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Interview with Kranti Kanade – Director of Mahek

మహెక్ సినిమా ద్వారా సినీరంగంలోకి అడుగుపెట్టిన క్రాంతి కనాడే మొదటి సినిమాతోనే ఎన్నొ ప్రశంసలు అందుకున్నారు. ఇతని మొదటి చిత్రం మహెక్ ఎన్నో అంతర్జాతీయ చలనచిత్రోత్సవాల్లో ప్రదర్శింపబడడమే కాకుండా ఎన్నో అవార్డులు కూడా సాధించింది. అంతే కాకుండా ఈ మధ్యనే ఒక అమెరికన్ యూనివర్శిటీలో ఈ సినిమాను ఫిల్మ్ స్టడీస్ విభాగంలో సిలబస్ లో కూడా చేర్చారు. నవతరంగం కోసం క్రాంతి కనాడె ఇచ్చిన ఈ ఇంటర్వ్యూలో ఆయన గురించి మరిన్ని విషయాలు తెలుసుకోండి.
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1 Performing Arts from childhood:
I acted in a school play in 4th grade, ‘Seven In One Blow’. A short meek tailor (me) kills seven flies sitting on his jam bottle, in one blow. The news of this “bravery” reaches the town and the King orders him to rescue the beautiful princess captured by the devil. It was a huge success and acting seemed to come to me naturally. English being my mother tongue helped. I won many prizes till in college I was told that I’m rather short for ‘lead’ roles. So what lies at the top that can be reached without having to be tall? Directing and writing? I met with enormous failure in my first eight plays. By the ninth play, no girl would agree to act. So I casted a boy in the female role. We got the ‘Best Play’ award at the National Youth Festival at IIT Powai. I started wondering why this one succeeded where the earlier ones failed. I realized that while I could write a lot, I didn’t exactly know the rules of storytelling but somehow, I had stumbled upon them. Graduating in sociology, I took literature class. I learned that there’s a beginning, middle and end to a story, and that if I show a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, by the final act it better have fired a shot! Equipped with this little ‘knowledge’ I started creating stories.

2. Films.
I wrote a short story every week to the aging ‘on contract’ professor of literature. One day he called me home, obviously because he loved my stories. At least that’s what I thought. “Though I think your stories are childish rubbish, I appreciate your enthusiasm. But if you agree to stop them at once, I will gift you something.” I said, “But why sir, do you want me to?” “Because then, at least, every time, I will stop expecting a good story.” He said. I didn’t know if I should feel philosophical or humiliated. But it has stayed with me since. Then his beautiful daughter, a lady in her early 50s, gave me a bunch of old books. There was Complete Shakespeare, Chekhov, Maugham, Puskin, Shaw, Ibsen, Tagore, Hemmingway, TS Elliot, and many more. I became a habitual reader. I became a compulsive book-collector and even took pride in stealing from the college library (later, after reading John Ruskin’s ‘Secular Humanist’, I returned all the books, saying I had found them in the hostel lying on the floor!). I read EM Forster’s ‘How to write a novel’. It was too complex for me but I grasped one thing: To tell stories I need to know and love people. I stopped hating. No matter what happens, I decided, I won’t jump to conclusions about anybody and anything. The most saintly person may have a sinner moment and the sinner may have a saint hidden. And slowly I started seeing stories all around me. Story Art. It seemed exciting; primitive yet modern. Besides basic survival, the second thing the first man on the earth did was ‘he expressed himself through wall drawings.’

I took one year sabbatical and traveled northern part of India. Exploring culture, people, land and slang. Every 200 miles, people had a different language or dialect. Colors, ways and mindsets. Apart from survival, a clear pattern emerged. Their emotional responses and interest in stories. In fact, they spoke all the time in stories. Mostly ‘problem-solution’ structure. Someone wants something and someone else is stopping him from getting it. But I noticed that first-person narration was rarely about inner problems. Sensitive, sexual, interpersonal political issues always had a third person narrator. I thought Ok, that’s because some stories are best untold.

I came back and decided to learn films as that seemed a viable, stomach-fill-able ‘tell tales’ career. I started a film club. 400 Blows. It just blew me away. It brought back my own painful childhood and at the same time it brought a strange feeling of calm. It got me to face my own childhood which I had locked away somewhere deep inside me. Extremely insensitive school. Teachers who believed in physical punishment. I felt humiliated and ashamed of my own childhood, where the most important thing I missed was respect and dignity. But now, suddenly, I started forgiving myself. I said it’s okay. It was not your fault. You are not the only one who has suffered. Then, I found some beautiful memories buried under the heap. That’s it, I said. All stories can be told! And cinema chose me.

