The title ‘Q’ stands as a question to society
A film that initially had no producers and no backing goes on to win several awards at film festivals and bags the prestigious Gollapudi Srinivas Award this year. After a long but relentless struggle, the filmmaker is one happy man today. Sanjeev Gupta, the Director of Q, gets candid about the making of his debut film, why he doesn’t believe in categorization of films and how winning this award has given an immense boost to his film.
A newspaper article is said to have given birth to the idea for this film. What was it that motivated you to convert the idea into a film?
I was struggling for almost eight years to make my first film and while trying to make some other films, I came across this idea and thought that it would make for a good film. I won’t share the concept of the film as it’s not yet released but I’d read this article in a newspaper and started researching on the concept. I then started writing a fiction script around it. Though it is a true concept, my film is a fiction film inspired by true events, it is not based on any real characters. My film talks about a very universal problem. You don’t need ears or an audio to understand this film, it is that universal by nature and anyone, anywhere in the world can understand it very easily. It took me four months to complete the script post which I approached many actors and producers. But none of them agreed to be a part of it.
What is the story behind the title ‘Q’?
When you watch the movie there are a lot of questions that will come up. A small girl is purchased for eight thousand rupees; she is brought to Mumbai and starts living with a family here. There is a mission going on in that family but as an audience you don’t understand what is happening with this girl. You’ll understand it only towards the end. The title Q stands as a question to society. The film leaves the viewers with a question to think about even after they have finished watching it.
Where did you shoot the film and what was the look and feel that you adopted?
The film is shot in Mumbai. When you watch the film, it feels very real; it’s like a theatre drama. You feel like the incident is going on in front of you and you want to reach to the very end of it. The treatment of the film is real. It’s a human drama with various emotions. There are no songs in this film, not even background music. Even the characters and their emotions are very real. It’s very similar to your everyday life where you follow a routine – eat in the same place, leave your shoes at one place, do the same things. There is nothing fictionalized in your life and you live the same way everyday unless there is an occasion or incident. I’ve tried to show a similar routine in the film to establish that level of reality.
What were the criteria for the casting of the film? How was the experience of working with children in your debut film?
After completing the script, I started thinking that since it is a very real film, you need real people. When you talk about real people you always think about theatre. I went to Prithvi theatre and met many people there. I found many good theatre artists and Heeba Shah (Naseeruddin Shah’s daughter) was one of them. So I met Heeba and narrated the story to her. Heeba was very similar to my character and after listening to just 6-7 lines of the story she agreed to be a part of the film. I also met many kids in Mumbai but the main child protagonist, the girl, is my friend’s daughter. That little girl was exactly like my character. My character has a mix of urban and rural expressions. And she was just like that. Though she stays in Mumbai her mannerisms are very much like the place her family originally belongs to in North India. In the film we haven’t established the city that the child originally belongs to, so she could be from anywhere. The film also features a toddler and another child artist. And the other characters are mainly theatre artists.
Working with kids is very difficult. Children work as per their will and you cannot force them for anything. Before every shot, the children would ask for some little treat – a frooti, a chocolate etc. Every time they had to do something, we had to give them something (laughs). They aren’t bothered about money but these little things make them happy. So it was challenging but at the end they did a good job. But it is not a children’s film. The child is a part of the film but the main characters are adults.
The film has an open ending. What was the thought behind it?
As I mentioned earlier, it is a question to society. And when it’s an open-ended film you continue to think about it. The film stays in your mind and my objective was that the subject of this film should stay in the viewers mind. I didn’t want to fictionalize the ending because then it would be like a typical Bollywood film. The impact of the story would have been lost.
How has the film been funded? As with many debut filmmakers, was funding a challenge?
