Stories rooted in Indian context will always appeal to everybody
A film on sanitary napkins – sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But beating these odds and showcasing a story that has a much larger social picture is an enterprising trio. Director Amit Rai and Producers Monish and Jyoti Sekhri open up about their pet project, I Pad (Working Title), that was part of the Work-In-Progress (WIP) Lab at Film Bazaar 2015.
Tell us about the film. Why is it called I Pad (working title)?
Amit – That is the suspense. Currently it’s a working title. It’s the story of a man who lives in Bhopal and is struggling to make a machine that can produce low cost sanitary pads. The film is about this guy’s struggle and how he achieves it. It is loosely based on a guy who lives in Coimbatore.
Jyoti – It is inspired from this man and similar others in Africa where people invented machines or devised means to make sanitary napkins for cheap.
How did you decide to work on such a subject?
Amit – To be honest, I wanted to write a story on the market – the indigenous products versus multinational products and why the latter are not available to rural markets. I was actually inspired by the Charkha revolution wherein Khadi was initially developed to clothe the economically backward classes. Now it has become an elitist revolution with a Khadi jacket costing around 2500 rupees. But it was basically invented for those who couldn’t afford clothes. So I decided to search something, which will compete with these multinational products and is homemade. But I was completely clueless about how I would write a story about this.
Then I met a guy from a media agency who told me about a person known as ‘Menstruation Uncle’ who invented a machine that produces 20-30 sanitary pads in a week. That attracted me and I started researching to understand how this man must have thought of this concept, considering that the subject is a taboo in our society. We generally don’t talk about this even with the females in our household. So the character in my story was going through a struggle and even I was going through a struggle on how to make this film. Even though it was an interesting subject, making it a feature length film and then incorporating the original thought was very difficult. After 2-3 subsequent drafts I realized that we needed a simple story that should be rooted in a town or place which is very Indian at heart.
Is it treated like a documentary?
Amit – No.
Jyoti – That is the one thing that Amit really got right. When I heard the story I was against it and thought that it was a ridiculous idea. Who would watch a film on sanitary napkins? But when Amit narrated the story scene-by-scene to me, and we got through the first half of the film, there were points when you were just smiling or were in splits because it’s told very entertainingly. The whole point is to put across this important subject that we don’t talk about. It gets you thinking but is not preachy.
Is it a funny film too?
Amit – It’s a slice of life film, very humorous in an inherent way. There is no deliberate attempt to make it tongue-in-cheek. We tried our best to not make fun of the subject.
Are you a first time director/producer?
Amit – No this is my second directorial venture.
Monish – I am a first time feature film producer. And my role was more like the spot boy in the film. (laughs)
Amit, why did you choose to make the film with them (producers)?
Amit – I was narrating the story to a lot of people. And it so happened that Monish told me about a producer whom he knows and whom we should narrate the idea to. But while narrating it to this other guy, Monish himself got interested in it. So we decided to go for it.
Monish – Amit and I have been wanting to work together from 4-5 years. We were very close to starting the shoot for another story of his but that didn’t happen. It was around 2012 when he told me about this thought and I told him that it was ridiculous. We continued to remain in touch and after about a year Amit told me to at least listen to the script. That’s when I heard it out and decided to be part of it.
Do you think there is an audience for stories that are rural in nature and address more of middle class issues?
Amit – As a country, it’s mostly middle class families that go and watch these films. We can’t expect films on the problems of New York and America to appeal to us. Their subjects and problems are always welcome but as far as my stories are concerned, they are always on Indian subjects. And stories that are rooted in Indian context will always appeal to everybody. I believe that they work well abroad too.
Monish – When you talk about the urban India, the influx to big cities has been from the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. So someone from Kolhapur has moved to Mumbai and if you are placing a story in Kolhapur, there could be a great connect with that guy who has moved to Mumbai with several aspirations.
Amit – The film market in India changes every Friday and the movement of independence cinema is grabbing speed. There are films like Pagadi from Haryana, which won the National award and is doing well too. There is a Rajasthani film, which we may not know about but it has recovered its money. The scenario has changed. It is not necessary that only films based in metropolitan cities will work.
Amit – Eventually, it is the story that counts. It is the honesty in the story that works.
Jyoti – Also a lot of times, stories of other places in the country intrigue audiences in the urban areas as they want to know what is happening there. They are curious to see different parts of India. But there too your content needs to be good.
How do you cast for a film where the subject is the main protagonist?
Amit – Well that is completely subjective. For my first film which was a serious subject, I cast Paresh Rawal and Om Puri who were known for their comic timing then. For I Pad we had considered the likes of Irrfan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vinay Pathak and the likes so that it could be a commercial success also. But then we decided to cast someone completely new because of the kind of character we were looking at. I was always in two minds if established actors would fit the bill. We were just 15 days away from the shoot when we decided to cast Sudhir and Shalini.
Do you think it will that affect the reach? How will you attract the first audience?
Amit – That is totally a result of the marketing efforts.
Jyoti – If there was a big name in the film, the marketing effort would be based on their name but for films that have strong content, the marketing efforts will be based on that. As producers that is what we have to do. The people we have cast gave it a spin of their own and that works for us. Marketing will be tough but you just do it differently. We are a team of a first time actor, first time producer and second time director but we are sure about our content and that’s when you’ll take all these risks.
How does the Viewing Room at Film Bazaar help a film like I Pad?
Amit – To be selected out of 150 films in India itself is a good start.
Monish – The film was part of the WIP lab selection. We were among the 6 films chosen from 157 titles. Its also selected under ‘Film Bazaar Recommends’. The place is abuzz with buyers and press people who can go and watch the film. We have been approached by three other film festivals but are still in the process of finalizing everything.
Are you expecting to make a return on investment out of this film?
Monish – First and foremost it is important that people like the film. But having said that it is also important that we make money from the film since only then can we finance our next film. But we would be very disappointed if we made the money and nobody liked the film. So it’s important that people love your work, then they will pay you money to watch it.
Any other festivals the film is headed to?
We have got an invitation from Berlin. There is Cannes as well. We are still lining up other festivals.
-Transcribed by Mili Semlani