Fenil and Bollywood

6 new ‘hatke’ Directors of Bollywood!

Posted on: April 13, 2009

The director is the new superstar. As the Bollywood story gets more exciting by the day, Lekha Menon meets story tellers who love to push the cinematic envelope just that extra bit
By Lekha Menon (MUMBAI MIRROR; April 12, 2009)
If 2008 celebrated the coming of age of the typical Hindi film, 2009 promises to go one step ahead. Quirky stories, edgy camerawork, eclectic music – if there is anything predictable about the new films hitting the marquee, it’s their unpredictability. While there are quite a few exciting names who are determined to turn the “formula” upside down, we present six filmmakers who reveal just why this is such an exciting time to be at the movies.




Don’t spoon-feed the audience

Abhinay Deo

Calling card: Delhi Belly, Farhan Akhtar’s next
CV details: Heads Ramesh Deo Productions (RDP), over 300 ads in a decade-long advertising career; avid gamer and photographer
Filmy Philosophy: When you make a good film, nothing matters – stars, budget or formula

He was all of 15 when Abhinay Deo walked up to his father with a script in hand announcing his intention to make a movie. It was an intense story – about a man battling his inner fears. Ramesh Deo, the veteran Marathi actor-filmmaker was amused at his son’s enthusiasm, but had an advice: follow your heart’s instinct, but first complete your education. The doting son religiously followed the suggestion, graduating in architecture, working in a firm for a year before finally succumbing to the filmi bug.

But there was a hitch: the kind of films that were being churned in the early ‘90s didn’t exactly match his sensibilities. So he turned to the next best thing – making ads. Ten years on, over 300 ad films later, Abhinay is finally wielding the directorial baton with Aamir Khan’s action-comedy, Delhi Belly, a film that’s as “unBollywood” as it gets. Or as Abhinay puts it: “an interesting merge of the East and the West”. “The story is Indian, but the film is in English…rather Hinglish. The format is very western, with a tight narrative.” If that restricts its appeal only to the urban, upper middle class audience, Abhinay isn’t worried. “The script, written by Akshat Varma, demanded that the film be made in English,” he says.

Language, argues Abhinay, is the smallest barrier for the new-age filmmaker. Like other ad filmmakers-turned-directors, what turns him on, is the “big idea”. “My primary interest is story-telling. Whether it is in 60 seconds or 60 minutes makes no difference. Be it English, Marathi or Hindi, I have always leaned towards a good story; is should have the power to keep the audience hooked.”

Fortunately, in a star-driven system, gradually the script and story too is assuming importance though Abhinay candidly admits that majority of filmmakers still think backwards. “If there is a change at all, we have the new directors, technicians and writers to thank for. Films like Rock On and Taare Zameen Par proves that all you need is a good film, not stars. You don’t need to spoon-feed the audience any longer.”




There’s an audience for all films

Abhishek Chaubey

Calling card: Vishal Bharadwaj’s Ishqiya, starring Naseer-Vidya-Arshad Warsi
CV details: Wrote Omkara; assisted Vishal on Makdee, Maqbool, The Blue Umbrella and Omkara
Filmy philosophy: Never consider yourself bigger than your film

Abhishek Chaubey detests the word ‘struggler’, often used to describe Bollywood aspirants. “It’s such a ‘60s notion…the image of a small town boy running to Mumbai with dreams in his eyes and no money in his pocket! Nothing of that sort happens; you want to come to Mumbai, you just rent a room,” he laughs. “And there’s enough room for everyone today.”

New-age Bollywood has certainly opened up space for his ideas. Hailing from the ‘VCR generation’, growing up on films of the ‘80s and ‘90s, films were the last thing on his mind. “It was only after I moved to Delhi and got introduced to world cinema, film festivals and retrospectives during my teens that I discovered my love for the movies.”

A shift to Mumbai followed and so did a course at Xavier’s. The turning point came when he met Vishal Bharadwaj and struck an instant rapport. Ishqiya, coming as it does from the same school of real, gritty and raw cinema, will no doubt be measured against the previous films, but Abhishek is nonchalant. “My relationship with Vishal goes beyond the professional realm,” he says. “Our sensibilities are very similar. We both hail from middle-class families in UP, have similar taste in films and are bound by a passion for good cinema.”

The earthy sensibilities, in fact, dominate his cinematic landscape – whether in characterisations or locations. For instance, like Omkara, even Ishqiya is set in Eastern UP and its characters, rooted and real. So does he not relate to feel-good, set in New York, saccharine sweet NRI romances? “I have nothing against candy-floss!” Pat comes the reply. “It’s just that the narration has to work. A lot of our films fall for the rut and lose their soul in the process. But there is an audience for all kinds of films, you just need to go out  and make them.”

