I want people like Sudhir to speak for themselves – Sushrut Jain
An avid cricket fan and follower, Sushrut Jain set out to make a film around a sport that runs through the veins of the Indian public. Beyond All Boundaries is a documentary on cricket and the 2011 World Cup, which released on October 10th. Jain speaks to Pandolin about the journey of this film, his central characters, meeting his cricket heroes and more.
Is it your love for the game that formed the basis of this film? What was the objective with which you started Beyond All Boundaries?
Absolutely, the love for the game is a big part of why I even decided to make the film. I grew up playing cricket like any other Mumbai boy and it was a very big part of my life. Even after I moved to the USA for my studies and work, one of the few things that connected me back home was the game of cricket. Around the 2011 World Cup I started thinking that it would be interesting to go back to India and make a documentary about the people who live in India and connect them to the sport of cricket. I wanted to find interesting characters and see what happens with the World Cup in the background.
What was the research for this film like? How long did the entire process take?
I came up with the idea around October 2010 and found a person in India who became my production manager. We then hired a young guy to research for us via the Internet and find us a super fan, kids who are good at the game and so on. But the only thing we found on the Internet was Sudhir Kumar Chaudhury (Widely recognized as an ardent fan of the Indian team and Sachin Tendulkar) and that too a really small article. So I came to India with some money and started looking for such interesting people. I hired an entire crew for it. We went to Shivaji Park and other cricket grounds and interviewed kids, coaches, the parents, followed kids to their homes, watched them play and then slowly zeroed in on kids who had truly amazing stories. But it took a long time. Two months into the shoot and all we had was Sudhir.
How did you zero in on Prithvi and Akshaya as your subjects? How open were they and their families to face the camera?
We had Sudhir and I was hoping to find a couple of interesting kids. Since Sudhir comes from an economically disadvantaged background, we also thought of exploring a character that comes from a rich household. So I started hanging out with some celebrity – type people I knew but realized that these stories are not worth sharing. The real stories are on the ground. And that’s how we found Prithvi and Akshaya. We never expected to find a girl so closely associated with cricket but one day we came across a group of girls playing cricket at Shivaji Park and started talking to them. And they had so much energy and excitement, especially Akshaya. So I spoke to her, decided to go to her place and seek her mother’s permission. While shooting with them it became very clear that this is a story that no one in India really knows. We keep talking about superstars playing cricket, but here’s a girl living in a slum in Dadar and she has so much passion for the sport.
Akshaya and her mom are such simple people who were welcoming at all times and so natural in front of the camera. With Prithvi too it was wonderful. He is such a loveable kid that we all enjoyed shooting with him. Initially his dad wasn’t very keen on having us around but he warmed up to us and understood that we weren’t trying to sensationalize things like the media does.
Was it easy to get access to cricketers like Saurav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh?
It was very difficult, especially because the World Cup was happening and they were very busy. We interviewed both of them after the World Cup ended. With Yuvraj I knew that he was practicing with the Pune Warriors at MIG Club in Mumbai, which was also the club where Prithvi used to play, so I had contacts there. I got a call from the club when Yuvraj was practicing. I went there, waited till he finished his practice and then we spoke. In terms of Ganguly, we’d not even imagined that we would interview him. We were shooting with Sudhir and went to Kolkata because he’d left his bicycle at Ganguly’s house during the World Cup as he had to travel by train to all the matches. It was the only safe place he knew to leave his bicycle and the Ganguly’s were more than welcoming to Sudhir. So post the World Cup when Sudhir went back to collect his bicycle, it just so happened that Ganguly was home. I told him about the movie and he loved the idea and even agreed to do the interview. We spoke for over an hour and a half and he was such a well-spoken, well-read gentleman and answered every question that I had. It was a dream come true for someone like me who has grown up watching him play.
How important is the role of the narrator in Beyond All Boundaries and how did you get Kunal Nayyar on board for the same?
I think it is a very important role. The voice and the tone of the narrator set the tone of the film. I live in Los Angeles and happen to know a lot of actors there because of a few projects that I have done. I thought that Kunal would be amazing for this project, so I reached out to him through an actor friend of mine. I sent Kunal the trailer and as soon as he had watched it, he called me home. I showed his wife and him whatever we had shot by then and both of them were close to tears by the end of it. Kunal loved it so much that he offered to not just narrate but help in any way possible. And that is how the relationship began. I never thought that he would become the producer but it just happened so organically. No one else could have done the narration this well. And for someone who is the biggest Indian face on American television to give this project so much time and aid is remarkable. He helped us raise around $50,000 on the Internet from crowdfunding by appealing to his fans that came out and gave money. Without that money we wouldn’t have finished the film.