3. FTII
I was chosen at the Film and Television Institute of India for Graduation in Film Direction. Just 8 students out of 700 applications! Only the most talented were chosen. None of us wanted to believe it was sheer luck (and perhaps a hugely flawed selection process! Are you telling me we 8 are good and rest are not?) Apart from French films, I was inspired by the magical command of dramatic analytic form in American cinema. From John Ford, Welles to Kubrick, Eastwood, Spielberg, Lumet, Scorsese and many. My thesis film ‘Chaitra’ (Spring) was a story of a proud woman. Her poetic vindication of unfair social insult. But her inevitable sad destiny. Very culture specific – dipped in a local festival of rural women. It won 5 National Film Awards (including 2 at MIFF) Best Short Fiction, Best Actress, Best Music and Best Short Silver, Best Critics. But I was not impressed with myself. I felt my work is not lucid enough. It has gone against my personality. Something was missing. I needed to learn more. I needed a mentor. I could do better. I was still far away from telling my stories. Contemporary stories. Besides in those days, FTII didn’t have acting and screenplay department. I always missed those inputs. If somebody had told me that it’s a basic simple elementary bachelor’s program, I would not have though that I have become a ‘director’. It was like I was thrown to the big wide world without being prepared for it! Just because my thesis film had won national awards I was expected to immidetely make a feature. And I did. Almost.

4 First First (?):
I went to Mumbai and launched a Hindi mid-stream film. Legendary Javed Akhtar (Marvelous young man!) wrote the lyrics and now famous music director Pritam gave music. Singing stars like Abhijeet, Shan, Alka Yagnik sang. And celebrated DOP Kiran Deohanse agreed to do the camera. I was flying! As I started casting… all I realized was that everyone I started speaking to was interested in the budget (means how much money they will get) and would not bother to read the screenplay. They used to say “tell me”, “narrate to me.” That suddenly blew me off and I started thinking am I a storyteller or a film-manager? I had become a film-manager in a short time. Managing finance, chasing choreographers, crew, so-called cast. I grew increasingly uneasy and started loosing my sense of happiness, my sense of wonder. Because funnily, no one who was professionly working on the film at this point had even read the screenplay. I sat down and accepted that ’song-and-dance’ genre is not for me. A huge defeat. I shut the production indefinetly. But in retrospect it was the most beautiful thing that happened to me: Shutting down my first film that was not from my heart nor from the mind. Those beautiful five songs lie happily in my closet.

5 UCLA:
I realized I needed to learn more and went to UCLA Producers’ Program. It completely changed the way I planed my projects. It was an eye opener. Oscar winning people talk us. People who were making films. (That was the major difference, here education was for real): “500 people will say no to you, but you only need 1 yes to make a film.” Consistency is the key. Screenplay was ‘the’ most important thing. I felt at home. I like working on screenplay for months. At time years. I’m a writer at heart. I felt I could make films for the global audience.

6 What is Cinema:
Through Cinema, a director can reach out to the whole world’s ‘sub-conscious’ and can influence our evolution. Subtle as it may be, films have a profound impact on human harmony. After the release of ‘Gandhi’, 12 Nobel Laureates came together that year to sign a declaration that principles of ‘non-violence’ would be central to the world peace. ‘400 Blows’ and ‘Z’ provoked social reforms in France. ‘Midnight Express’ made us aware of prison atrocities. ‘JFK’ questions the credibility of our political institutions. ‘Shawshank Redemption’ shows the prison we have turned this world into. ‘Apu Triology’ shows farmer’s plight in India. In ‘How Green Was My Valley’, the shot of the ‘mother’ going up the hill, to address other coal mine workers, trying to support her husband’s political stand, left me overwhelmed with joy and tears. And especially what happens after that, she falls in snow and catches deadly cold. She is a hero alright but she is a human being of flesh and blood. For the first time I saw my own mother up there on the large wide screen. What I appreciate in ‘Spiderman 2’ is that it’s not ‘selling’ a dream. As a film maker, it could be my duty to ‘show’ a dream [Narnia by CW Lewis] but it is cruel to ‘sell’ a dream. Because if you ‘sell’ a dream you make people hate themselves and their lives. Direction is also a personal philosophical journey for me. What I can’t attain in reality, I can create on screen. Stories can heal, mould, and make this world a better place to live in by bringing a better view of self and around. Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Dr Strangelove, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Passage To India, Ran, Taxi Driver, Forrest Gump, Hotel Rwanda, Eternal Sunshine…, You and Me… They just make reality truly beautiful.

Just like before becoming a doctor one must know one is dealing with life. Similarly, I know I’m dealing with people’s minds and what I show them can have significant impact on their life and value system. For those two hours in the dark when they give me every bit of their mind, soul and body, it is my duty not to insult their senses. Also, directing is all about patience. Seeing. Listening. Finally winning (if). And then again starting from scratch.