However, nine years in the industry has taught him certain survival mantras. “One, you need lots of patience to succeed! And two, never be too sure of your abilities,” he quips. Well, that’s because some Bollywood lessons always remain the same – whether in the ‘60, ‘80s or ‘00s.




Hop on to the bandwagon

Rajkumar Gupta

Calling card: Aamir; working on Nobody Killed Jessica and Rapchik Romance
CV details: Assisted Anurag Kashyap in No Smoking, Gulaal and Black Friday; scripted Barah Aana
Filmy philosophy: Stick to your convictions. Then bring others onto the same page

The mean streets of Mumbai hold a special fascination for Hazaribaug-born Rajkumar Gupta. His first introduction to Mumbai street life was as a hostelite at Xavier’s where he had joined for a communication course years ago. Thereafter, his stays at PG digs in Kalina and sundry rented apartments gave him new insights into maximum city. All of which found expression in the much-acclaimed Aamir, ranked among the best films of 2008. “In many ways, I continue to look at Mumbai from an outsider’s perspective. And it’s in the “mean streets” where the maximum stories lie,” he says.

His rooted approach to cinema has its beginnings in his very middle-class upbringing. Even while he was making Aamir, his banker father, fuelled by horror stories about Bollywood in the media, had only one worry – that his son’s film was being funded by the underworld. “It was only when he attended the premier that his fears got allayed. My parents would rather I did a safe sarkari bank job,” he laughs.

Rajkumar himself had no filmi aspirations, but fate willed otherwise when he began assisting Anurag Kashyap after graduation. The going was still tough with films like Gulaal and Black Friday getting stuck for a long time, but Rajkumar used the time to write his own script. “Most makers whom I approached rejected it. Fortunately, Anurag was a huge support and with UTV Spotboy backing it, the film finally got made.”

Incidentally, the fame and accolades that followed hasn’t exactly made life easier. While the market has opened up for “thinking” films, it’s still a tough ask getting them made, he says. “Aamir has given me a visiting card. Otherwise, the struggle is just the same, whether you make your first film or the 10th.”

Yet Rajkumar is certain he won’t back down from making the kind of cinema he believes in. And it’s same philosophy that drives him while scripting his second film Nobody Killed Jessica, inspired by a newspaper headline in the famous Jessica Lal case. “The challenge is to get others – the technicians, artistes, producer and financers – believe in your vision. Filmmakers and actors need to accept one fact: the landscape of cinema is changing, so they need to change as well. It is an exciting time, so just hop on to the bandwagon!”




I am still a Kachcha Limboo

Sagar Bellary

Calling card: Bheja Fry; ready with Kachcha Limboo; on to a new project
CV details: Assisted Rajat Kapoor in Raghu Romeo and Mithya; did theatre, and film school in Kolkata
Filmy philosophy: There are 100 ways to reach God; And there are 100 ways to make a film

There’s good news for all those who loved Bharat Bhushan’s antics in the laughathon Bheja Fry. Scripting is on in full swing for its sequel. But while it might take a while before we see Rajat Kapoor and Vinay Pathak sparring again, the 33-year-old director hasn’t been resting on past laurels. Sagar Bellary is ready with his next film, a children’s film called Kachcha Limboo following which he directs another comedy for Manmohan Shetty and R Mohan.

“People wonder why I didn’t cash in on Bheja Fry’s success. But Kachcha Limboo is a film I have always wanted to make, I want to raise the bar for children’s films. Besides, it’s the first offering from my production company Park Bench Motion Pictures – named so, because I used to ideate with my team on a park bench near my Matunga house in the days I didn’t have an office!” he laughs. His team entirely consists of 20-somethings with the same passion for thinking out of the box. “The energy is infectious when you work with youngsters, there are no rules and regulations. And that’s a terrific approach to filmmaking.”

Sagar admits he is still coming to terms with the success of his first film, which ironically spawned a Bheja Fry model of filmmaking (making a movie within 50 lakh and hope for returns in crores). “But it doesn’t work that way. You need a great story in place. Thankfully these days different stories are being told. There was a time when I would wonder if I could ever convince anyone to make my film!”

All that might be in the past, but even after 15 years and nearly three-films old in the industry, Sagar believes the small filmmaker has battles to fight. “Corporotisation has helped, but selling an idea is a different ballgame altogether. Yet that’s what makes the whole process so fascinating. I am still a kaccha limboo here, trying to find my niche. But there’s one thing I am supremely confident about: I am still the only guy who can make a film within 50 lakh!”