Where all did you travel to shoot the film?
We shot the movie in rural Maharashtra, Bombay (the bulk of the film happens here) and also went to rural Karnataka, shot in Bangalore, interviewed Ganguly Kolkata, followed Sudhir on a bicycle from Kolkata to Muzzafarpur (Bihar) via Jharkhand. So the movie has been everywhere.
You have treated this project like a feature film and not a documentary. What was your vision and the brief to the cinematographer?
My goal was to always try and tell honest stories. I think a lot of films that are made here, the ‘independent’ cinema that comes out of India falls short somewhere. There is a lack of authenticity and the way the films are made seems to be highly influenced by Bollywood. Though there has been a dramatic change with time but the problem is that the filmmakers are not telling stories of Indian people in an honest way. The way the people talk, the way they think, the warmth in their personalities etc., does not come out. I want to let these people talk for themselves; people like Sudhir should speak for themselves. We have let him share his life story and it is so amazing that you don’t need to do anything. And this movie has gone on to win an audience award at every American festival that we went to. People in rural Utah (USA), where they haven’t even seen an Indian before, were standing up and applauding. And the reason they were doing that is because they could connect with the characters.
So the goal for me was not to be a filmmaker but just to be honest. And that is what I told the cinematographer too. He (Jeremy Guy) is an American who had never been to India. I brought him out here and told him just one thing – not to do anything fancy, just put the camera and ensure that we capture everything as it happens and the rest will work out. He is such a talented guy and the cinematography in the film is outstanding. It doesn’t feel like your typical documentary.
What is the role of music in this film?
Klaus Badelt who did the music for our film has composed music for famous films like Gladiator, Pirates of the Carribean and so on. We had a common friend and Klaus watched the movie and loved it so much that he volunteered to do the music for next to nothing. The role of music in any film is to further enhance the emotions in the film. People shouldn’t sit there and notice the music, it should just help convey the emotions they are already feeling and bring them out more. So we had a light Cello performance, some young American composers, a lovely sarangi and we found live musicians with everything being an original composition for the movie.
You went the crowdfunding way for this project. How long did it take you’ll to achieve the required goal?
A vast majority of the money came from crowdfunding, I put in a lot of money personally and so did Kunal (Nayyar). There were individual investors from the USA too, people whom I had worked with in the corporate world. We raised a bunch of money in the beginning, just enough to come and shoot in India. We shot in India, ran out of all the money, went back to America and worked on the footage. Then there was the second round of raising money wherein we showed people the footage and that money helped us finish the film. This second round of raising money lasted throughout, from around April 2011 when I came back to America to April 2013 when we finished the film.
How has the film been received in India?
Every Indian that I’ve shown the film to in India has fallen in love with the film. People have always wanted a real film about cricket and there was nothing on the 2011 World Cup; it was such an amazing event in Indian cricket history. We showed it at the Mumbai film festival last year and everyone loved it.
Beyond All Boundaries will have a theatrical release on October 10 in a few theatres in India in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Bangalore, maybe Kolkata. Sringar films is distributing it and we are very excited about it. In the USA and UK we are working on getting it on television and also other online platforms in the next few months.
Did you always want to be a filmmaker? A little about your upcoming projects?
I’m not sure if I always knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I went to school in Mumbai and was always in debates, drama, etc. But then you study hard, get a good job, be a good kid. But while I was doing all that I was also reading a lot of fiction and trying to write. The whole time I thought I might become a novelist. But I like being around people as well as films were like a natural thing. So I thought of trying Film School, got into University of Southern California, that is presumably the best film school in the world. I am very happy with the kind of films that I’m making. Someone needs to tell the stories of people like Sudhir and Akshaya who are invisible and that’s what I love doing.
I’ve written a couple of screenplays set in India. One is set in the 1960s and is based on my parents’ generation, how the world is changing, how India was when it was underdeveloped and how it is evolving. The other script is set in the 1980s and is about a woman ahead of her time, liberated and in a society that will not accept her. The idea behind that script is that people sit and talk about how the society has become unsafe for women. But the truth is that things have always been difficult for women. So I wanted to write a story about the 80s world which seemed like a simpler time but underneath it all it wasn’t easy, especially if you are a woman. There is a third script that I’m writing for a Bollywood actor and that is a lot of fun, more mainstream.
For further information, visit: http://www.cricketdocumentary.com