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“Hindi cinema is all about Maths”

Having hit a high note with his first Marathi feature film Harishchandrachi Factory, India’s official entry to the Oscars in 2008, director Paresh Mokashi has wielded the megaphone yet again for his second and recent release Elizabeth Ekadashi. No stranger to awards and festivals, Mokashi screened the film at the International Film Festival of India in Goa two days ago. Here’s the director speaking about his second film

Elizabeth Ekadashi is a very unique title for a film.

(Laughs) I know. Every filmmaker tries to create a unique identity for their film with the title and ours identifies with the content of the film. But, really, there is no mystery. I mean, five minutes into the film will tell you why the film is called ‘Elizabeth Ekadashi’.

How did you come up with the concept of the film?

My wife and I were chatting one day and she was talking about this incident that she witnessed in her childhood in Pandharpur, a small town in Maharashtra. There is a time in the Hindu calendar called the vari period. It was a story about that time when kids would go to houses to collect money. She and her brother also did that and that concept stuck with me. My wife has written the film since it was based on personal experience. We wrote the script in June 2013 and completed it in August.

Was it a tough shoot?

You bet it was! Once we went on the floors, we realised that we had put ourselves in a tight situation for quite a few reasons. First, we had a cast comprising mostly kids and then we decided to shoot it in Pandharpur, during the vari period when the roads are choc-a-bloc with almost half a million people. So logistics were a huge challenge. Add to that the crowd frenzy when they see cameras and we had mayhem on our hands! It was tough and we improvised a lot.

The film released last week and has received good reviews. Did you expect this kind of response?

No, not at all. My film is not your usual masala entertainer, so I never dreamt it would garner this kind of response, especially this kind of business. My film has no stars and no song-and-dance sequences, no masala, no fight sequences and no ingredients that are there in your commercial pot boilers. So my wife and I were in for a shock when we learnt that its prospects were good.

The film was selected as the Opening Film at IFFI too…

That came as a pleasant surprise too. We had applied and we were only too happy when the call came.

How did Essel Vision come into the picture?

Well, I asked my father to come on board with this film and he loaned me some money. That’s how we were able to produce the film. Once we made it, we arranged a screening for a few people and the guys from Essel Vision watched it and liked it and decided to distribute it.

Are you happy with the way they promoted the film?

I am tremendously happy with the way they produced it. They are the top distributors of Marathi films and they did a fantastic job. They had several interesting ideas and have clout in the industry. They were therefore able to do full justice to the film. They brought several ideas to the table. For instance, since Zee is their channel and Zee Marathi is the leading channel in the Marathi space, they used those channels to carefully integrate the characters of my film in their daily shows and push the film interestingly to the audience rather than shove it down their throats. We held several press conferences in many cities in Maharashtra and we also did city visits. There were also several posters designed in a unique and minimal manner, which I think caught the attention of the people.

Is it important for a Marathi film to partner with a corporate house, from the promotions point of view?

It depends on the film. With a Marathi film, if the film is good it will reach people through word-of-mouth. But it’s very different for Hindi films, which sometimes bomb at the box office even after huge marketing and publicity campaigns. Hindi films are hugely star-driven too. But in Marathi cinema, stars are not always a huge draw probably because there are other arts like theatre and music. The credit goes to the Marathi culture in general, which is not all that film-oriented.

You made Harishchandrachi Factory in 2008. Why did it take you so long to make your second film?

That’s because my main passion is research in ancient history. I have written a few plays on it too, like my last play. For the last few years, I was busy researching and documenting facts that are part of our history. I decided to make a database with this material since we don’t have a proper database available. Next, I was busy coming up with a computer programme to feed in the data. One day, after all that was done, my wife narrated the story to me and I felt I was ready to make another film. I had got all my prior commitments out of the way.

Since UTV had distributed your previous film, why didn’t you ask them to produce this one too?

I didn’t want to burden anyone with my film. Also, I didn’t want unnecessary interference in terms of production. No doubt, they are a brilliant production house but sometimes you just want to fly solo. They hadn’t produced my previous film; they had only distributed it. So for this film too, I borrowed money from my father and uncle and decided to go it alone.

Since Harishchandrachi Factory was your first film, did you face any challenges while making it?

It all began when I finished my play and I was reading the biography of Dadasaheb Phalke written by Bapu Watve in 2005. While reading it, I began visualising the scenes. It was as if the scenes were rising from the pages in front of my eyes. I thought I might even be visualising a movie and I began writing the film. Again, after receiving monetary help from my relatives, I completed the film in 2008. There were no challenges; it all happened quite smoothly. We finished the film in 2008 and, in 2009, I only travelled to festivals with the film. Once we got the mandate as India’s official entry to the Oscars, UTV came on board and took the film to newer heights and released it in January 2010.

Why didn’t UTV distribute Elizabeth Ekadashi?

I deliberately didn’t take the film to them because I didn’t want to pressurise them in any way. When you’ve worked with someone before, there is usually an obligation where you ‘have’ to like their film even if you don’t really like it. I had a small screening and invited a few friends. That’s all I did.

The Marathi industry is on the cusp of change. Do you think this change is for the better?

Change is constant and you can judge whether it was for better or worse only a few years after the change begins. About seven years ago, there were only 10-12 Marathi films releasing. Now there are as many as 150 every year. The quantity has helped open new avenues for budding filmmakers who want to experiment with subjects, and experimentation is happening in a big way in the Marathi industry. That surge has definitely helped a lot of amateur filmmakers as well as technicians. There are two to three new Marathi films releasing every Friday and that has benefitted the industry by bringin about competition. But there are still new models to be designed, which will further enhance production and distribution strategies. So we have to wait to see how that evolves.

Will you now venture into the Hindi space?

I plan to. But the Hindi industry is too star-driven. In spite of the fact that they are trying out new subjects, it sometimes all boils down to who will be cast in a film to make sure it reaches more people and whether the remuneration the star charges will be justified in fetching returns. If you take a subject to any Hindi producer, they will begin the conversation by saying that the film should be `3 crore, with `7 crore on P&A and this is without a star. With a star, there should be an additional amount, which would make the film cost at least `25 crore. How will we get returns? It’s all about numbers and statistics and a lot of mathematics! (Laughs)

But I do plan to make a period film. I have a film in mind but I haven’t yet approached anyone.

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