It has been a long and steady association between Dibakar Banerji and Kanu Behl. After passing out of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Calcutta, in 2007, Behl assisted Dibakar in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Love Sex Aur Dhokha and also co-wrote the latter with him. So when Behl developed the idea of a film—Titli, about oppressions within a family and the urgency to escape them, all seen through the prism of patriarchy—he had to share it with Dibakar who, in turn, felt categorically that the film needed to be made. He joined hands with Yash Raj Films to co-produce the film—one of the most talked about projects at the Works In Progress Lab at NFDC Film Bazaar 2013.
Behl is the first young director that Dibakar is backing as a producer. And quite clearly, it was because of him that Behl was able to raise the resources for this small film with little known actors (other than a Ranvir Shorey). “Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been possible to mount such an ‘indie’ on the scale that we have,” he says. Behl, in turn, feels it was the perfect debut, more so because Dibakar, while giving all the necessary support, has been respectful of his director’s space. Dibakar never went on the shoot since he was busy with his own film (his inputs and suggestions were at the conceptual level).
What he did tell Behl and co-writer Sharat Katariya was to stick to the themes of the script and stay honest in what they were trying to say. “It’s easy to stray and give in to temptations in the urgency to make your first film but he told us not to fear or cop out. He really made us go all the way on our chosen path,” says Behl.
“It’s easy to stray and give in to temptation in the urgency to make your first film but Dibakar told us not to fear.”
Amit Roy had a similar experience with Shoojit Sarcar (Yahan, Vicky Donor, Madras Cafe), the producer of his debut film, Running Shaadi.com. He calls Shoojit a nurturing, mentoring personality and a creative guiding light, one who always gives inputs but never quite imposes his views. “His sense of screenplay is very good. He knows how to communicate an idea better, how to translate it well cinematically. It expands the scope of the script and helps take it to another level,” says Roy. He calls their coming together a “good homecoming” because they have known each other for long in their pre-films Delhi days when they were both working in TV and advertising. But he also feels that Shoojit backed him because of the faith in his cinematic sensibility. “Shoojit has been making sensible but entertaining films, a description which also fits our little film,” says Roy.
Dibakar and Shoojit are not the only ones to turn mentors, there are other directors too who are turning producers to younger film directors. And it’s not just in Hindi cinema but in Marathi, Tamil and Bengali industries as well.
Boys II Men
Filmmakers and their proteges
- Amit Roy’s Running Shaadi.com
- Anindya Chatterjee’s Bengali film Open Tee Bioscope
- Sajid Ali’s Banana
- Soumik Sen’s Gulaab Gang
- Vivek Agnihotri’s Zid
- Kanu Behl’s Titli
- E. Niwas’s Total Siyapaa
- Rajesh Ganguly’s Bengali film The Royal Bengal Tiger
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury (Bengali)
- Abhik Mukherjee’s Ekti Tarar Khonjey
- Varun Grover’s Maa Bhagwatiya IIT Coaching
- Ashish Bende’s Marathi film Saat
Umesh Kulkarni (Marathi)
- Nikhil Mahajan’s Pune 52
- Sandesh Kulkarni’s Masala
- Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai
M. Sasikumar (Tamil)
- Pandiraj’s Pasanga
- Samuthirakani’s Poraali
Gautam Menon (Tamil)
- Anjana Ali Khan’s Veppam
- Ram’s Thanga Meenkal
- Sivan’s Naanum Rowdythan
From Guru Dutt to Yash Chopra, Karan Johar to Farhan Akhtar, Vidhu Vinod Chopra to Prakash Jha and Kiran Rao, directors taking to production has been a long continuing process in cinema. What differs with the newer lot is that most had been outsiders to Bollywood, they have a more alternate vision and are providing a platform to more unusual, non-conforming voices. Quite in the footsteps of the Ram Gopal Verma and Anurag Kashyap schools. “The outsiders have invaded the established family trees and close-knit studio systems. Within the conventional fortress, they are redefining things with potent ideas,” says Shoojit. Roy calls the trend a renaissance. “These filmmakers have experienced personal struggles. Now that they have established themselves as brands, they are trying to ease the pressures on newcomers. They are protecting us from the initial onslaught while also improving the industry environment by not being selfish,” he says.
Some directors are not even waiting too long to jump into production. Nikhil Mahajan, quick on the heels of his debut Marathi film, Pune 52, has turned producer for Varun Grover’s Maa Bhagwatiya IIT Coaching. Like Onir and Bikas Mishra (see box), the two spent time together at the NFDC-TIFF script lab in Toronto and later at Film Bazaar, Goa. Mahajan found Grover’s idea fresh, something he and the larger middle-class India could relate to. “It was the kind of film that I could not have written or directed and that pushed me into making it happen,” he says. “It’s not a run-of-the-mill, coming-of-age, slice-of-life cinema but a much deeper look at social stigmas, told with humour, subtlety and texture,” he says. The ‘professional cementing’ happened because the liking was reciprocal. “I loved his writing and his first film and there was a mutual respect and bonding over offbeat films and food,” remembers Grover. It also helped that they share the same cinema sensibilities, are of the same age, grew up on the same frustrating Hindi cinema of the ’90s and discovered world cinema in the mid-2000s that pushed both of them out of their respective routine (engineering) jobs into the cinema business.
