Recognition can’t be the reason to make an indie film
Filmmaker Twish Mukherjee talks about his film, Tenant, which revolves around the difficulties one faces while looking out for a house on rent and Fliqvine as a stage to present indie films to niche audience.
What does a platform like Fliqvine mean to you? How does it benefit your film?
Since Fliqvine is catering to a niche audience that would not judge a film by its production quality as much as by its content and intent, it’s the best possible platform for a film like mine which took birth amidst really bad ‘labour’ pains – in terms of resources and the likes that indie films go through. If the film has any potential at all, it can be realised only through a platform like Fliqvine, and no other.
How did you get associated with Fliqvine?
Hemant Gaba had referred me to Prasun (Kumar) of Fliqvine. He is the director of Shuttlecock Boys, a truly indie film that I had watched long before ‘indie’ became a fad. I am extremely grateful to Hemant and Prasun for taking the time and effort to get my film up on the website.
Have you faced a‘Tenant’ like situation? How did the idea crop up?
Yes, I have. Being a meat-eating person, despite having a Hindu surname, it was difficult to get accommodation in lots of Hindu/Jain housing societies in Mumbai. The idea cropped up from not just those experiences but also a lot of other inexplicable human behavioral observations.
The film shows ‘how a Muslim is objected, questioned and doubted by the housing society’, even in a city like Mumbai. Can you elaborately comment on this situation?
This situation actually happened to a person I knew in Kolkata, long back. He was a well-accomplished engineer who had shifted to Kolkata for his new job, but he couldn’t get a single place to stay near his office because he was a Muslim. And I had always grown up believing that Kolkata was the most religion-liberal city in India. So when this guy was forced to take a place in a Muslim-only neighborhood far away from his office; I started becoming aware of the religious undercurrents that go unnoticed under a facade of secularism, everywhere in India.
Is this your first film as a Director? Are you in process of writing other scripts?
No, this isn’t my first film. I’ve made a 72-minute Docu-fiction called Nothing Unusual right before this film, even before shifting to Mumbai. Before that I’d made two and a half short films too (half, because it was a co-direction project). But, Tenant happens to be the last, because none of the scripts I wrote thereafter has taken off so far.
What topics and situations inspire you to write and film?
I get inspired by a situation that has a complex undercurrent hiding beneath a facade of something apparently simple; any situation where it’s difficult to comprehend people’s feelings and intentions, just by their words or faces. I don’t think there’s any ‘topic’ as such that interests me particularly, I would jump into anything that can be remotely classified as ‘drama’, I guess.
In ‘Tenant’ you use dissolve technique, blank frames and take shots from angles where it seems the camera is hidden. Elaborate on your planned design while making the film.
For Tenant, the whole idea in my head was to slow down time and show how boring and empty the woman’s life was, before the ‘tenants’ start appearing. As a Director, I wanted to make every scene linger on for more than I would usually allow as an editor. The extremely slow fade-to-blacks and frames where nothing much is actually happening, frames that are essentially empty for the non-discerning viewer, were meant to achieve two things: one, define the central protagonist’s character. Everything that happens in the film can be understood only if viewed from the protagonist’s point of view, who is essentially a middle-aged woman, who doesn’t have much to do all day, despite being seemingly capable of being a professional. Two, the film starts in the morning when the protagonist wakes up, and finishes in the evening. The subtlest way I could think of showing the time lapse was using the slow fades and the ‘inactive’ frames.
The use of camera was more objective. I love the 14 mm lens. The wide angle helps build a context for the scene. The fish eye distortion helps develop that ‘hidden camera’ intimacy. Looking back I think I shouldn’t have used the tight close shots at all. I should have just stuck to extreme wide and slightly medium angles like The Turin Horse kind of way.
How was the process of making this film? From writing, budgeting to getting people on board.
The process was tedious, because we had absolutely no resource, and everything had to be scheduled (read: postponed) to suit everybody’s availability.
Writing was the easiest part, as it was done out of mere spontaneity one fine day. There was very little budgeting that had to be done, except for transport and food costs. I just needed a location, and 3 actors. As for the rest of the equipment, I had every intention to manage everything for free, from friends of friends etc.
I actually couldn’t get the location I wanted; I wanted a larger house/space of course. Shilpi Bhattacharya, the protagonist of the film, who in real life is my aunt, offered her place. Deep Mithun and Manas Agarwal in the film were my then flatmates, so convincing them wasn’t tough either. It just took a whole week of rehearsing because I wanted a single take in a wide angle for almost all the scenes. Only the last of which came out perfect. Sandeep Chatterjee who helped me with sound worked the hardest, and for the longest, and I am yet to repay him the favor!
Have you sent your film to any festivals?
No! I don’t think I can ever make myself send my own film to festivals. It’s like an indirect hunt for recognition. Recognition can’t be the reason to make an indie film. You make a film because you have to tell a story, and that’s all. If I ever make a film that isn’t for a ‘niche’ audience per say, maybe I’ll consider festival submissions.
Could you share some interesting moments from the journey of making the film.
Well, the shoot was happening under a lot of stress for all involved, I believe, although everybody had a lot of fun, and everybody burst out laughing every 15 minutes during the shoot. But the best moments that I remember were during the rehearsals where we used to do role reversals and everybody got to play every other’s character (including me). I am immensely grateful to everybody who worked in this film, for absolutely no reason but the love for cinema and the desire to make something.