Probably, my biggest strength is the faith that I have in learning. Also, since cinema is a collaborative art, I need to meet right kind of people to make films. That is the quest. I would like to explore the theme of showing respect towards children instead of patronizing them. Children’s right is probably the most neglected ‘Political’ issue around the world. Especially in developing countries, children live under acute emotional and intellectual mal-nourishment. A child may survive with a bunch of bread but his life is meaningless without emotional-philosophical nourishment. I would like to make films about childhood I could have had. Of a childhood others can have.

7 Q & A
Being a student of film school tell us the pros and cons of learning the art of filmmaking?
Film making as a craft (the technicality of it) can be taught and learned in few weeks. It’s pretty easy compared to rocket science or DNA structure. What cannot be taught is inherent talent of telling a story. A person unknowingly forms himself since childhood and in that formation you either nurture the storyteller or not. That is what perhaps people call ‘being gifted’. So, being accepted in a top film school may not necessarily make you a storyteller, if you don’t have it in you in the first place.

Having studied filmmaking in India and US, can you tell us the differences between the film schools of India and US?
US film schools especially UCLA, AFI, USC, NYU have actual film Industry backing it and filmmakers coming and nurturing you. They like film school students. They want them. In India, film schools are in air, unconnected to the film Industry, which doesn’t need trained talent anyway. Funnily no one would say “I can fly a plane, but everyone says I can make a film.” Though art cannot be taught but the process can certainly be shared. American filmmakers can teach (share) because they know what they are doing. In Mumbai, filmmakers are bad teachers because they don’t know what they are doing. It’s pretty much a blind bluff. Obviously, there are exceptional exceptions to whatever I’m saying.

International directors and films that influenced you:
Francious Truffaut, Abbas Kiarostami, Pedro Almodovar, Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen are the ones I simply love. Specific CONTEMPORARY DIRECTOR I like:
Alehandro Gonzale Innaritu (Babel and Amores Perros): Instead of saying admiration, I would say I am amazed by his Cinema. For his lucidity in telling cross cultural stories. His enthusiasm is childlike. His presentation is naked and stark, without any inhibition. Very raw. He seems very fearless and free when he makes his films. His cinema is almost cannibalistic and yet manages to evoke tender feelings in me. I try to understand his cinema, its kind of a rebellious poem without any classical rhyme but a lot of rhythm. A kind of say… a lot of “good madness”. But what I guess I like the most is that he seems absolutely non-judgmental about life itself and that’s why he’s able to choose the subjects that he chooses. Not resolving anything at the end and yet giving a feeling of satisfaction to the audience requires a certain kind of conviction and courage. After seeing his films, I feel like, is life that bad? I get this sad feeling that, have we turned this world into such a horrible place? And my answer is, yes, in parts, yes. But as a filmmaker, that doesn’t mean I’m influenced by him. I simply admire his way of doing what he does.

Indian directors and films that influenced you:
Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito, Charulata, Ashani Sanket and Sonar Kella. Girish Kasaravalli’s Dweepa, Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda. But none of them have influenced me. I simply admire their tremendous spirit. What is life without these beautiful films?

How did Mahek happen?
Necessity is the mother of invention. CFSI was the only film funding body in India, but their norm was they would only fund children’s film. So in disguise, I told the story I wanted to tell. Mahek is, deep within, a film for everybody.

Although Mahek did well in the festival circuit around the world, why is it that the film is not yet released?
The producers of the film do not have the distribution acumen so the whole process of finding distribution is very slow. But I’m hopeful that some solution will come up soon, since Mahek has a good, wonderful potential audience waiting.

How did you find it working with Children’s’ Film Society of India?
Good. Impersonal. Just like Hollywood studio system, as long as you make a good film no one bothers you. But the flip side is they don’t have distribution network.

What are your aims as a filmmaker?
Millions of things. For one, to achieve excellence in film making (without comparative tag). To poise questions, a lot of questions. To heal the world around me. To heal myself. I have seen too many sad things. To love all the people in this world through my films, whom I may never get a chance to meet.

What is your opinion about the current status of Indian film industry?
I could say a few things about Mumbai film Industry. It’s a small narrow minded world. Talent is not always the criteria. And because it never nurtured writers, it will always suffer from plagiarism and lack of world view. I haven’t seen more than 5 new stories in the last eight years. Many filmmakers are wasting this beautiful life in gathering very easy, superficial things like money and fame. Art should have value and it does. What’s scary is that it is totally up for sale.

Tell us about your future plans:
My next film is an Indian English language film set in India with a British lead actor. It’s a boarding school drama.

Tell us about the NGO-Mother
MOTHER is an NGO that works for the destitute children in Pune, India. So far we have rehabilitated 43 children. Our approach is simple: Share whatever we have with them. Apart from the basic needs they need a poem and a flower. Without aesthetic philosophical input a child’s life would be incomplete.

6 Comments
  1. ravi May 23, 2008 /
  2. Uttara May 24, 2008 /
  3. raghurichards May 24, 2008 /
  4. ravi May 29, 2008 /
  5. lijo February 20, 2010 /