An Open Letter to The Striking FTII Students


Dear Students of FTII,

Why are you on strike? Why are you not attending your classes? Don’t you have a reputation for going on strike at the slightest provocation? Don’t you realize that your institution needs change? Why are you so resistant to change?

Your chairperson is an eminent member of the film and television industry with many notable films, 700 television serials including an iconic portrayal as Yudhisthir. He has nearly 20 years of administrative experience within the film industry. Besides his enviable track record he is also a member of the ruling party. He is a nationalist. He believes that films with a good message make for good cinema. He reserves his comments on world cinema. Perhaps, he is afraid that his critical insights into world cinema might lead to unrest between nations. And the nation comes first, world cinema be damned. I am telling you dear silly students, Gajendra Chauhan is the man.

My dear students, you are living in a bubble. Your seniors from the institute were also living in a delusionary world. They were pretending to be inspired by the likes of De Sica, Truffaut, Goddard, Tarkovsky, Fellini, Ray. What use is Truffaut or Goddard or Fellini when your films cannot earn even a fraction of what Mr. Chauhan’s illustrious films have earned? Guys, you need a reality check. And Chauhan is the man to give you that. The truth is that you have been force fed a diet of films made by commies and made to believe that this was cinema. Why? Because your institute was governed by commies like Saeed Mirza, Mrinal Sen and their ilk. These commies are depressing people who make depressing films about the human condition. Nobody watches their films.

Friends, change is around the corner. Embrace it. We have a new government. We have the promise of a new, incredible India. We are now a country run by proud nationalists. Your cinema must reflect this new nationalism. The new wave of Indian cinema will emerge from the nationalistic cinema espoused by Mr. Chauhan and the sensible members of the FTII society who have not resigned their posts. Forget those losers Jahnu Barua, Pallavi Joshi and Santosh Sivan who resigned from the council. They are simply not cut out for the transformation that you are so stupidly depriving yourselves of. They have been part of some depressing films and their work deserves to be condemned. Ever wondered why the government appointed them to your society in the first place? I’ll tell you why. This government is very fair. They believe in equal representation. Unfortunately, none of you realize it. You have been blinded by the propaganda of the Left, without realizing that the pot of gold is actually to be found on the Right.

You find my reasoning warped? Then learn some of your illustrious seniors and industry leaders. They protested against the appointment of Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani as CBFC chief. At a meeting held in Delhi and an austere Mumbai five-star the good minister assured these wise men (and women) that ‘all izz well’. Mr. Nihalani is still the CBFC chairperson and really all is very, very well. What did you tell the minister in Delhi when he gave you precious minutes of his time? Why do you tick people off? Learn from your seniors. Capitulate to force, surrender to nationalism and you will reap the benefits of this new, free Bharat. Communism is long dead. Protest and perish. Prostrate or perish.

Mukesh ‘Shaktimaan’ Khanna is the CFSI chairperson and he is going to transform children’s films in India. He is also a worthy supporter of the ruling party and distinguished alumnus of FTII. Listen to him, he is inspirational. He wants you to accept this appointment and move on with your academic work. If you do not like this appointment you live in a democracy. You have every right to leave this institution. Understand and hang on to every word Shaktimaan says. Or perish.

I’ve watched your shallow defense of your unjustified cause on national television. A senior member of the film industry was right when he said that your institution has gone to the dogs in the past 10 years or so. Your institute has unleashed rubbish all these years – all in the name of art. Those awards you won, the accolades that you celebrated were all part of a larger conspiracy to weaken a nation that was in deep slumber imposed by the commies or their pseudo- socialist counterparts. When a democratically elected government (with a sweeping majority) recruits a person to steer you into the new world, you resist. They must be right. Because you are wrong.

Come on guys, chase that pot of gold. Achchhe din await you.

Jai Hind.

Hansal Mehta

this piece first appeared in thewire.in. Reproduced here with a few edits and grammatical errors.

A letter to Vishal ‘Bard’waj

Haider_Poster

Date : Sept 30, 2014

Subject : Your Chutzpah.

My dear Vishal,

Firstly, thank you for inviting me to watch Haider last night. Thank you for thinking of me. Let me tell you that you robbed me of my sleep last night. Your chutzpah had me awestruck, wondrously grateful and might I sheepishly admit, slightly envious.

Did you really write Haider? Or did you actually paint it? Those paintings of Kashmir and its people refuse to leave me. The characters in your chutzpah – where did they come from? Your mind or your heart? Did I witness poetry last night? Or was it cinema as it was meant to be but has ceased to be?

