With the winds of change sweeping Bollywood, new directors are getting a break and testing new subjects. This week, Box Office India speaks to debutant director Ajay Bahl whose film B.A. Pass is an adaptation of Mohan Sikka’s short story The Railway Aunty.
I am a high school dropout. I have done all kinds of jobs, from selling water filters to vacuum cleaners, music piracy to manufacturing jeans! When 29, I decided to work in films, not as an actor but in production.
One of my friends was friends with Manisha Koirala, who introduced me to cinematographer Santosh Sivan. I assisted him for a few months. Then I assisted cinematographer Kabir Lal. Getting a job was not tough but learning new things was difficult at that age. After that, I started working independently. I did quite a few corporate films, shot many ad films and realised I didn’t like shooting commercials at all.
I found shooting commercials very boring. But whenever I ran out of money, I would ask my friends to give me some work and, invariably, they gave me ad films. I hate the idea of selling a product. People say ad filmmakers make the best film directors. Barring a handful, I believe they become the worst directors. Telling a story in 30 seconds and telling a story in two hours are very different crafts.
From Cinematographer To Director
I started assisting cinematographers because I used to think – actors act, cinematographers shoot and directors do nothing! So I wanted to become a director but my perspective was totally wrong.
After commercials, I wanted to direct a film and I had many offers but nothing seemed to work out. I was signed by many producers but those films never materialised. A lot of independent producers had approached me and many production companies shut days before their films were to go on the floors. I finally decided to direct and produce my own film.
On B.A. Pass
B.A. Pass was born out of frustration and depression because I had no work and thus decided to produce my own film. But I waited to get the funds and only then started working on the film. I scoured bookstores for fiction writers and came across Delhi Noir (Harper Collins 2010). I chanced upon the story The Railway Aunty by Mohan Sikka in this book. I called him to buy the rights for the film. It was a lovely story. Then my writer Ritesh Shah adapted it to screenplay. When casting, Shilpa Shukla came to mind. She has this bold, sensual look and she is very beautiful. I directed, produced and even did the cinematography for the film.
Selecting A Release Date
In India, indie films don’t get a wide release but I think we have been lucky to get 1,500 shows all-India, which is a very big deal for a film like B.A. Pass. While we were doing the rounds of festivals, I met many people who loved the film. Also, the Censor Board passed the film without a single cut despite its bold concept. I also showed my film to multiplex programmers so that they knew what the film was about. I didn’t want the trailer to mislead them.
Initially, our film was to release alongside Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and it would have been a total washout for us. At the last moment, we postponed our release to August 2 so that we would get a clear window.