In search of a Greater Elephant
A mahout has lost his elephant. A theater owner has lost her god. A god has lost his identity. A devil has lost his teeth. A constable has lost his faith. And they’ve all lost their marbles. Greater Elephant is a wicked assembly of those who still haven’t found what they’re looking for: a purpose.
Director Srinivas Sunderrajan is all smiles (the kind that comes from an intense love for what you’re doing) when talking about his film. An advertising graduate from the Mumbai University, he currently runs a micro-managed DIY production house called ‘Enter Guerrilla’, where “I double up as the director and also make and serve tea,” he laughs. He is also the bass player for the Mumbai band, Scribe.
Make no mistake. Srinivas (aka Vaas, as he is fondly known by his friends) is no novice when it comes to the struggles of Indie cinema. His last feature film, ‘The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project’ was shot for on a shoestring budget of Rs. 40,000, and traveled festivals around the world.
Shot in less than ten days and at approximately 20 lakhs, Greater Elephant had a comparatively ‘bigger’ budget than his previous ventures, but the pains being Indie soon caught up when it was time for the Elephant to make his silver-screen debut. And in true Indie fashion, Sunderrajan and his team rose up to the challenge.
Pandolin met the director for a candid tête-à-tête prior to the release of Greater Elephant in Pune on the 19th of October.
Editor’s note: And just when we were discussing the hardships of being an Indie film-maker in India, Srinivas informed us about the theatre owner doing a complete ‘Volte face’ which leaves Greater Elephant incurring losses and a cancelled premiere. Heartbreak.
P.P.S: Good things happen to good (Indie) people! Greater Elephant is back on track for the 19th October release at PVR Pune this time! Life is good again!
Greater Elephant! What is it all about?
On a journey back from college, I was waiting at the bus stop and I chanced upon a sight where an Elephant (and his mahout) were troubling a fruit vendor for fruits (and money). A negative thought arose in my mind wherein I wondered how the Mahout would feel if he woke up the next morning and found that his elephant was missing? What would one do in such a scenario? Can a huge animal like the elephant go unnoticed in an equally chaotic city? This got me thinking and I further developed this (through graduation) into Greater Elephant! A mahout’s search in the city for his lost elephant and the colorful characters that he encounters on the journey.
Why ‘Greater Elephant’? What does the title mean?
Well, when searching for the elephant, everyone’s own problems and insecurities come up, in effect taking the attention away from the purpose. So their own problems become greater than (looking for) the elephant.
How did the team of Greater Elephant form?
Just as how the mahout forms a team of unlikely characters on his trip to find his elephant, I too found a motley group of known and unknown people who helped me on this journey. This included comrades Prerana, Belli and Varun (we used to travel together in trains back in college), writer/funny man Omkar Sane, my actors (whom I had promised a role in my ‘next film’ whenever I bumped into them on the road), my crew headed by Ashwini (who calls me Mr. International – because of my lean mean physique) and finally our producers, Pallavi Rohatgi and Vinay Mishra (who were impressed with my long hair). But seriously, the Indie scene is pretty small and resources were tapped into, and somehow creative and financial wavelengths matched (resulting in Einstein and Newton turning in their grave) and thus Greater Elephant team was formed!
How was the experience shooting it?
We shot for 10 days in Pune because Ganesh Chaturthi occurs over 10 days (well, we kept one day as a buffer). But yeah – the actors/locations/permissions, etc were all available to us for a period of 10 days only. The one-month rehearsal sessions we had with the cast gave them an idea of how painful and excruciating the process of an Indie film is. So they played safe and ensured that they released only 10 days of their life to act in it.
We used DSLRs, the Canon 5D and 7D, to shoot the film. Since we had night shots as well, we used the 24mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.8 lenses to shoot in natural light settings. Since the film is more ‘on the move’, it was shot hand-held with static mid shots and long takes so as to give it a slightly satire/play feel. We shot in Pune solely because it is cheaper and permissions were available than in Mumbai. Also, the texture and energy of the Old Pune city gave a sort of “old worldly” feel to the entire film.
What was the biggest challenge faced while shooting the film?
The fact that we had a ‘time constraint’ in shooting the film was the biggest challenge. Compromises had to be made, but we made sure that it did not affect the overall composition or structure of the finished film.
‘Greater Elephant’ has been making the round of fests abroad. How has the reception been?
We won the Jury Prize for Best Film at the South Asian International Film Festival, NY as a working cut. Since then the travel to the festivals has been great. The reception has been interesting because the title has “Elephant” in it – which automatically generates curiosity. But the audience feedback has been great and it’s very interesting to note that the film connects with the western minds. I’ve had people come up to me and say “I’m not sure if this film would work in India because it caters/affects our mindsets more” This happened post a screening in San Francisco. So there – really interesting!
