Sexuality is as natural as drinking water – Q
[dropcap]”A[/dropcap]fter I began on the journey of film making, I realized that our very own identity is dominated by our sexuality,” quoted filmmaker Q. His first feature documentary Love in India tried to explore the idea of sexuality and passion perceived in India, and it went on to win the 58th National Award for Best Film on Family Values. Q, also known as Qaushiq Mukherjee, was a creative director in Ogilvy and Mather in Colombo, Sri Lanka before he decided to quit his job to start his own production company, ‘Overdose Joint’ making original films, designs and music. His first feature length fiction film Gandu (asshole) is an international cult phenomenon of sorts, having been to more than 40 film festivals worldwide and winning top honors at Saiff (Seattle Arab & Iranian Film Festival).
For the first time, Q experimented with an adaptation of literature into a film in his latest venture called Tasher Desh, originally a fantasy play by Rabindranath Tagore. Tasher Desh, which released on 23rd August this year, is still getting rave reviews for its bizarreness. Q got candid with Pandolin on the making of Tasher Desh, his passion for art, music and his view point on sexuality explicitly shown in all of his films.
You hail from an advertising background. How did you decide to become a filmmaker?
Actually I happened to watch some post 90’s films that blew my mind. I realized that cinema has changed from what it used to be. At that point, I also felt that filmmaking is something that I could possibly do in my life. It just struck me. I was a completely insane filmmaker as I did not know whether I could do it or not, because then film making was to be done only by an institute pass out student and you had to have required equipments and contacts in the industry, which was a kind of fire-walling around the culture of film industry. The opportunity was not readily available. For me, when digital films were made democratic, that’s when I decided to become a filmmaker.
Does your experience in advertising help you in filmmaking?
[pullquote_left]My film Tasher Desh is a costume drama and fairy tale. I have always been drawn towards fairy tales and elaborate fantasies. As I grew up with Rabindranath Tagore’s texts and songs, it was always in my conscience.[/pullquote_left]
Advertising taught me the capitalism and market-oriented economy and I am not in agreement with that. But I have to admit that I learnt all of that from advertising. Having stayed so close to the market also almost prepared me for what I was going to do, which I am doing now. Yes, it played a very crucial part as it showed me what reality is like and how it can be manipulated.
What inspired you to translate Rabindranath Tagore’s play ‘The Land of Cards’ into visual sequences? What is Tasher Desh about?
Basically, Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Tasher Desh’ or ‘The Land of Cards’ was part of my collective identity, a part of my childhood. It looks like a children’s play but I believe it was not intended to be a children’s play and it just happened to become one. My film Tasher Desh is a costume drama and fairy tale. I have always been drawn towards fairy tales and elaborate fantasies. As I grew up with Rabindranath Tagore’s texts and songs, it was always in my conscience. When I became older and entered filmmaking, I revisited it and thought that I would like to do something with the literature ‘Tasher Desh’. Hence, around 12-13 years back, I began developing it, bringing together whatever collective experiences I had over all these years, be it political, social or sexual and they all together collided in this film.
How challenging was it to translate the actual play onto film screen?
The script was the original play and we just improvised on that. There were some parameters which were set for the film, basis which all the writings were done. We did a lot of research. Essentially, we did not change much of the original play. What extra I did was that I took the lead from where the play ends. We tried to bring into context of what is happening around us currently. In the film, locations played a big part in telling the story.
What parameters did you set for the film? What kind of research was involved into it?
A lot of intense research was involved. You can imagine if one has spent years on a subject, what would happen to it. So, research was involved in every direction be it intent or politics of the play. I went through all the academic studies done on the piece, anything that Tagore wrote around that time was taken into consideration in this film. The different things that you saw in Tasher Desh were fascinating secret messages. It’s subject is full of secret coded messages. We tried to bring the subject into our own context. It deals with a lot of complex layers which include the layers of sexuality, individual freedom, political identity, social identity, collective freedom, sexual behaviour, the idea of revolution etc. at a very universal level which originated in my trial of interpretations that was to take it as a metaphor instead of literally.
What were the locations and how long did you take to complete the film?
We shot extensively in Sri Lanka followed by a few days in Kolkata. The whole film took around two and half years of production and we shot for like 30 days.
[pullquote_right]The different things that you saw in Tasher Desh were fascinating secret messages. We tried to bring the subject into our own context. It deals with a lot of complex layers[/pullquote_right]
Which camera format have you used?
