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Peeling The Onion

In the coming weeks, we will see many directors making their debut in the Hindi film industry. Arjun Mukerjee is an established names in the ad film world and hopes to make a mark in Bollywood with 3 Storeys. He shares his journey and talks to Soumita Sengupta about his first film. Over to them:

 

Background

I am an economics and philosophy student who discovered films while graduating. I joined an advertising film production house as an intern in 1994 – that was my film school. I started directing ads in 1999 and went on to direct almost a hundred of them. I always wanted to make movies but got busy with advertising films and spent many years cementing my place in that industry. I was fortunate to get the film script from an ex-advertising colleague – Althea Kaushal – and finally decided to jump into movies.

 

On 3 Storeys

I fell in love with the script on the first read. It was all about what lies beneath the surface, behind the eyes, behind the various masks we are so adept at wearing and changing every day. I have always loved getting to the heart of the matter, and this script was all about that, and more.

I shared the script with Priya Sreedharan (Open Air Films), who has co-produced Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, L.S.D and Shanghai. She loved it too, and came on board. Althea, Priya and I worked on the script for a few months, making a lot of structural changes and tinkering with the character arcs. When we felt we were ready, we went to Excel, and fortunately, they agreed to take it on.  B4U came into the picture at a slightly later stage. 

 

On Casting

It was pretty tough to get great actors who were also well-known names. The producers really helped to bring in the bigger names. I was more concerned with getting the right look, and the acting skills had to be top notch to be a part of a human drama. The story is almost like an onion in the sense that the layers keep peeling and the masks drop, and we see what lies behind the veils… the eyes...the facade. To pull this off, one needs quality acting chops. The workshops we did with acting coach Atul Mongia really helped.

On Excel Entertainment

They were the first people that Open Air Films (Priya Sreedharan) and I had approached, and, fortunately, they said yes. They have a reputation for making a wide variety of films from different genres, and are known for taking risks on quirky content as well.

 

The Journey From Ad To Feature films

I just took a long time to get around to making a feature film as I was caught up for many years in making a place for myself as an advertising film director. It was not really a struggle to get 3 Storeys up and running, and I feel very fortunate about that, given the horror stories I have heard about people struggling to make their first film.

 

Story Telling – The Common Thread

On one level, ads and features are very different, and on another they are very similar. Both tell stories, and that is a strong common thread. Both entertain the audience audio-visually, so that is a basic commonality. And as a director, both forms have ‘clients’ – corporations in ads, and producers in movies. 

Obviously, in a feature, everything is bigger and the arc is longer, and as a director one has to hold a lot more in one’s head. Perhaps a good analogy would be T20 cricket versus Test cricket. What I love about feature films is that the whole crew works on the film for a long while, so a lot more is invested by everyone than in an ad film… a lot more involvement is required, and one has a lot more time to nurture the baby and shower it with love and care.

I have a great time directing any sort of film. Being on a film set is sacred for me, and a privilege. One learns things daily, regardless of whether it is an ad or a feature.

 

Byline – Soumita Sengupta

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