I’m now tormented by the pain of your world. I am overcome with Haider’s plight. I can feel Ghazala’s dilemma. I am still swept by the unspoken truth in Arshia’s sparkling eyes. The landscape that you painted, is a Kashmir I have never seen before. There is so much beauty yet so much melancholy. There is so much music in the silence of that stunning paradise. I can sing praises for your performers, for the impeccable casting, for the cinematography, for the gentle editing, for the seamless screenplay, for the mellifluous dialog, for the choreography, for the costumes, for the authenticity of the language used by your characters but I would hate to recount my experience with such mortal, hence limited measures of brilliance. Real brilliance cannot be quantified. Real brilliance cannot be compartmentalized or presented in bullet form. I will, therefore, not use my meager knowledge to dumb down what is truly a spiritual experience.

Dear Vishal, it is rare that a film can actually make somebody as egoistic as me feel so humbled, so moved. I witnessed a grand spectacle last night, a feat I thought our cinema was incapable of achieving. I became part of an operatic journey that transformed me. After Haider, I don’t think I will ever be the same director I used to be. The change, I hope, will be for the better. The change, I hope, will have me thanking you forever.

Nevertheless, thank you for Haider. Thank you for making a sleepless night so fulfilling. Thank you for a meditative experience. Thank you for the chutzpah!

Lots of love,

Hansal.

PS : I must tell you that watching Haider last night made me lament your absence in my life as a music composer. Your music is special. Give me more.

 

 

Twenty Years On The Fringe – Incoherent Ramblings

Image

In 2014 I completed roughly 20 years in the industry – of course encompassing my work as a TV producer/director, editor and filmmaker (and atrocious makeshift actor at times). I call these 20 years my life. The remaining years were another life, led by another person, lived by another soul. In 1994 I was a directionless 25 year old bored of computer software, a failed entrepreneur, a young father and basically a young man without a vision for life. 20 years later not much has changed. Except the fact that I have survived. I have survived these 20 years like many other nameless, faceless individuals do in this industry – on the fringes.

Being on the fringes of this industry means that –

  1. You rarely get invited to parties or premiers or previews.
  2. You don’t get written about often. Your personal life is very personal and is of no interest to anybody.
  3. You are rarely / never perceived as a threat to established insider stereotypes.
  4. You don’t expect or win awards.
  5. You make less money.

Essentially, this oblivion means that you can focus on work, lead a simple life and most importantly it means that you do not have to be politically correct all the time. Being on the fringe also means that your mediocrity is often looked down upon as mediocre and you have to ensure that your most mediocre work is less mediocre than the insider’s least mediocre work. You can also be irreverent, impolite, even honest and fearless as an outsider – your survival after all does not depend on your conformism or your sycophancy.

Yes, there are disadvantages, mostly self-inflicted, of being a fringe player. You can get cynical very easily as you see those less talented and more fortunate than you get all that you believe you deserve. You can get very bitter and you can waste immense amounts of time limiting your own creative growth. Nothing will ever seem worthy of your appreciation – not even your own work. Yes, cynicism is the greatest danger posed by oblivion as you will soon be unable to look at yourself in the mirror and you will constantly lower your own standards to belong to a place that you will never belong to.

I write from experience. I was once happy in my oblivion. Then I was dissatisfied. I desperately wanted to belong. I got cynical, frustrated and directionless. I stopped holding a mirror to myself. Fortunately, failure helped me recognize this. I took some time off from myself and my ego. Today, I am comfortable in my own little world. Shahid emerged out of this comfort with my own aspirations and my own inner self. I now inhabit an independent universe that is driven by me, my own benchmarks for growth and my own levels of satisfaction.

I write this because I see many like myself fall prey to the perceived pressure of oblivion and because I see them afflicted by the rampant mediocrity around them. I often see these people fading away and resorting to desperate measures that either undermine their talent or see them fading away beyond the fringes that they belong to. The truth is that being an outsider is far more fulfilling than having to belong to a place that you never belonged to in the first place.

…Jayate – My First Film (with a link to the entire film)

Here is my first film … Jayate uploaded by Rajshri Films for free viewing. This film produced in 1997-98 was never released commercially but it had a small festival run through the Indian Panorama of 1998-99. Made at a meagre budget …Jayate marked the debut of cinematographer (director, Antardwand and DOP Laaga Chunri Mein Daag), writer Anurag Kashyap, editor Girish Madhu, sound engineer Arun Nambiar, actors Sachin Khedekar and Kishore Kadam. It was produced by R.V. Pandit, a big hearted producer who risked his money on a nobody like me. I got this film because Mr. Pandit was impressed with my work on the promos of Maachis and Darmiyaan. I owe this film to Vishal Bhardwaj who introduced (pushed) me to Mr. Pandit and because of whom I met Gulzar saab – an association that will remain my most precious one forever. However, the music score was by the violin maestro Dr. L Subramaniam on the insistence of my producer.