We shot it on two cameras – DSLR Canon 5 D and 7 D. We always had two cameras shooting simultaneously.
Was the budget a constraint for you?
We did not feel the constraint of budget because we have always worked with constrained budgets. We know that we are not making a palatable commodity, which can be presented very safely in the market and returns will follow. We have a different view point in terms of how we wanted to access funding. The film was made in 3.2 crores, which is a sizeable amount of money considering an experimental Bengali Indie film. However this money was raised through subsidies and through different exercises. It does bound us to the logic of box-office, which we are trying to work outside of. However, we definitely also need audience interaction and participation and that is why we intended the screening of the film theatrically.
How did your collaboration with NFDC and Anurag Kashyap happen?
Anurag and I are friends. He is a great supporter of Indie films as everyone knows. He had told me if I had something in mind or at any point I felt stuck, then to call out to him. That’s exactly what I did at a point with Tasher Desh and he came in great support. Thereafter, he was the one who got NFDC on board and once that alliance was done, it was amazing to see how NFDC supported my vision to its best. I never had any issue in terms of producing the film so far. We did the film exactly the way I wanted to. There were no boundaries drawn from other co-producers. We also have Belgium co-producers, Dream Digital Inc. which has a sound studio and where all the music was done. They have been with us since the time of Gandu and also co-produced the film.
Music plays an essential role in all your films so far. Comment.
I think music is one of the backbones of filmmaking and one of the foundation pillars. I am more committed to music than towards films. I always feel safer and much stronger if my music is done first. Once I am comfortable with it, the film becomes easier for me to make. I always go by my instincts and keep on improvising. I need something to stand on and that’s Music!
What kind music have you given in Tasher Desh?
In the original ‘Tasher Desh’, there are a lot of 100-year old songs. One of the key things which was our challenge were these songs, a lot of them are still taught in schools. Their popularity can be measured by the fact that every Bengali almost knows these songs. Even if they don’t know ‘Tasher Desh’, they would definitely know one or two songs out of it. Treating these songs was not only an exercise on music but also an exercise of culture. Mr Tagore shaped most of the Bengali culture. The ramification was old and very critical to us. The fact that we could not go away from the main structure because the music was very critical.
[pullquote_left]I am more committed to music than towards films. I always feel safer and much stronger if my music is done first. Once I am comfortable with it, the film becomes easier for me to make.[/pullquote_left]
Hence, we started from the original notations but changed the entire arrangement structure. We also brought in a worldwide collaboration of many different artists from different countries who played an important part in the music. It was a very intense two year exercise of putting together this music by these great artists and Asian Dub foundation. The artists like Susheela Raman, Sam Mills, Eric Truffaz, Moog Conspiracy, Anusheh, Sahana Bajpai, Jens Chr. Bugge Wesseltoft, Tanmoy Bose, Jivraj Singh, Deigo, Neel Adhikari, Miti Adhikari, Arijit Chakraborty, Seth Blumberg, Esme Folley, Nirmalya de Biswas, Mainak Nag Choudhary, are all superb musicians and nobody is from the Tagore gharanas. They belong to different genres of music. I really wanted that kind of setup where it would become a truly world music experience.
Your film Tasher Desh was completed in 2012, but got its release in 2013. What caused this delay?
It’s a norm for an independent film to take its time to get a domestic release. When you premiere the film in festivals, they have their own timelines. Secondly, in India there is no precedence of an independent film’s release in the mainstream cinema. For a film like this, we had to work really hard.
What other challenges did you face while making this film?
This film was entirely challenging. The biggest challenge for me was to work on someone else’s play as I have always worked upon my own materials. I also like to work alone or with a very few people around. But it was not the same in Tasher Desh as there were hundreds of people around me and hundreds of actors to deal with. Casting the actors from around the world and India was the biggest challenge. Only a few could speak Bengali, let alone sing. I think it was because of the challenges involved, that I wanted to do this film.
How much does coming from a Bengali culture influence your work? Did it ever cross your mind to choose another medium of language for your documentaries?
Yes, I am very much a local person. I have grown up around Bengali culture. I know everything about this place. My identity formation is from this state, considering the fact that I am a very politically conscious filmmaker. I can only be a Bengali filmmaker or a filmmaker from Kolkata, whether you feel that’s detrimental or not.
Also, I was very clear that I wanted to work in Bengali language. A Bengali film releasing in Mumbai normally doesn’t happen but this is where I think it played a very important part on how we can go beyond the regional situations and identity, becoming a part of larger collection.
