In the age of a Rs 300 crore flop show that was Thugs Of Hindostan, how difficult is it to imagine that a full-fledged action feature can be made under the budget of Rs 1 lakh? Well, for the independent directors of eastern India, especially those from the North-East, this is a reality.
On the sidelines of the recently concluded Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival (BVFF) in Guwahati, The Quint spoke to some of these directors to figure out how difficult (or easy, as some say) it is to survive in a non-Bollywood, non-Kollywood, non-mainstream film space.
Techie From 9 am - 9 pm; Filmmaker at Other Times
For 31-year-old award-winning filmmaker Amartya Bhattacharyya, it’s a techie life on weekdays and that of an artist on weekends. Amartya lives in Bhubaneswar where he has been working full-time with Infosys for the last nine years. In the meantime, he has produced two short films and three feature length films in Odia and Bengali, bagging about nine international awards and the National Award for cinematography in 2016.
“A typical day for me is four hours of sleep, one hour of eating and zero hours of recreation. All my remaining time is spent in working - either for office or for my films”, laughs Amartya.
Unlike most other filmmakers, to save up on funds and also due to lack of available talent in Bhubaneswar, he ends up doing almost everything on the film himself - writing, directing, cinematography, editing, colour-grading, sound-designing and also, the occasional acting.
"I was at the Cannes Film Festival where I met a Malaysian distributor who was shocked when he heard that I do everything on the film myself. He said I won’t be able to sustain this way; that it is very amateurish. But I took that up as a challenge and said to myself that I will win an award in every department of filmmaking. And now I have, including, for best film." - Amartya Bhattacharyya to The Quint
Ask him if he has any Bollywood ambitions and the answer is a vociferous no. “Bollywood movies have not evolved. It is one thing to make bad movies, but another to internationally brand those films as ‘Indian’ cinema. This kills the independent and regional film circuit completely and should be protested against”, he says.
Amartya’s film Khyanika (The Lost Idea) was showcased at BVFF, and was widely appreciated. This reporter watched it too and would recommend anyone who can get their hands on it to watch it for sure.
Making An Action Movie In A Budget Under Rs 1 Lakh
Say Local Kung Fu on the streets of Guwahati and there’s an immediate smile on everyone’s face. The two-part movie series directed by Kenny Basumatary is an Assamese ‘martial arts’ comedy that did very well at the local box office. But when Kenny was making the first movie in the series, his production budget was under Rs 1 lakh.
"The entire movie consisted of friends and family. So I didn’t need to pay anybody! Whenever anyone was free we’d go and shoot their scenes. I would pick up somebody from drum class and somebody from tuitions and then we’d go. I’d make somebody hold the camera and say ‘Okay this is the camera and this is the frame. Hold the camera like this when I jump here and do this when I do that’ and that’s how we did it. We didn’t do any sound work. We got a mic which we fixed on the camera and for dubbing also, we used the same mic." - Kenny Basumatary to The Quint
With no background in films, Kenny’s interest in the art came from the 6th grade after he’d done some skits. He moved to Mumbai in 2009 and says that all his learning of the craft came from YouTube.
“After I moved to Bombay, I worked on some comedy shows and ad films. Then I thought I should make my own film, but didn’t have any technical knowhow. So we bought a camera and started shooting, and as we progressed I learnt about lighting and shutter speed and all that. That’s when all the YouTube learning happened, basically. By the time I reached the end of the film, I understood a lot of the mistakes that I had made in the initial parts and we actually re-shot some portions again”, recalls Kenny.
He also dispels the myth that it might be harder for filmmakers to work in the North East as opposed to a place like Mumbai.
“The plus side of working in Bombay is that I could gain technical knowhow by assisting people. But the downside to that is, for example, you can’t shoot just anywhere in Bombay. You want to shoot, say, in a school, you have to pay the school Rs 35-40,000 a day. Whereas, here I just asked if we could shoot in a martial arts school and they said, ‘ Theek hai. Aa jaao!’ What we lack in infrastructure, we have in other ways”, say Kenny.
Kenny’s next film, Suspended Inspector Bodo just released and is another action-packed film. But this time he also seeks to dispel some stereotypes like that regarding the Bodo community in Assam.
Looking To The International Market To Make Money
Assamese filmmaker Bhaskar Hazarika says that for big budget regional movies, the target audience is not the local audience, but the international film circuit.
“That is the only way we can make money for our producers”, Hazarika says.
Why choose to make films only in Assamese then? “Because I’m Assamese!”, laughs Bhaskar. “What will interest people when they come to watch the movie is not the language, but the language of cinema. It’s like asking a Tamil guy, why don’t you make a Bengali film? People think if it’s a Hindi movie then hit ho jayega, but that’s not true. There are more Hindi movies in the cans than in theatres!”
Director of the movie Kothanodi , his first movie, which was picked up by Netflix, Bhaskar also feels that the digital boom and the inception of web streaming platforms have really changed the scene for regional films.
"Because of these OTT platforms, a lot of my ideas and scripts that were rejected earlier are now being brought back, because users and millennials now want to watch this kind of stuff - ‘dark’ stuff." - Bhaskar Hazarika to The Quint
He also thinks that Indian filmmakers ‘missed the digital bus’.
“When Netflix picked up Kothanodi they were paying in dollars. Now they have largely stopped picking up such films because they’ve developed their own audience and are looking to produce originals”, he says. “The next big thing is VR. And I think Indian filmmakers should begin to master that art so that when it gets monetised, we are ready with our content”, he adds.
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