Three different films, three different forms of story-telling and three different directors. Pandolin speaks to Mrighdeep Singh Lamba, Ritesh Batra and Vikas Bahl to find out what strings together these new filmmakers, making them someone to look up to.

new directors

(L-R) Vikas Bahl, Ritesh Batra, Mrighdeep Singh Lamba

Among the many blockbuster comedies and star-studded dramas that release every year there are a few films that break convention, twist the rules, touch hearts and launch new names in the burgeoning Hindi film industry. Call it new wave cinema, multiplex movies or whatever you like, it’s these small films that come out of nowhere and revolutionize the way movies are made, redefine success and resurge new hope in the magical world.

Back in the early ’90s Sooraj Barjatya brought back the VCR-generation to watch movies in cinema halls while the early 2000s saw Farhan Akhtar revolutionise the way stories around youth were told. Around the same time Anurag Kashyap dared to make edgy and dark stories and Dibakar Banerjee made the middle-class man’s life a delight to watch on the big screen. Recent times too have seen many promising talented filmmakers who had determination and showed faith and courage to pursue the stories they wanted to make. Obviously the expedition to realise their dreams is never free of hiccups and hurdles.

Be it this year’s unexpected box-office winner Queen or last year’s The Lunchbox, which is creating waves internationally, or Fukrey, the laugh riot about four Delhi-based lads, there’s a lot of heartbreak and hard-work that went into making these movies.

When filmmaker Vikas Bahl set out to direct his first feature (Chillar Party, co-directed with Nitesh Tiwari), he easily found producers to back it. But with Queen, his second directorial venture, the ex-UTV creative director had difficulty in getting people to see the potential in the coming-of-age story about a young bride. Similarly director/writer Mrighdeep Singh Lamba had trouble finding producers for his second film, Fukrey, ‘coz of the lukewarm response to his previous project Teen Thay Bhai. Unlike them, filmmaker Ritesh Batra faced hurdles during release. The Lunchbox received a standing ovation at the screening at the Cannes International Film Festival and within 48 hours the director was inundated with calls to buy the film. But back in India none of the production houses wanted to distribute the unusual love story between an elderly widower and a lonely married woman.

“It’s all for the best,” feels Batra at hindsight, and adds, “Someone who loves the content should distribute it. It shouldn’t be a business decision. Karan (Johar) and UTV actually loved the film. They wanted to carve out a market for it. And they did a wonderful job at it.”

Bahl empathises with his detractors and says, “I don’t blame them (studio guys), because to read screenplays is an art as much as to write them. Also when you read Queen on paper there might be nothing to it. Because the second half is one song, lots of interactions, many jokes. But within that is the journey which is not something you can put on paper.” Eventually Viacom 18 and Phantom Films, Bahl’s production house in partnership with Anurag Kashyap and Vikramditya Motwane, produced, marketed and distributed the film.

Meanwhile Lamba faced the age-old problem of having a script that didn’t have scope to be made with stars. “The only way I wanted to make Fukrey was with new actors. The producers I met felt that with new people, it’s not always a good business decision. A fresh cast is always that difficult to sell. Probably that could be the reason the other producers didn’t find it that viable,” says the AD-turned-director/writer. “That’s why I really appreciate Ritesh (Sidhwani) and Farhan (Akhtar) as they supported my vision. Excel Entertainment has the connections to get stars, but when I explained my reason to cast new faces – so that the audience can associate with the characters – they immediately got it.”

Despite the obstacles, the three men were determined to do it their way. Thankfully they didn’t take the highway. Bahl, under his production house Phantom Films collaborated with Viacom 18, and within a limited budget made one of the finest films of 2014. Batra waited for the right team to come on board to present his internationally acclaimed film. And Lamba didn’t give in to the market pressure to cast big names.

With the opening up of the industry they found likeminded people to translate their stories from script to screen. But when starting out in the film industry one is often advised to go by the golden rule to sure-shot success: First give what the audience wants and then create what you want. Batra disagrees with that philosophy. He believes, “It depends on what cinema means to anyone. To some people it means to give the audience what they want. And to me it means to give what they least expect. And both things can be good.”

The Lunchbox director, who consciously wants to collaborate with international producers and make Indian films that will reach out to moviegoers across the world, says, “For me it is always about doing something that I can do and which comes naturally to me, and I have a burning desire to tell and tell it in that way.” Meanwhile Bahl feels, “I think you have to do what you believe in. Filmmaking is a long process so if I think the audience likes something today, by the time it’s ready, there’s no clue where the audience’s tastes have gone. So I can only do what I like. I am always hoping that there are millions like me out there. I can’t waste two years of my life trying to guess what the audience likes.”

Thus the marketing-advertising guy-turned-filmmaker goes for scripts that can be marketed well to stand out in the clutter, are worth spending two years to make and can engage the audience for over two hours. Lamba, who is scripting his next – again a comedy in the same vein as his previous films – that will be produced by Excel Entertainment, says, “When it comes to me to picking up a story, it’s not that I have anything against a love story or a rom-com or any other genre. I like stories that are character driven, and characters that are over the edge, not over the top. They have to be slightly twisted in some way or the other, not just comically. Some sort of bizarreness or madness is what I always look for in a story. Perhaps that’s why I come up with stories/ ideas where things are not routine. That’s what I look for in the films I make.”

The obvious reason the movies by these filmmakers had a happy end is the ever-evolving norms of the industry. Most people from Aamir Khan to Karan Johar are willing to step out of their cushy designer cabins and get gritty in the dirt.

Bahl, who has been on the other side of the table looking at scripts, reiterates the thought, “I think the industry has become accessible and it’s really important because there are so many people out there with stories to tell. And the hunger with the producers is as much as with these people waiting to tell stories. So if you are talented then there is no way in hell you can’t make it. If you are not making it just keep revaluating your talent, nothing else is coming in the way.”

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Fukrey – Tomfoolery, slapstick humour and double entendre dialogues have become the easiest tools to make audience roll on the floor with laughter, but the story about four guys proved that subtle humour too works wonders at the box-office

The Lunchbox – Love stories have always revolved around young people, but the tender romance that brewed over letters hidden in a yummy tiffin box proved that age has no bar to this four-lettered emotion

Queen – Coming-of-age is a new genre that is being exploited in Hindi film industry. Wake Up Sid, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Udaan etc. So it was exciting to watch a woman, a neglected gender on Hindi cinema screen, take centre-stage in her journey from a girl to a woman


– Rachana Parekh


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