On hindsight …Jayate was a wordy, good hearted, often amateurish first film with some wonderful performances and dialogs. The film’s first cut was nearly 3 hours 40 minutes which we cut down to its current length of approximately 2 hours 20 mins.  Despite its many flaws it remains my debut feature film and very close to my heart. In many ways my recent film Shahid (2013) is a result of some of the lessons learnt from …Jayate – particularly the courtroom scenes.

…Jayate was also special because it was made at a time when the old fashioned film editing era was about to end. I was adamant about using the Steinbeck to edit this film and I think this process taught me a lot. The entire sound post-production was done using analog media and the final mono mix was done in two nights. Carrying reams of magnetic tape, film positive and audio tape in my old car from studio to studio remains an experience that I will cherish forever. This film taught me about how technology could not substitute simple story-telling – a learning that I have tried to incorporate in my better films with or without success.

This film was made at a time when Mumbai had no multiplexes, no studio system and when the old territorial distribution system based out of Naaz Cinema was in full swing. Distributors would leave my previews either mid-way or without saying anything about the film. Nobody was interested in a songless film without major stars at the time. Friends from the industry often derided me for making a film like this as my debut vehicle. It took me nearly 2 years and massive financial / personal burden post …Jayate to put my next film Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!(2000) together.

I look back on …Jayate as one of my earliest attempts to break free from a populist mainstream system that I did not belong to. With Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar and Chhal I tried to continue with that independent streak but somewhere in the ensuing years I lost that drive to strive on. Shahid marked my return to roots and my return to a path of making films without fear of stars, returns or flak. Shahid and its success has given me the impetus to continue my aborted journey of which …Jayate is a humble beginning. Do watch it…

Independently Yours!

(This piece appeared in Indian Express Play on Friday, 27th December)

20131229-082607.jpg

I made independent films much before they became fashionable and remotely feasible. Let me also clarify that i am personally against this branding of films and filmmakers as mainstream and independent. I am a filmmaker. Period. My job is to make films. And i love my job. For me independent is a spirit and not yet a refined business model.

Also let me clarify that it is too early to celebrate. The game has just begun. Change is still around the corner. It is still not there. Hence, I would throw in a word of caution here. We should not jump at the success of Shahid, Ship of Thesus and The Lunchbox. Not yet.

The exuberance and excitement around gems of the 70s-80s such as Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala, Shyam Benegal’s Manthan, Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya, Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro died when a lot of trash was passed off as ‘parallel’ or ‘art’. Parallel soon turned into a movement that created poor clones of celebrated works. It almost became formulaic. Which is why I recommend caution while being optimistic. The focus has to be on content, passion and fearless spirit. There is no place for conservatism in this climate.

This year was iconic in that respect as what won over was the audience was presentation and content of independent films. For me Anand Gandhi emerged as the voice of this nascent movement. He is fearless, subversive and a unique story teller. I hope he continues with more striking work in the years to come.

IN order to sustain this emergence of independent cinema we need to come up with stories from the heart, stories that reflect a deeper collective consciousness. We must throw caution to the winds and exercise our creative freedom through our films. We are by nature complacent creatures and we seek comfort in the ‘formulization’ of content. Any attempt to do so will lead to an eventual decline and finally demise of independent cinema. The creative challenges are great and it is very encouraging to have big studios like Disney coming forward to give our films a respectable outlet. It is a step in the right direction. But I feel independent content must be created without studios at the helm while making the film. We will need to find more avenues for funding and completing our films before we take them for distribution or acquisition to the studios. My belief is that studios with their current rigid corporate structures and creative mandates are not equipped for producing such films. The way forward in the short term is to produce content independently and then seek partnerships with studios for promotion and distribution. I say this from my experience with Shahid – the independent producer and the studio have to share risk. At some stage it is imperative that the careful corporate culture will seep into the independent space. My contention is that it should be nearer to completion of the film than during development. The two entities have yet to understand each other better and until then they must cooperate with an understanding of the others strengths and weaknesses. But we are making a beginning in this area as Citylights, my next film (produced by Fox Star Studios and Vishesh Films) is being made with the fearless spirit of Shahid. Both of us are learning in the process and hopefully this cooperation will open doors for more audacious content from studios in the future

2013 could also prove to be a game changer if we learn from our experiences with festivals, sales agents and studios. Most of us were basically wide-eyed greenhorns at international festivals, trying to find our feet in a vastly competitive and mostly alien space. The Lunchbox was an exception and there is much to learn from its success. There is also much to learn from the release strategies adopted by Disney for SOT, Lunchbox and Shahid. Rational publicity outlays, limited release and focus on sustained runs might be the way forward. Time will tell.

