In my film the family comes across as a metaphor – Prosit Roy
After assisting on films like Delhi-6 and Ek Thi Daayan, Prosit Roy turns Director with his short film titled Bloody Moustache. He talks about his directorial debut that will premiere at New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) 2015.
Literature has been an integral part of your growing up years. How has it influenced you?
I am from Kolkata and come from a family that has always been inclined towards literature. My grandfather, Pranab Roy, was a lyricist and screenwriter. So there was always a lot of literature and talks about it in the family. On every birthday I would get a bunch of books so it is literally in my blood now.
Did you always set out to be a filmmaker?
My parents were quite against me getting into filmmaking. They had seen the struggle that my grandfather went through even though he was a doyen in the Bengali film industry. They never wanted me to go through that struggle. Since I am a B.Com graduate they wanted me to become a CA or do my MBA. I don’t know what influenced me towards this industry. When I was in the last year of my graduation, I applied to Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) but unfortunately didn’t get through, even though I was on the waiting list. However I realized that this is what I want to do. I worked in Kolkata for around four months and then came to Mumbai for the post production for an ad film. I met a few people and they asked me to assist them. So it’s been around 6 years that I’ve been in Mumbai.
So did you acquire any formal training or is it on-the-job learning?
It is mainly on-the-job learning. I had done a workshop in Kolkata on filmmaking that gave me a basic idea about the camera, editing etc. But it was field training that has helped. I’ve been very lucky to work under directors like Vishal Bhardwaj, Ashutosh Gowariker, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and others who believe in a certain kind of filmmaking and have their individual style.
When did you realize that it’s time to make your own film?
I was working on Ek Thi Daayan as the Associate Director. When the film got over, the Director, Kannan (Iyer) told me that I should write my own script. At that time I was working on a script so I finished it and started taking it to producers. Some of the well-known producers did like my script but the problem was that they hadn’t seen any of my works as a director. It is very important to have your own show reel these days – a short film, ad film anything that showcases your directorial work. They were keen to buy my script but weren’t giving me a chance to direct. That’s when I realized that it is very important for me to have my own film where I can explore all the genres. Bloody Moustache starts on a comic note and goes into a thriller zone. It also has some romantic moments. In 12 minutes I’ve tried to explore as many a genres as possible.
What drove you to choose this particular subject?
This was a poem written by Sukumar Ray. I had first read the poem when I was in class two or three when we had to read this book called ‘Abol Tabol’ written by Ray as part of the academic curriculum. Since then the poem has stayed with me. I always thought it had a lot of potential of a psychological thriller and I wanted to explore that zone. So I’ve taken a poem written for kids but with an adult’s perspective to it. That’s how the story was formed.
How did you interpret a poem into a short film?
It is not the poem per say. I’ve taken the core idea of the poem and a new story is formed around that idea. The poem is about this guy who works in an office, he is like a ‘Babu’ in a Government office. There’s this perception that Government officers don’t do much work and just doze in office. So one day, this guy gets up from his nap in office and realizes that his moustache has gone. Everyone around him says that his moustache is right there. But he refuses to believe them and says it’s gone.
The film is about this man who cuts off his moustache and shows his new face to his wife and brother. Their reaction is very normal and casual. He gets frustrated and asks them why aren’t they noticing such a big difference. His wife simply says there is no difference. Frustrated, he tells them that he has cut off his moustache to which the wife says, ‘You never had a moustache!’ So the whole suspense around this man’s moustache is what the film is all about. A moustache is like a man’s pride. At the same time family is also a man’s pride. In my film the family comes across as a metaphor.
Since it is a kid’s poem, did you not think of making a film for kids?
Not really. In fact a lot of Sukumar Ray’s poems, even though written for kids, have a larger core idea and potential. Every poem has a philosophy. Even if you see Satyajit Ray’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, though the film is for kids, the core idea is about two nations fighting against each other for a cause. It is more about an adult issue. I wanted to showcase my talent and my work and that’s why I thought of treating it in a different manner and working with adults.
How has your experience as an AD helped in the making of your directorial debut?
It has helped me tremendously. Vishalji’s (Vishal Bhardwaj) style of filmmaking is totally different from Ashuji’s (Ashutosh Gowariker) style. They are like two different schools of learning and having been a part of both schools, I understand which scene has to be treated in what manner. It has been a great learning.
How did you go about the casting of the film?
The casting process was very interesting. When I was writing the film, I always had a face like Jameel (Khan) bhai’s in mind that changes completely with and without a mustache. If you see him in Gangs of Wasseypur, where he sports a moustache, the man looks completely different and I needed someone like that. I met Jameel bhai while working on a film called All is Well. They were thinking of putting a moustache on him as he was playing a police officer. When the look test was happening I realized that this man is the perfect choice for my film. Once the shoot got over I went to his place and asked him if he would be interested in this role and he agreed. This was something he hadn’t done before so was very keen. And he has been really kind.
Nishan who is playing the other character is a college friend. He has done a lot of films down South and his last Hindi film was Badlapur Boys. He is a very talented actor. I asked him if such a role would interest him as it was not a central character but a role that the story revolved around. He was willing, read the script and found it very interesting.
The difficult process was to find an actress for the film as the character had some grey shades. I had put ads on social media, asked my friends to share it and also met few actresses but somehow things didn’t work. We wanted someone with an innocent face who could portray shades of grey in her performance as per the demand of the role. A common friend of mine, who works with Vishalji, suggested that I screen test Priyanka Setia. She agreed to the screen test and was spot on for the role. In fact she also came up with new ideas and was very charged up as there was a lot to explore with this character as it plays on a psychological level. The whole film is about playing with the preconceived notion of the audience. You see something and then something else happens. Priyanka was outstanding in the film. Everyone who has seen the film including Shakun Batra, Abhishek Chaubey, Nikhil Advani and others have told me that I got a brilliant performance out of her.
How would you describe yourself as a director?
I’d say I’m methodical like Ashuji but at the same time Vishalji is very spontaneous and will keep saying, ‘Mood banna chahiye’. I am a mixture of both things. I worked with a bound script and we did some workshops with the actors. A few days before the shoot, all three actors met, I narrated the script to them and they gave their ideas and suggestions. It was a total team effort.
Budget is always a constraint when it comes to a debut film. How did you go about the funding?
There was no funding. Firstly it’s a short film and secondly I had not done anything before this. The moment you ask someone for funding, they will try to creatively interfere in your script and suggest changes. I wanted to stay away from all of that and make the film in the way that I visualized, without pressure from anyone. It was self-funded and my cousin Abhishek who is an editor came on board at the last minute and helped me with the funding. None of the actors or crew members charged anything. And that’s the reason the film could happen.
With Bloody Moustache being premiered at New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF), how do you foresee the road ahead? Which other festivals is it headed to?
For every short film there has to be a certain budget to send it to festivals. I never had this budget so I sent it to only two festivals. Out of which it got selected at NYIFF. Now I’m looking forward to sending it to some other festivals, preferably the Indian ones as the theme is very Indian though it is universal in terms of its content. I think my primary goal is to become an Indian director so it is important for me to project my work amongst Indians.
While making a short film, on a tight budget, what are the factors that one should keep in mind?
I think the story is the hero of the film, so one needs to get a great story. The script will follow if the story is good. I would tell all debut filmmakers making their first short film that it can be any genre, but the story has to be spot on. Spend as much as time on the script before getting on the floor. Also they should remember that they are making a short film, hence it’s important to keep budgets in mind.