Funding was a major challenge. My film is not a regular Bollywood film and has no commercial elements. I initially met many producers but they all refused to back it. But I knew that this film would work, that it is a good film and I should make it. After being refused by producers I decided that I needed to first put a team in place. I thought that having a team would help the producers believe in my film and invest in it. I started meeting cameramen, putting together the actors, and the other technical crew. All the pre-production was done without any money. Once my team was in place and I had a schedule in hand, I finally got some producers and that is how the film was made. I personally believe that if you have a good team you can create anything and people also start believing in you.
It is said that you literally went broke sending the film to festivals. How important are festivals for films like these?
Film festivals are a very good platform. But when you look at today’s scenario, there is a lot of change happening in cinema. I don’t want to categorize any film as offbeat or art or indie. But in today’s date every kind of film is getting a release be it through PVR Director’s Rare or other producers. Festivals are a good medium because the film gets a certificate of being a ‘good’ film and that it should be watched. When a small filmmaker makes a film you say it is ‘indie’. When the same film goes to a festival, gets an award, gets the backing of a big studio and a theatrical release, then it moves from ‘indie’ to another platform. Why categorize it in the first place? When producers or distributors find a so-called ‘indie’ film valuable, they convert it and release it on a commercial platform. I don’t agree to this entire categorisation. For a filmmaker every film is the same. When you start writing a script every filmmaker is independent; the studios, the producers come much later. Every filmmaker is actually an indie filmmaker, so we need to stop this categorisation.
How has winning the Gollapudi Srinivas Award given a boost to the film? What are the future plans for Q?
We did get an immense boost. The most important thing is that the film reached that level (of the award). The Gollapudi Srinivas Award is a very prestigious award. Even though I’m not related to the Southern film industry in any way they recognized my film. The award helped my film get a lot of coverage and Chennai became an important territory for the film. A lot of people have asked me to release the film in Chennai as they want to see it. I also met some people who expressed an interest in releasing the film there. People like Farah Khan, Chiranjeevi, Suhasini Mani Ratnam (Mani Ratnam’s wife) and many other big names were present and saw my film and appreciated it. So that is also a big thing. A few good things about this award is that it is only for debutant directors; there is no other category, so it’s a personal boost. It happens at a big level, because on the first day there is a screening of your film, the next day you have a press conference and the third day you get the award. You won’t believe it but my posters were on the roads in Chennai (laughs). It’s a great feeling to be selected from all over India. Previously people like Aamir Khan have got the same award and somewhere that made me feel that my film must be good.
As for future plans, I have received some queries from the South as they would like to send the film to some festivals. Suhasini Mani Ratnam, who was there for the award and loved the film, told me that she and her team would like to take the film further. The film has also been selected for the Indian Film Festival of Japan and will be screened in Tokyo in October. We have sent the film to various other festivals and are waiting to see how it goes. We are now working towards releasing the film.
Are you working on any other projects?
Now that the journey of Q is coming to an end I’m working on a biopic that is based on national integration. I can’t disclose much about it since it is still in a nascent stage but it’s about a reputed person of the country and again has a universal appeal. Like Q it is also a female oriented film.
Lastly, tell us about your background and what made you venture into filmmaking?
My association with filmmaking started from childhood itself. I belong to Agra. When I was a kid several film shoots would happen there and I would go and watch them. I’ve always loved cinema. I had seen Satyajit Ray’s film Shatranj Ke Khilari on national television and that film really inspired me. That’s when I decided to do something in filmmaking. I did my BSc in Electronic Media from Indore. It wasn’t a filmmaking school but it was a media college. After that, like everyone else I came to Bombay to make films. But it wasn’t easy. I started working with media companies and production houses to survive in the city. I assisted a write called Sutanu Gupta who has written films like Damini, Ghatak, etc. I learnt many things from him and understood cinema at a better level, which has helped me a lot. I kept working towards making my own film and Q finally happened in 2014. And I owe a huge thanks to my producers Sada Bhuvad, Vasant Thakkar and Tariq Mohammad from Pulp Cinema Productions for believing in me and helping my dream come true.