Sulemani Keeda is my ode to Mumbai and the Hindi film industry: Amit Masurkar
Over a year a movie that has been making the right buzz in inner circle of the industry is Amit Masurkar’s Sulemani Keeda. After the first screening at MAMI in 2013, the bromance was shown at New York Indian Film Festival, Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and London Indian Film Festival. And it is slated for release in India soon.
In an exclusive chat over a cuppa the writer-director talks about roadblocks in getting out his first independent film.
A few weeks ago a list of movies that one shouldn’t miss was published in a daily tabloid. And Sulemani Keeda was one of the movies mentioned in it. Coincidentally, around the same time the film’s makers organised a special screening of it. SK is a story about two diametrically opposite struggling writers’, Dulal and Mainak, who have moved to the heartland of filmdom to carve out a career in Bollywood. While the plot sounds familiar, the realistic yet light-hearted approach, depiction of Mumbai and the unconventional treatment make it worth the time and effort. It’s about Bollywood but not Bollywoodish. After watching the film one felt it was imperative to seek audience with the first time writer-director. Excerpts from the conversation are below.
Despite an overwhelming response at festivals and positive feedback from people who have watched it, Sulemani Keeda’s release date hasn’t been locked. What’s delaying the release?
There is no proper plan for independent films in India. I don’t think studios or distributors are equipped to or have the know-how on how to market a film like this. The easiest thing for them to do is bombard trailers of films on all media and just hope that people come to watch it. They still haven’t figured how to market niche films. We think that if a regional film can do well in certain states then why not pick up certain metros where one thinks such films will do well. That is how we are thinking. The main roadblock for Sulemani Keeda is that it doesn’t have big names – meaning big actors or big director or big producer – attached to it. We are all upstarts so we are having difficulty in getting it out.
One hears that you have already sold the screening rights internationally. Comment.
There are a few offers (to release and distribute in India) right now, and we are seriously considering it. We’ll obviously go with the one that offers a wider release, in terms of no. of screens. Otherwise our sales agent in New York, called FilmBuff, is very strong in VOD and online departments are at it. They will start rolling their plans for October 2014. In terms of television, we are talking to a couple of popular youth channels in India. Channel 4 has already brought it for United Kingdom. We’ll be seen on Channel 4 by end of September 2014.
How did you get the germ for Sulemani Keeda?
I have been a writer for TV and films for a while now. I have written for several television shows like The Great Indian Comedy Show. But there were five films that I wrote that were going to go on floors that never happened. My plan was that I would write a few films and then I would direct. But when I realised that none of the films I wrote are taking off I decided to take matters in my own hand and direct a film that will cost very little money to make. Being a writer in Bollywood I am familiar with this world. What interested me most is that a lot of young people come from all over India to Mumbai to write for movies. And I am most fascinated by Andheri suburb, which is a small area but filled with people with dreams in their heads. Around 75 per cent of the content produced in Hindi cinema comes from this one square kilometer. Yet, there is not a single film which is based in this suburb. So I wanted to write about two young people, who are not from Mumbai, living on their own and trying to dream big. And that is what Sulemani Keeda means; it’s a bug so big that it’s a pain in the ass.
Also, I wanted a chronicle of today’s time. Popular Bollywood cinema is in a very dream zone. This is more real. I was missing that about young people in this city, which I have seen in the past, in Saeed Mirza’s Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastan, Sai Paranjape’s Katha. In their films you see the city. I am deeply interested in the city also. This is the only city where people can come from all over the country and make a film in a language that most people understand in this country. And most people, who work in Bollywood, don’t even speak Hindi as their mother tongue. It’s very interesting and a very democratic industry. This was my ode to this city and my profession.
How long did you take to complete writing SK?
I wrote Sulemani Keeda in nine days of a furious writing spell. I would wake-up and, even without brushing my teeth, start writing. In nine days what I had was a very bad draft of what the film is right now. For the next one year, while I was writing scripts for other people, I was constantly revisiting SK. After that I took 7-8 months to arrive on the final draft.
Is the story inspired from your personal life?
Not really, but everything you write is from your point of view. So there is a little bit of me in all the characters I write, but the events that happen in the film, nothing like that happened to me.
How did you find producers to back the project?
After finishing writing the script I showed it to Datta Dave and Chaitanya Hegde (Tulsea Pictures), who are now the producers of the film. They are basically managers who manage writers. They have a lot of clients like Vikramaditya Motwane, Akshat Verma, etc. They are also representing me. We showed it to a couple of Bollywood producers. The response from them was – it’s a great script and let’s make it with some stars. But I knew this would mean repeat of what I had gone through in the last couple of years. I wrote five films but none of it got made ‘coz for the endless wait for dates from people, finance and feedback from random people. So I didn’t want to get into that zone. I just started shooting with my actors Mayank Tiwari and Naveen Kasturia, who play the struggling writers. After three scenes I showed it to Datta for his feedback. Realising it’s a low budget project he decided to produce it. So Chaitanya and he came onboard to produce it. As expected we ran out of money after the edit. We needed money to finish sound design, colour correction, make the DCP and record music. Then we got Sailesh Dave, who was the creator of The Great Indian Comedy Show. He was producing for television and wanted to get into films. He saw the rushes and felt it was a great way to get into film production. So he came on board with his partner. They helped us finish the film and now are also helping us with the distribution of the film.
Given that you are aware of the ways of the industry why didn’t you opt for a mainstream route of making it with known actors?
Going mainstream is not an easy route. In fact this (independent production) is an easier route. The difficult part here is the release. But tomorrow if somebody figures out how to successfully release this film, then this will be the easiest route to make movies. In the Bollywood route you are dependent on factors which are not in your hand. Then there’s nepotism, not just for actors, but even for technicians. Bollywood is full of nepotism. Independent cinema is purely based on what’s available and what’s not, rather than talent. But I lucked out with talented people. I found really good actors and talented technicians.
What has been the most challenging part to make Sulemani Keeda?
The film’s release has been the most challenging part. After you have made the film how do you get it out to people. It’s not just about releasing it in theatres. It is how to reach out to the maximum number of audience. There is an audience which will like it, I know and have seen it at previous screenings. So how do you get it out to the right crowd? That needs to be figured out. It did not necessarily be through traditional channels. But it also needs to be monetised so more people can do this in the future. I am sure if I put it for free on youtube a lot of people will watch it. But then nobody else is going to make films like this because it’s not sustainable. Right now all these deals matter to us a lot as it brings in little-little money. That encourages our producers to make films like these. You can talk as much as you want about love for cinema and art and everything, but at the end of the day it has to be a sustainable model. You need to get back your investment. Otherwise it will be a one off thing. I would want to continue making indie films but it has to be a model which supports itself. And we also want to pay people who work with us. We paid the technicians but not the actors.
Read the exclusive interview with Amit Masurkar on the making of Sulemani Keeda here.