Filming the change

Nicholas is crowdsourcing the funds required for the film’s post-production work

Filmmaking in India has perhaps never been at a more interesting conjunction than it is today. Even as purists lament, on the one hand, the “death” of moving images, there are others less pessimistic, who are finding and making the most of new possibilities and stories. One such filmmaker is writer-director Nicholas Kharkongor whose film Mantra, is a take on globalisation and its effects in India. Nicholas is crowdsourcing the funds required for the film’s post-production work. Mantra features Rajat Kapoor, Kalki Koechlin and Adil Hussain in the cast, and this is a rare occasion when such well-known actors have been associated with a film that is relying on crowdfunding.

Telling us what prompted him to make Mantra, Nicholas says, “In the last 20-odd years, no country has changed as much as India has, and I was deeply interested in being able to tell the story of change in my country… My film is loosely inspired by the buyout of an iconic Indian brand by a multinational, as seen through the eyes of a family.”

Explaining the concept further, he adds, “The idea was to engage the people into the change that everyone was aware of but no one was really talking about.” “It was almost at gunpoint that India had to open its markets. And since then, the change has been quite evident. By the early 2000s, things started to become clearer as more and more McDonalds and Dominos outlets became visible. Other countries like China, Venezuela, Brazil and even Russia have been through these changes, but I wanted to speak about my country.”

A big fan of historical dramas like Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine (1993) and Emir Kusturica’s Underground (1995), Nicholas finds that there has been a dearth of narratives in Indian cinema addressing post-globalisation. So in 2000, he started working on a script on “New India”. “Initially it was just the research. At that time, there were also many authors writing about New India, like (Shashi) Tharoor and Gulcharan Das. Then the rest of the work was mainly to get the story right,” he explains.

Though he considers that writing a good script was the most difficult part, the rest of the journey for Nicholas, as one would expect, wasn’t very easy either. The other challenge for him was to make the shift in form, from theatre to cinema. When asked why he chose to make a film on the subject and why not write a play, he says, “Initially I wasn’t very sure, but I always wanted to get into films. Also the subject kind of lent itself to film. While in a play, you are restricted; in a film you can show a lot more. And I really wanted to show.”

After having dropped out of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and being called “delusional” by friends, Nicholas went on to establish himself as a playwright and theatre director. Nicholas has been a professional playwright in Delhi for about 11 years achieving considerable success and attention. “But the wish to make films was always there. So eventually I came to Mumbai and was lucky to have assisted noted filmmakers like Rajat Kapoor and Saeed Akhtar Mirza, where I picked up the technical know-how,” he says.

Shot in 25 days, most of the cast and crew worked without any monetary reimbursement and came on board only because of the story. “The shooting was primarily in location, but we had to shoot in rich people’s houses, which I believe is much more difficult than shooting in slums! Someone has allowed us to shoot at their place, and we go with a crew of 50-60 people, which could make anyone uncomfortable; after all they have expensive stuff all around,” he chuckles. But most of the film was done with friends and families who extended their support for the film. “Everyone helped in whatever way they could,” he asserts.

And now the idea is to extend this support to people around the globe who are interested in the story. Within a week, after they appealed for Rs 20 lakhs for their film (for post-production) on the popular crowd sourcing site, Wishberry, they have been able to raise about Rs 4 lakhs. “Which is quite reassuring. The funny thing is that though it is a story about India, it is more non-resident Indians who have shown support for the cause, and as one of the contributors put it ,‘this is the little I could do towards the upkeep of the arts’.”

Nicholas, who hails from Shillong, believes in telling real stories and in the future wants to tell stories about the North East as well. “I really like what Mira Nair said, ‘If we don’t tell your stories no one else will’,” he says. However, currently he is focusing on Mantra, and wants to complete it by the end of the year and then think of the distribution. “Even while making the film, when we were shooting, we never bothered about what we will do next, we just shot, now that we are in the post-production, we don’t want to think of the distribution. However, we are aware of the drill, so probably, we will send it to the festivals first, hoping that somewhere it will get acknowledged after which we will release it theatrically nationwide.”

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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