An SMS from a filmmaker tells us his 70-minute feature film has been made with a paltry sum of Rs 40,000. An incredulous silence later, the inevitable question follows. “Are you sure?” “Yes,” guffaws 26-year-old Srinivas Sunderrajan. His debut feature film, The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project, is creating a minor stir in the filmmaking community in Mumbai. The last time such a spartan cinematic experiment was conducted was in ’04, when Vinay Subramanian and Mridul Toolsidass made Missed Call for Rs 27 lakh. But this one comes several zeroes cheaper, and given that it has received acclaim after the first preview, it may well turn out to be a new milepost for independent cinema in India.
Such spartan cinematic experimentalism was last seen in ’04 with Missed Call, shot on a budget of Rs 27 lakh.
Srinivas’s film has been made without the involvement of any film studio and was shot in 30 days, over a period of one year. The Hindi-English film has a cast of little-known actors like Kartik Krishnan, Vishwesh K, Swara Bhaskar and D. Santosh. Written by Srinivas and Vijesh Rajan and shot partly in colour by Hashim Badani, it is a self-reflexive film about the attempt to make a movie. Since much of the action is grounded in the reality of their own lives, the actors retain their original names. The protagonist is a software engineer, Kartik Krishnan, who comes across a blog on independent filmmakers and is inspired to make his own short film. An independent filmmaker agrees to guide him through the process. As Kartik starts piecing together the film, bizarre things begin to happen, beyond the realm of logic.
Quite obviously, Srinivas has DV (digital video) to thank for keeping his costs in check. The technology, which enables one to record a movie without the conventional reel, saves the cost of expensive raw stock and is an economically viable and accessible way of making movies. However, for him the film’s truly independent spirit shines through in the way the team went about making it. “The process has been the key,” says Srinivas, who’s been making documentaries and shorts and worked as associate director on the Hollywood production, The Pool, which won the special jury award at the Sundance festival.
To begin with, none of the actors was paid any fee. “Their day jobs paid for them. They knew what we were getting into; I hadn’t promised them a vanity van,” says Srinivas, tongue-in-cheek. Not just that, they also had to be multi-taskers, managing their own costume and makeup and ordering their own food on location. Most of the budget was spent on hiring equipment and props and on post-production.
There were four significant locations—the house, office, coffee shop and the bar. The attempt was to can all scenes at a specific location together, which worked sometimes, but not at other times, since they never seemed to have more than two hours in one location. This was because this cheeky team tried to shoot and scoot before anyone could realise they didn’t have the necessary permissions. Some part of the budget was also spent on doling out nominal bribes. The waiters at the bar were given kickbacks to allow early morning shooting.
The production made do with whatever lights were available and most of the film has been done in wide shots and long takes. “Despite the restrictions in terms of money and equipment, they have been able to maintain the quality, nothing feels amateurish,” says filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, the cheerleader of the Indie brigade. Srinivas hopes his film, which he aims to release commercially, will find the audience it deserves.