Utpal Borpujari

March 21, 2010

Mumbai slum boy’s Oscar dreams

By Utpal Borpujari

Sagar Akash Salunke has one wish – to present the Oscar that he “will” bring home to India to President Pratibha Patil.

Come March 7, and the 16-year-old’s wish could very well come true, for this ninth standard student from a Mumbai slum is starring as the protagonist in Kavi, an internationally much-feted 19-minute short Hindi film by American director Gregg Helvey on bonded labour that has got nominated for the Oscars in the Best Short Film (Live Action) category.

Sagar is already gearing up for the biggest evening in the film world, planning to do his shopping for the event in Los Angeles itself.

Till a few days ago he did not even have a passport, but now he has one, thanks to the Central government that fast-tracked his application following requests from the film’s producers Harish Amin and Guneet Monga.

Sagar had earlier done another film called Bits and Pieces, which is not yet released, but this clearly is his biggest moment of glory, with the film, made by Helvey as part of his diploma project in University of Southern California.

“I will go to the Oscars and bring home the trophy, and take to Rashtrapati Bhawan to show it to Pratibhaitai Patil,” says the Maharashtrian, a resident of a slum in Borivali’s Gorai 2 locality whose parents earn less than Rs 10,000 a month to run a family of five that includes Sagar’s two elder brothers. His elder sister is already married.

Sagar also has many dreams in his eyes – all related to the film world. For one, he wants to be a full-time actor when he grows up. “Actor hi banna hai (I want to be an actor only),” Sagar told Deccan Herald after a special screening of the film here.

He seems to be already on that path, with acclaimed director Anurag Kashyap likely to cast him in one of his upcoming films.

He also dreams to be an actor who will be a combination of Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan. “Like Aamir Khan, I will do only one film a year and bring home the Oscar for that, like Hrithik I want to have the best body, like Akshay Kumar I want to do the best stunts and like Bachchan I want to be the best actor,” says the kid whose favourite films are “Sholay”, “Khiladi”, “3 Idiots” and “Krish”.

Amin and Monga, who spent three years to get the film made, are quite naturally on cloud nine. They virtually had no funds to make the film, which explains the long period it took to get completed, but ever since the Oscar nomination came, everybody has become interested in it.

They have met ministers and senior officials in Labour, Women & Child Development, Information & Broadcasting and Science & Technology ministries, and all are coming forward to help, says Monga.

The film is a straightforward but evocative narrative about how a child, whose parents are bonded labourers at a brick kiln in Maharashtra, escape from the sordid surroundings with the help of two NGO activists, and going by its theme, it won’t be a surprise if like Slumdog Millionaire and Smily Pinky, it also ends up winning the coveted statuette for its focus on the underbelly of India. 

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 01-03-2010)

 

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/55531/kavi-star-dreaming-present-oscar.html

December 3, 2009

‘I wanted to capture the spirit of Phalke’s Harishchandra’

Theatre person Paresh Mokashi’s first attempt at moviemaking resulted in Harishchandrachi Factory (Harishchandra’s Factory), a Marathi film that is India’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2010. A delightful film with dollops of humour, it recreates the story of how Dada Saheb Phalke made India’s first film Raja Harishchandra way back in 1913. The light treatment to a serious subject has made it a favourite wherever it has screened, and already Mokashi has won a spate of awards for the film. One of the better films in the Indian Panorama section at the 40th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, the film is one more addition to the new Marathi cinema which is thriving like never before. Mokashi, who is just back from the United States, where he had gone to understand how to promote the film in the run up to the Academy Awards, talks to Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari on his journey:

How are you planning to proceed regarding the Oscar entry?

We have done our homework. Together with UTV Motion Pictures, which has bought the all-India distribution rights, we are planning our strategy on how to create awareness about the film in Hollywood. We need to do some attractive campaign, so that more and more American people see it, and not only NRIs. Plans are also there to release it commercially there. We are planning to release it all over India in January. The nominations will be out in February – so either the campaign continues or ends there.

