has helped. It was on the sets of Omkara that I met Anurag Kashyap and he offered me work in his company. So I’ve been lucky but have worked hard too.
I find human behavior and relationships extremely engaging – as an audience as well as a filmmaker
AD to Director – that’s the tough journey. How smooth was that transition?
The journey took me 11 years. It’s much easier today because of the digital medium where any filmmaker can make a film and put it out there for people to watch. The resources are much more accessible. But I do feel that my experience of all these years has benefited me in a lot of ways.
Coming to Haraamkhor. It’s said to be based on true events. What was it about these events that drew you into making it a film?
I’d read a small article and wanted to make a film around it. By my own personal observations and experience, I knew that small girls or small kids in general are easily influenced. They feel that decisions they take are right. What I’ve tried to show is the importance of correct guidance in their lives. I haven’t judged anyone in this film, that wasn’t my motive. The father isn’t bad nor is the daughter or the teacher. I just wanted to tell a story showing various shades of various people.
Tell us about the casting process for the film. Did you always imagine Nawaz and Shweta playing your lead characters? How did you brief them for their roles?
I always wanted to make the film with Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) bhai and Shweta (Tripathi). I obviously look at how good the actor is but more importantly also look at how much time can the actor give to the story and me. For me it’s very important to understand the actor that I’m working with so that I can imbibe those characteristics in the script as well. After watching the film people should feel that this role was written for this actor. Shweta is a very good actress and Nawaz bhai doesn’t need any introduction. I’d done a short film with Shweta and during that film I’d told her that I would cast her in my first feature, whenever I made it. At that time I hadn’t even thought of Haraamkhor. With Nawaz bhai it was more like blind faith. It’s not like he had seen any of my previous work and knew my ability. Till date, Nawaz bhai says that it was my conviction towards the film that assured him and gave him the confidence to say yes to it.
How did the title of Haraamkhor come into being? Were you apprehensive of the ‘abusive’ title at any stage?
If I’d written the title with the thought of sensationalizing it or trying to grab eyeballs then I would’ve been apprehensive about it. But I never decided the title with any such thought in mind. The title of the film has been ‘Haraamkhor’ from day one itself. And anyone who sees the film can easily connect with the title.
I haven’t judged anyone in this film, that wasn’t my motive
Was Anurag coming on board as producer for Haraamkhor an obvious choice? What role has he played in your filmmaking journey?
When anyone comes into this industry, they are very insecure and that is obvious. People are insecure because they don’t want to lose what they have. It’s not like they are competing with anyone else. And it was Anurag sir who taught me that what is yours will stay with you and no one can take it away from you. That thing has given me a lot of confidence. The best thing about Anurag sir is that he is very secure and that is what gives him freedom in his filmmaking. He’s not arrogant but secure about himself and hence can make the films he wants to.
Unke pass maine koi choice nahi chhodi thi. Meri film unko hi produce karni thi (I did not give him a choice, he had to produce my film) (laughs). I respect him and will always do. He plays a big and indispensable part in my life. His name will always be there in all my films whether he can physically be part of them or not. Wherever I’ve achieved today is because of Vishalji and him.
You’ve worked very hard and luck has also favored you. But when it comes to funding for this film, how easy/tough was it?
We received a lot of help with funding. Guneet Monga, my producer, had put up an announcement on Facebook telling people about Haraamkhor and inviting help from anyone who wished to contribute. It was sort of crowdfunding but not in the true sense. We got some people who offered to help and become part of the project.
With the digital medium making a film has become easy but the theatrical release is where it gets stuck. And it does take time for every film to get a release. Luckily we have Anurag sir, Guneet, Nawaz bhai, and Shweta.
But what caused the delay in completing the film?
We got the initial portion of the funding through Guneet’s efforts and the announcement on Facebook. So we were able to complete the shoot but we didn’t have money for the post-production. Getting funds for post usually happens once you edit the film. Today everyone wants to see the full product and only then put in further money. So that became a lengthy process. But the film went to NFDC’s Film Bazaar in 2014 and Mr. Feroze Alameer came on board. That’s how we got the funding for the completion. So we finished the film and started doing festival rounds from April 2015.
With the digital medium making a film has become easy but the theatrical release is where it gets stuck
All indie films travel the festival circuit before releasing in India. How do film festivals benefit the film? Can one imagine a theatrical release without the festival run?
Not every film can go to a festival. Indian or international, it’s not easy to get in. Even we have faced problems because you’re competing with films from across the world. People think that it’s easy but selections don’t happen like that. However, if you make it to one (festival), it is very helpful because you get to gauge what kind of an audience will like your film. All kinds of people come to a festival so you get various perspectives. Also by the time the festival is over, there is a good amount of buzz that is generated, which we got post MAMI. We won the Silver Gate award there, for which I am extremely grateful to Anupama Chopra and Kiran Rao. That buzz gave us more confidence in the film.
Is there a particular genre of stories that attract you?
I find human behavior and relationships extremely engaging – as an audience as well as a filmmaker. That’s what all films are about anyways, right? But I don’t want to be tied to a single genre.