Shoojit Sircar gives a peek into his approach of making ‘out of the box’ films, in an In-Conversation session

As the day progressed, the evening saw an interesting session –In-Conversation with Masters featuring master filmmakers Shaji Karun, Jairaj and Srijit Mukherjee in conversation with Saibal Chatterjee. It is important to note that Shaji Karun is the Director of OLU – the Opening Film of the Feature Film section of Indian Panorama at IFFI 2018, making it his seventh film in the Indian Panorama section at IFFI.

Shoojit Sircar in Conversation

Shaji N Karun film director and cinematographer, best known for his award-winning films Piravi (1988), Swaham (1994), Vanaprastham (1999) and Kutty Srank (2009) has won the National Award for Best Director for his debut film Piravi, in addition to winning the prestigious Caméra d’Or – Mention d’honneur at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. He also won two Kerala State Film Awards for Best Director for his films Swaham and Vanaprastham. He is a regular at IFFI and this year was the seventh consecutive time that the veteran filmmaker made his presence felt at the coveted film festival in Goa.

Another equally talented filmmaker, Jairaj, who is at IFFI 2018 with his film Bhayanakam, has also been a familiar face in the international film festival circuit and has been a frequent visitor at IFFI. While highlighting this fact, Srijit Mukherjee, on a lighter note, said, “I feel Shaji Karun and Jairaj should buy property in Goa to save frequent travel and accommodation costs.”

For the uninitiated, Jairaj is a director, screenwriter and producer who is a recipient of the Crystal Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Golden Peacock award at the IFFI , the Golden Crow Pheasant award at the IFFK0, the FIPRESCI Award from the International Federation of Film Critics, the Don Quixote Award from the International Federation of Film Societies, The Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) award and a special mention award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. He is also a 7 time recipient of the National Film Award and several Kerala State Film Awards. His notable films include Desadanam (1996), Kaliyattam (1997), Karunam (2000), Shantham (2001), Daivanamathil (2005), Vellapokkathil (2007), Ottaal (2015), Veeram (2017) and Bhayanakam (2018).

While speaking about the role of cinema in the society, Shaji Karun said, “Without emotions there is no art. Art is the lens of the society. Having an international film festival’s 50th year next year, is one of the greatest strengths of India. Cinema is the only arena where creative people come together, shake hands, debate, discuss and incept stories. As such, Indian Panorama is an extremely important platform as this intervention by the government safeguards quality cinema from being trampled over by mainstream commercial cinema.”

The panel discussed at length about the long-standing debate – about commercial cinema versus creative filmmaking. While addressing this point and in a bid to describe his process of filmmaking, Srijit Mukherjee said, “Film is a commercial art form. I have no success formula for making good films. I just tell stories that I love telling. I am my first audience. I just go by my instincts. And things seem to work in my favour.”

While further elaborating on the topic, Jairaj said, “You don’t need money to make films. All one needs is that burning desire and passion for the craft. One needs to just proceed having faith that things shall fall into place. It will happen. Money will follow. I keep 50% space for the ultimate energy, while shooting.” While describing this using his personal experience, Jairaj said, “While working on this film, I was going to see the location. We did not have an actor but I knew that he will come to us. On the way, I met a fisherman who fit the brief of the character of the story. He ended up acting in the film. After screening the film at Berlin and other international film festivals, people asked us where we found this gem of an actor.”

The discussion then veered towards the effect of digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime on cinema. Jairaj seemed confident that cinema will continue to thrive despite the rising popularity of digital platforms, whereas Srijit Mukherjee felt that, “Terms like ‘cinema hall’ and ‘theatre’ will be something like museums. However, there are certain kinds of cinema you cannot watch on mobile because of the type of sound design and the grandeur that is best experience on the big screen.”

Shoojit Sircar in an In-Conversation session at IFFI 2018

Another common link among most of Shoojit Sircar’s films, apart from a fun take on bodily functions, is the fact that the premise of his films has been based in different parts of Delhi. Shoojit’s fondness for the national capital – a place that he has fond memories of growing up in, has made him feature different parts of Delhi in his films such as Piku, Vicky Donor, Pink and October.

The talented film director, best known for telling unconventional stories, however admits that he had to step into the shoes of a Producer, not by choice but by compulsion. While speaking at the session, Shoojit said, “Around the time that we were working on Vicky Donor, the film industry experienced an influx of corporates and big studios. When we approached these studios with Vicky Donor, they thought it’d be a sleazy C Grade film. The studios didn’t have any faith in the film. Similarly, when we were ready with Piku, people branded it as being a Bengali film. Questions were raised on ‘How can an Indian superstar have a constipation problem?’ I told my producer Ronnie (Screwvala) that we need to put a full stop to this somewhere and decided that we do it ourselves. The frustration nudged me to get into production.”

When asked if the success of Vicky Donor and its impact made his life easier for his other films, Shoojit dismissed the notion and said, “No, it didn’t. As a film when I’m approaching a subject, it is a blind game that I’m playing. It’s a territory that you cannot be sure about. I don’t make films for an audience. First I have to like my film. What or how the audience feels is not in my control. The ‘Consumer is the King’ only when the Box Office works. When a person is ill, he remembers the doctor…after recovering, the doctor is forgotten,” quipped Shoojit, while adding, “If I start thinking of an audience I wouldn’t be able to make a film in the way I want to tell my story. The audience is the last thing that has ever crept in my mind.”

The ‘out of the box’ producer – director also spoke elaborately about the films that inspire him. While referring to films by Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha, Shoojit confessed that he finds himself to be ‘quite mediocre’, while adding that he aspires produce work of the level of the aforementioned stalwarts. He further added, “I have also grown up watching films like Deewar and Madhumati. But somewhere the set pattern of our films has polluted our creative mind to a certain extent. We need to go beyond the commercial stereotypes of item numbers and over the top melodrama.”

A passionate footballer himself, Shoojit has been playing with the idea of a football related film, but the lack of a ‘personal connect’ has been the dissuading factor. However, the director declared that a sports film is definitely on the cards.

Red Carpet at IFFI 2018

Later in the day, Shoojit Sircar walked the red carpet with the Producer of his film October – Arijit Lahiri.

The day also saw a few other celebrities grace the festival with their presence on the red carpet. The cast and crew of the Non-Feature film Monitor included the Director Hari Viswanath, Screenwriter Satarupa Sanyal along with the actress of the film, Chitraganda Chakraborty.

While speaking to mediapersons on the occasion, Chitrangada said, “I actually met Hari at IFFI last year and he shared the idea of this short film and I instantly said let’s do it.” Chitraganda Chakraborty is the daughter of the screenwriter of the film, Satarupa Sanyal.

Another team to walk the red carpet was the cast and crew of the film, A Sacred Gaucho that included Joaquin Pedretti (Director), Pablo Gonzalez Dadone (Producer), Rosarion Fernandez Arias (Ex.Producer), Sebastian Ariel Toba (Ex.Producer), Celso Sebastian Franco (Actor) and Lucia Victoria Alcain (Actress).