When regional language films are released outside their own regions, they do not find much interest among moviegoers at large. Do you think the Oscar entry will help your film in this regard?

To some extent, of course, this glamour will take us to many other parts where this type of films do not go. Let’s see how it can attract non-Marathi people. We are very hopeful because whichever film festival it has been shown in, people have rated this film as any Marathi speaking person would do. Anyone who has watched the film wants to see the film dubbed into their language. Let’s hope the enthusiasm continues and gets reflected in ticket sales.

It was a theme that could have found an immediate wider market if made in Hindi, because the subject is such. Did that thought ever cross your mind?

No, I never thought of any language other than Marathi. The atmosphere of the backdrop, that can be easily justified with Marathi references, would have been difficult to translate into any other language. Also, another advantage of working in your mother tongue is that everybody is comfortable, and it reflects in the film. It helps people in other places to enjoy it much easily too.

Talking of the visual aspect, you have chosen to give an old-world look, using a particular colour scheme, and even using specific kind of body movement of characters. And why the comic treatment?

We are very fond of emotional or serious treatment to such subjects. There has lots of films which could have been made with a little bit of sense of humour, but we choose ‘rona dhona’. That’s our basic bias against comedy and for seriousness, which is fine. But I am not like that. The basic reason for this treatment is that whatever details I could gather about how Phalke made this film, I never felt Phalke or his family getting serious over a particular incident. I felt that spirit of the family was important. I wanted to handle it the way it was projected in the biography by Bapu Watwe. That prompted me to make the film the way it is, rather than because I wanted to make it in comedy ‘rasa’. I have not imposed my likings or dislikings. That came naturally to me while reading the biography.

What kind of research entailed making of the film?

Being a period film, we had to do a lot of research on costumes, buildings, the overall look. Art designer Nitin Desai already has done a lot of films based on that period, so he has the experience. Pramod Purandare felt the sound also needed to be felt in the film. I must confess that I am not at all into making things very, very perfect. People may find many mistakes regarding period detailing in my film, but I don’t give that much importance to those details because the main spirit of the film is more important. It is up to you how much detail you want to go and how much you want to go into the spirit.

How much were you prevented from going into the detailing, more so being a first time filmmaker, because of budget constraints?

Fortunately, I was my own financier, so the constraint of having to convince someone else was not there. It is the costliest Marathi film ever made – we spent around Rs four crore – but still it is peanuts compared to Hindi films. The policy decision of not going into details helped a lot. I am not making a documentary on the period – how the buildings, costumes looked, rather I wanted to capture the mood of the period and I focused on that. That helped me control the budget. Even a Rs 50 crore budget would have been less if we wanted to go into all the details.

How difficult it was to find locations suiting the period?

Sixty per cent of the shoot was in a building in Pune built in 1905. We shot the ‘Chawl’ portion at a structure behind that. We did some special locations in Mumbai. For scenes depicting old Mumbai, we had to erect scenes at Nitin Desai’s studio.

Why do you think it took so many years for somebody to make a film on Phalke?

I think a certain amount of time has to pass before a subject strikes you. It has to turn into nostalgia. After that only you start feeling the subject. The subject itself was off trendy, so you needed guts for that. Also, you are likely to face all sorts of commercial pressures, financial difficulties if you take up such a subject. You take up any different kind of subject, you face difficulty. Luckily, we did not face any difficulty.

How did the idea come to your mind in the first place?

That was when I read the biography. Before that I had no clear idea about what subject I will take up, though I knew I will make a film one day. We went to the National Film Archives of India, and all of us involved in the film watched whatever remains of Raja Harishchandra.

How much of fiction is there in the film?

I maintained discipline of the biography. Everything is fact in the film, though I had to take creative, interpretative liberty where not much detail was available regarding some particular incident. For example, the biography tells us about how difficult it was for Phalke to convince actors to shave their moustache, but exactly what had happened was a matter of interpretation as we had to turn them into scenes. Otherwise it will be just documentary filmmaking.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 29-11-2009)

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/38384/adding-pinch-humour.html

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