“With Nikhil, I know the vision of the script won’t be dumbed down to satisfy the collective IQ of our mythical masses.”
Creative collaborations stem from shared mindsets even when it comes to a hardcore mainstream film. Soumik Sen thinks his Gulaab Gang script was picked up by Anubhav Sinha because the latter is from Varanasi and is rooted in the hinterland. “He immediately got the nuances of what I was trying to do and had the courage to back an all-women, violent action film. He called it a ‘Lady Singham’,” says Sen. Sinha said he picked it up because of the “passionate script”. “There are lots of stories that appeal to you that you can’t direct yourself. By turning a producer, you can have a stake in them, can engage with them,” says Sinha.
With Vishal Bhardwaj, it’s not just about producing but also composing and writing films for someone he trusts and has known professionally and creatively for a long period of time. His protege Abhishek Chaubey calls the synergy as that of a “co-creator and collaborator than a producer”. “I had worked with him through many films. He knew that I wanted to direct movies. He understands where I am coming from. It was a no-brainer to have him as producer,” says Chaubey. However, at the end of the day, in all good partnerships responsible budgets and discipline also matter. “Financials make films. The right films can go wrong if you don’t have the right acumen,” says Sinha. “Ideas have to be workable, there has to be a market potency in what we pick,” says Shoojit. So, for them it’s about tight budgets and high concepts so that no one loses money and you can make your next. No wonder most director-producers team up with large studios and banners or with financially savvy partners, like Onir with actor Sanjay Suri and Shoojit with his business partner Ronnie Lahiri.
On the bottomline, it’s about seizing financial control of a project you believe in by taking charge of the production process so that your director is liberated creatively. “I can see through the logistics clearly, can assure that Varun gets what he wants and is not pushed into a corner,” says Mahajan. Agrees Varun: “Maybe a studio would give a new director more money, a bigger team of assistants, more choices in terms of casting, but all that comes at the cost of creative freedom at every stage of making the film. With Nikhil, I am assured of one thing—the vision of the script will never be dumbed down to satisfy the collective IQ of our mythical masses.” Marathi filmmaker Umesh Kulkarni agrees that no one quite trusts a young filmmaker, which is what made him turn to production. “The running around to convince people to put money in your project is exhausting. Life almost stops for some time. I wanted to change the pattern of work,” he says.
“Investors come on board because of the credibility of my name when I produce a film, I make use of my brand value to support stories I would like to see,” says Tamil filmmaker Vetrimaran. Clearly, there is no one path to making a film. But as Chaubey puts it: “This could well be a good way forward.”
My job was to set it up for him, get him the best team possible: Onir
Bikas’s film needed to be made. It’s not a film I could direct myself but something I believed in and wanted to be associated with. It expands the texture of the kind of cinema (actor) Sanjay Suri and I have been jointly making. It’s rural, earthy, and has a different landscape from my films. Also, after being part of independent filmmaking and learning from it there was the instinctive need to help young filmmakers and support content-driven cinema. A director needs his space. A film is his baby and he is rightfully extremely possessive about it, especially when it’s his first child. I made sure not to impose my own vision on Bikas. My job was to set it all up for him, to provide him the best team possible. I helped him with getting the entire cast together in Bengal. Yes my name may have mattered but eventually they all came on board because they loved the script. I was on the sets to provide him all the support possible. I would love to be associated with his next film. It’s great to work with like-minded people like Bikas but we are not into any binding contracts. Ultimately, we all need to grow.
Onir was humble enough to even say he’d be my chief on-set AD: Bikas Mishra
Onir read my script at the Screenwriters’ Lab, part of the Locarno film festival in 2010. He told me he’ll make the film happen. But creative people are enthusiastic, they commit easily and forget as easily too. I did not even write back to him on return, it was Onir who followed things up with me. He made sure not to infringe on my creative decisions during the making of Chauranga and I respect him for that. I come from a non-feature background; I was trained at Jamia Millia Islamia’s Mass Communication Research Centre which doesn’t teach you fiction filmmaking. I have made shorts with real people and a crew of just two—the cinematographer and me. Chauranga was a total change, there was a huge cast and crew to handle and I panicked initially. Onir was humble enough to tell me that he’d like to be a chief assistant director on the sets. There was a complicated love-making scene in a cow-shed. I was most uncomfortable, how to tell Tannishtha Chatterjee to unbutton her blouse? Onir, with his experience, guided me all the way. Once he placed his faith in Chauranga, he gave his 100 per cent. He’ll be the first person I’d go to with my next project.