You can work around the system

Navdeep Singh

Calling card: Manorama Six Feet Under; Nikhil Advani’s next Basra
CV details: Ad filmmaker in LA and UK
Filmy philosophy: We are definitely going in the right direction though there is a long way to go

Most filmmakers are dictated by three factors when it comes to making films: the budget, stars and story (often in that order). Again, most directors aspire to move from a small film to a mammoth canvas. But Navdeep Singh is different. Guess what enthuses him the most about an idea? The story’s location. The Manorama…director is fascinated by the opportunity to explore newer territories through cinema. A fact that was evident in his debut film where the arid desert of Rajasthan played an important role in reflecting the layers of its complex characters. “I feel about 90 per cent of India hasn’t been explored cinematically. I would love to place my next film in Central India, or even the North East – an area that’s been completely ignored,” he says.

Interestingly it his stint in advertising that has inspired him to relook Indian locations. “Glossy pictures are not new to me, I have seen enough of that in London and LA. Hence I prefer to keep my films more rooted. Even if I am depicting Mumbai, I would rather stay away from the clichéd Marine Drive and Gateway of India, and show newer locations instead. I don’t relate to filmmakers who set their films in exotic Europe or America, but where everyone – from the lead actors to the policeman or the doctor – speak in Hindi!”

It is this sensibility that guides his entire approach to cinema. Despite Basra (starring Akshaye Khanna set in Mumbai, Delhi and Iraq), being mounted on a lavish scale, Navdeep would rather describe himself as a “small filmmaker”. “The commercial considerations are far too many in big-budget films. A small film, on the other hand, is easier to make and the returns are more too. Sure, the box of being a niche filmmaker is a tad constraining, but if you are smart, you can work around the system!” he says.

Of course, the ‘system’ by and large prefers going the safe and sound way. For instance, Manorama… got mixed reviews and a lukewarm box-office response, but was a huge hit on the DVD circuit. “I expected 60 per cent to dislike the film,” Navdeep admits honestly. “But there were also a small number of people who really loved it. And it was worth it. For me, even if 100 people are my fans, that’s enough.”




I would rather stick to my beliefs

Rensil D’Silva

Calling card: Karan Johar’s tentatively-titled Jihad with Saif-Kareena-Vivek Oberoi
CV details: Writer, Rang De Basanti; Ad and documentary filmmaker
Filmy Philosophy: You have only one life, you should have fun; and films are great fun

It’s a scenario that has played out all too often in screen writer Rensil D’Silva’s career. A producer meets him at a plush five-star claiming to have a ‘superb idea’ which he needs to translate. A few minutes into the meeting and out comes the big idea – a Hollywood film DVD. “The race is on to see how creatively you steal the DVD,” says the Rang De Basanti writer.

But if there is anything more frustrating for a writer than being asked to copy, it’s when a film he works for, never gets made. Rensil’s first brush with the film world was with Rakeysh Mehra’s Aks, but before that he wrote a portion of Samjhauta Express which got shelved. Then the much-talked-about Panch Kaurav, (for which  he wrote 50 drafts), was also put on the backburner.

So what does a writer do when he wants his original idea to be made, the way he visualises it? He simply directs a film. And with Jihad, Rensil has got a chance to do just that. “Direction makes a film happen. Besides, it’s great to see your characters come to life on screen. When Karan told me this story, I knew I had to make it,” he says.

Doesn’t he fear that after the landmark RDB his work will be scrutinised than ever before? “Yes, but comparisons are inevitable. Even RDB generated a lot of debate about its ending. However, after 10 years, I have realised that it’s not possible to please everyone. Some people play safe, but I would rather stick to my beliefs.”

Fortunately for him, there are filmmakers who share his vision. Precisely why he is as comfortable working with a Mani Ratnam as he is for a Karan Johar or an SRK.

Of course, the age-old lament about script writers being undervalued in the industry persists (“anyway, very few people in Bollywood read”), but things are changing for the better he says. “I was especially impressed with the recent Dev D and its take on Devdas, a character I have never liked, for he is such whiner! When such films do well there is a glimmer of hope that an original voice will also be heard.”

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2 Responses to "6 new ‘hatke’ Directors of Bollywood!"

Nice to Know we have such new tallent with new thoughts!

if they had ‘tallent’ they woukld end up being anees bazmee. they have ‘talent’.

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