Language should not be a big deal. Currently, I am going through my Bangla phase. I have to retell the story of my land and my language, which is my first priority. At the same time, I am not ruling out any other language. We might end up making a film in English soon. My decision on making a film lies on the stories we want to tell and its possibilities. About Hindi I am really not sure because I am not in concrete agreement with the kind of packaging done in Hindi films.
In almost all your films so far sexuality has been explicitly shown. Any particular reasons?
[pullquote_right]Language should not be a big deal. Currently, I am going through my Bangla phase. I have to retell the story of my land and my language, which is my first priority. At the same time, I am not ruling out any other language.[/pullquote_right]
We are a repressed country and I have grown up inside that repression. I firmly believe that if we don’t talk about it, we will get further up in our head. I felt that it is necessary and I could not stop. Once I began on this journey, I also realized that our very identity is dominated by our sexuality. How we form our social identity has a lot do with our sexuality and the way we expose ourselves to our sexuality. Also at the same time, if the society wants to console the individual, the best way of consoling is cajoling their sexuality and that’s exactly what we are doing. Hence, I am countering that. My logic is very simple. We have done much amount of research on sexuality and found that it is as natural as drinking water. There is absolutely no reason why we should not examine that very crucial part of our existence. Cinema is about questioning.
Can you comment on the current status of the Bengal film industry?
The film industry in Bengal has been quiet interesting because for the last 15-17 years, while the rest of the country was suffering from horrendous films of Bollywood, we actually had some other kind of cinema happening here, which was almost like mainstream cinema. It is one of the reasons why we could bring out Tasher Desh as a mainstream release in Kolkata. Kolkata always has had a very interesting film history, which is still continuing.
What usually inspires you in your subjects?
My work is my lifestyle, as it is no different from the life I live. I don’t consider filmmaking a job. Whatever comes out of my life becomes my subject. It’s very hard to determine or pinpoint what I get interested in because what interests me is all around me.
Can you speak about your other project called Sari?
For me, it is basically a continuation of my first film Love in India. Love in India looked at the gap between the genders, about the idea of romance and sexuality and my other film Sari is about women, as I believe that sari is a metaphor for women and through the story of this six-yard fabric which is as old as the civilization, we almost get a sort of reflection of the lives of the sub-continent women. Also designer saris fascinate me and thirdly it is about sexuality. So all of these reasons make Sari a perfect subject for me.
Funding is one major challenge that independent filmmakers face. What sources help you get funds for your films?
It’s always difficult for every film. Some films I find easier to fund than the others but it is true that all the films are very difficult to fund. We pitch ideas to concerned people and that’s one of the reasons why I also went abroad to look for funding. So far we have been lucky to get a lot of European support for most of our projects. This was the first time that we were working with Indian funds through NFDC. We believe in co-productions, so that through resources and management we can raise a lot of funding. It’s a complex structure and we intend writing about it very soon, releasing a case study or something. If we can sustain ourselves for a few years in this model, we will be able to prove that there is an option to open market endorsements.
What do you look for before you decide on producing a film?
[pullquote_left]With every film, I learn something.With every project and film, I have different kinds of learning and that’s why we are making films.[/pullquote_left]
My decisions are often very instinctive and impulsive. We prepare for it all the time. So it’s very difficult to explain the process in a few words. The criteria is that it should be a really motivating idea or should excite us to an extent that we can live with it for years. We can’t just throw a film and go away. It needs to be convincing enough to invest that much of time and energy into one project.
What has been your biggest learning as a filmmaker?
With every film, I learn something. I can’t really put it down like that. Currently I am learning how to negotiate the distribution environment at length. With every project and film, I have different kinds of learning and that’s why we are making films.
What do you think of the Indian film industry? Is it liberal or conservative?
It’s conservative. The major reason being that there is no political awareness among general citizen after 1970’s. Till 70’s, there used to be a direct relationship between individuals and the government. But post liberalization, India has moved into a very market-oriented, extremely methodical space where cultural and social sensibilities have a very small role. Whatever you do, there would be a severe disconnect. If you look at how people are receiving information today, it is extremely different than how the information was received twenty years back. Within just one generation, everything has changed. Our outlook on schools, jobs and other societal activities are mirrored in art and independent cinema.
One piece of advice for young film makers?
You should be inviting trouble. That’s what I would say!