I wanted to tell stories in my own mother tongue – Umesh Kulkarni
One of the most promising and interesting sections of the 5th Dharamshala International Film Festival was its short film section, which had an eclectic line up of films comprising Chaitanya Tamhane’s Six Strands, Gurvinder Singh’s Ghuspaithiya, Payal Sethi’s Leeches, Nishant Roy Bombarde’s The Threshold and Siddharth Chauhan’s Papa.
The credit of which goes to Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni who has been curating short films for DIFF for the past four years. The filmmaker makes it a point to look for diverse films from different corners of India. Known for films like Girni, Valu, Vihir and Deool, Kulkarni talks to Pandolin about his role at DIFF and his most talked about Marathi film Highway: Ek Selfie Aarpar which was also screened at the festival.
You have been programming Indian short films for DIFF for a long time now. What is your criteria to choose the films?
I love short films as a medium. At DIFF, I’m always keen to bring wonderful short films, which people are making in India but they are completely inaccessible as the audience can’t see those films. My first criteria is to see whether the film is genuine and is a cinematic experience. At the same time, I look forward to the diversity of India so I bring films from different regions. This year we had films from Punjab, Himachal, Maharashtra and also a film shot in Hyderabad and Darjeeling. These films talk about diverse things and locales. Many times, young filmmakers are trying to tell their own stories, which have not been told or seen before. Or even when someone is trying to do certain kind of experimentation in terms of the form. So I always look forward to bring such films to DIFF.
You must have to keep track of all the short films throughout the year.
I have been running a short film club in Pune from the past three years. On the last Sunday of every month, we screen a short film and invite filmmakers. So I program a lot of short films throughout the year. Moreover, I love this medium of short films, therefore I always keep looking for good short films.
In recent years, the short format has got a boost and we’re seeing several brilliant films. Though short films don’t see theatrical releases and rarely find platforms to screen, what has worked in their favour?
There is no pressure of the box office as they don’t get released. Other than that, the way that one can experiment in short films, can hardly be done in feature films. In that sense, it is very liberating. Coming to the money, there is still a possibility of getting that, if in case the film wins an award. But it is not very common. So in a way, you don’t make short films for money, you make them to create cinema.
What kind of scope do you see in the short film format in the coming years?
In the coming years, I think people will watch more short films and look for better short films. Also, I hope that short films get a theatrical release so that people go to watch them. I also hope that short filmmakers get resources so that they can continue to make more short films.
Coming to your recent short film Highway, which is being touted as one of the best road films, could you please tell me more about it?
I used to travel a lot in shared cabs between Pune and Mumbai when I was finding producers for my first film Valu. Highway was born as a result of that. It is a kind of selfie of today’s time in urban life. It talks about what is actually happening around us. The society is full of so many things, people, incidents etc. So what exactly is happening there? I always used to think that if I pause a highway and look at each person in the car on the highway, what will be the outcome? That is what the film is all about.
So, the film is drawn from your own personal experiences. Are there any stories that you have portrayed as is?
There are so many real life inspirations. There are so many characters that I have met or interacted with in my real life. The story is a piece of fiction but at the same time there are so many elements that are from real life.
You have around 35 characters in your film. What kind of hurdles and challenges did you face while working with so many characters?
We wanted to take a selfie of the society and it couldn’t have been done with just two people, so we wanted different characters. I love working with many different actors and being friends with them. My earlier film Deool also had 30 characters. So, every film comes with its own hurdles. For instance, shooting on the express highway was a huge challenge.
Being a road film that was shot in various vehicles and in the course of three months, it must have been a roller coaster ride.
Every film is challenging but in the case of Highway, there were moments when I couldn’t even see what we have shot because there was no time. Also there was no space in the car. We already had the cameraman and the sound recordist. So this was a very different experience from my previous films. People have been appreciating the film and there have been lots of compliments. But more than that, if a film stays with you for a long time, then it is worth it.
Was it a deliberate attempt to do something absolutely different from your precious films?
I always like to come out of my comfort zone and make something different. Because then it is more challenging. And then, even if you fail, the journey is more important.
Since all your films have been in Marathi, would it be right to say that it is also a comfort zone for you?
Marathi films aren’t my comfort zone. Satyajit Ray and Ritwick Ghatak always made films in their language. Cinema has its own language. And I make only Marathi films because I come from the culture and it is important for me to make films on that culture. If I don’t make, I can’t expect someone else to make it.
You make Marathi films, similarly Gurvinder Singh makes exceptional films in Punjabi. People now don’t shy away from making films in their native language.
That is why I started making Marathi films because I didn’t want to get into Hindi cinema just for the sake of it. I wanted to tell stories in my own mother tongue.
What are you working on next?
We are now producing a children’s film.