Honestly, I don’t see this as a movement. I see this as a system arising from creative bankruptcy inflicted by self styled blockbusters and an unwieldy star system. I see the success of our films as the rebellion of a section of audiences that crave for greater intellectual, emotional and ideological stimulation than what is supplied to them in the name of ‘mainstream cinema’.

On a personal note 2013 has been a year of redemption for me. I have finally exorcised the demons of my past by making Shahid. I made some terrible films and succumbed to a system that thrives on mediocrity. My producers Anurag, Sunil and Sid have played important roles in this self styled resurrection. Anurag Kashyap was my voice of conscience when I faltered in the past. He backed my conviction with his belief. Sunil Bohra invested in my madness and trusted a failed man. Siddharth Roy Kapur is truly a CEO with heart and I will always remain grateful for the passion that Disney UTV poured into acquiring and releasing my film. The road was tenuous at times but eventually it was very satisfying. I discovered a young team that matched my passion and selflessly strove to make the film. It is in these young men and women that the future of our cinema rests. The onus is on us to take that leap of faith.

Khursheed Mistry

SHAHID-WP-1

I’ve watched Shahid thrice; the last time, I even paid to see it!  What can I say about Shahid that hasn’t been said already and by many, far more eloquently than me? This time around I had half my attention on the reaction of the audience as well. They laughed when I did and cried when I was weeping copious tears (I promise I heard many sniffles during some overwhelming moments in the film). At the end of the film, we all cheered for our 2 hours well spent and worth every rupee!

I must admit rather candidly that I am guilty; of the same prejudices that most of the population of this country have towards Muslims. However, when I was watching Shahid, I forgot about his religion or his faith and could only focus on his zeal. What made Shahid tick? How did this young man so full of life and such goodness, deal with all the adversities in his life? The answer is simple. Shahid Azmi was a man of choices. Even the wrong choices made by him, he endeavoured to rectify. At every crucial juncture in his life, Shahid chose to listen to his instincts and heart. This man of internal steel weathered every storm in his life stoically and in a matter of fact manner, that warms the cockles of the heart. He never bragged about his achievements nor cursed fate for his problems. This country needs more people like him who turn to education to beat jingoism and the system rather than beat up the people.

Hansal Mehta has proved his worth by rising from the ashes like a Phoenix. By showcasing and with such skillful accuracy as well as sensitivity, the life of Shahid Azmi, a lawyer who was mercilessly killed for helping innocent convicts, he has shown one and all, the depth of his capability and evolution. From raw intensity, emotions, subtle humour and Shahid’s passionate belief in righting the wrong, Hansal has drawn out nothing short of natural and perhaps some of their best performances from his cast and crew.

There are some actors who define the roles they play so strongly that audiences find it unimaginable that another could have played it better. Raj Kumar Yadav, the unconventionally attractive actor lived and breathed the life of Shahid and infused a freshness that was very refreshing in the way the story was told. So convincing was his performance that he had me crying and laughing in the film. This multi-talented and gifted actor will go a long, long way!

In all this, due accolades must be given to the ENTIRE crew and cast of Shahid without whom this success would not have been possible. Baljinder Kaur, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Prabhleen Sandhu, Kay Kay Menon, Vipin Sharma, Shalini Vatsa, Yusuf Husain and many more, complemented and enhanced this labour of love with their contribution and presence.

Sameer Gautam Singh has expertly woven an excellent and well researched story. He painted it lovingly with myriad emotions and some unforgettable moments which had me spell bound!

No story is every complete without the contribution of the Editor. Apurva Asrani’s crisp and ever definitive cutting edge style leaves us with a visual delight beyond words. Precise and beautifully timed, this brilliant and talented Apurva has contributed greatly to the success of Shahid by also Co-writing the screenplay along with Hansal Mehta. No one tells a story with such purity as this award winning Editor!

Mercifully, this movie was devoid of raucous and idiotic songs. The music by Karan Kulkarni resonates hauntingly in the mind long after you leave the cinema hall. Anuj Dhawan’s cinematography is truly gasp-worthy. The capturing of iconic streets by day and night, opening credits of the film are only some of the many good scenes captured on celluloid by this bright professional.

As I left the cinema hall last night, on my way home it donned on me that all those, including me who saw and understood Shahid Azmi better could in fact actually change the system by drawing some inspiration from this larger than life man! Mr Shahid Azmi, you have our respect; your story will live on forever…

SHAHID IS NOT A 100 CR FILM; IT IS PRICELESS!