What plans for the film now?
We’re mounting a projector on an elephant’s back and traveling with it. So hopefully by the year 2020, we would have finished our entire India tour! Kidding. Currently, plans are in full swing to release the film theatrically across India. We’re focusing a release in one city and then moving ahead so that we can focus on that certain place. And as a befitting tribute to the city that helped us make the film, we release the film first in Pune, our home ground on the 19th of October!
Yours is the first film to be crowd-sourced. Tell us everything!
Let me correct you – ours is the first film to be ‘crowd sourced to release’. We raised funds so that we could release the film. Since we had already finished making the film and had no clue about how distribution systems work, we didn’t account for release funds in the budget. As a result, when we closed Final Cut Pro (which, BTW, was the editing software used) and opened MS Excel, we figured we are falling short of some moolah for publicity, advertising, theatre rentals, digitization etc. A chance encounter with Anshulika, (VP, Wishberry India) gave me a ray of hope that maybe I could use their crowd-funding platform to raise funds for the film. And so we initiated a campaign and managed to raise almost 90% of our target amount of 6 lakhs –which is not bad considering Facebook, Twitter and the social media were the sole tools used for marketing our page!
How has your journey as an Indie filmmaker been?
It’s been a very depressing yet evolutionary experience as an Indie filmmaker. Nothing can ever stay novel in a country like ours. Anything remotely unique has to be exploited to the extremes. As a result, my journey has always been marred by misconceptions and misinterpretations of what an ‘Indie film-maker’ is. (And I’m not even going into the ‘What does Indie mean for you?’ question!) All said and done, it’s a path of choice and I hope to find my inner peace some day. Till then, it’s a struggle worth living in.
What plans for the future?
Currently, I’m working on my third feature length film, which is a science fiction drama set in space. It’s called “Heartless Ramesh”. It’s due to release in 2021 – after my India tour on the elephant!
What do you think about the Indie scene in India? How would you define the ‘Indie’ genre, especially since every newbie filmmaker is now suddenly using that tag?
Refer to answer 9.
What does it mean to be an Indie filmmaker in India? What is the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is to look up into the eyes of everyone who is looking down on you – “you poor Indie film maker!” I don’t think Indians value the term ‘Indie’ because they view it as a grammatical error. Even the so-called ‘Indie film-makers’ who have turned mainstream refuse to acknowledge their roots terming it as a ‘desperate means to stand out in the crowd’. I find it extremely disappointing when you’re judged on the tags that define you. Indie filmmakers are the film world’s “untouchable class” – in India.
What, according to you, does the future hold for Indie filmmakers in India?
Till the time there isn’t a collective of Indie filmmakers, there is no future. Every one will exist on their own, in their own bubble. Everyone dreams of the other side of the fence, i.e. Bollywood and hence currently, no one wants to make films the hard way – Indie style. It’s the easy life that they want. The moment this notion is broken, Indie cinema will be accepted in bigger numbers. Currently it’s just a small amoebic mass without any shape or structure.
How has technology helped the Indie scene? Or like photography, has it just led to a rise in quantity and decline in quality?
Technology is always a boon and bane. So though it has helped Indie cinema grow in quantity – the quality is affected. But again, who decides what is good or bad. I don’t see any Indie film NOT utilizing or exploring the benefits that digital technology offers. So yeah, it’s a great thing that consumer DSLRs are shooting video in high quality and that it’s affordable and convenient to use – but one also has to take into consideration that filmmaking is a blend of story and visuals. And this blend has to be perfect in order to maintain a great quality product!
What advise would you give to young aspiring filmmakers out there?
If you want to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk. Don’t wait for eternity or age to catch up. Don’t listen to any of your idols – they’ve never experienced what you are experiencing. So just keep the focus and do your own thing. You will only learn the hard way when you criticize your own work. And this is the best way to be a good enough filmmaker! Also, respect your family because they will oppose you – but see the opposition as a motivation to prove them wrong and you’ll find success!
Behind the movie
Director: Srinivas Sunderrajan
Producers: Srinivas Sunderrajan, Pallavi Rohatgi, Ashwini Paranjape, Prerana Manker
Co-Producers: Q , Celine Loop
DOP: Varun Dutt
Writers: Omkar Sane , Srinivas Sunderrajan
Production Designer: Ashwini Paranjape
Editor + Sound Design: Srinivas Sunderrajan
Main Cast: Hussain Dalal, Naveen Kaushik, Saunskruti Kher, Rajiv Mishra, Shreyas Pandit
Production Company: Enter Guerrilla Films
More about the movie
See director’s filmography on IMDB: IMDB
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