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“India does not believe in good cinema”

Film Director Q’s latest production Tasher Desh is an adaption of Rabindranath Tagore’s play by the same name. In a free-wheeling interview, Q talks to Sagorika Dasgupta about what cinema means to him and a new funding model

What prompted you to make Tasher Desh?

I wanted to bring the play back to the public in a way that has not been seen. It is such a popular play and is considered to be a children’s play, which it is not. It has lost its meaning somewhere but it’s highly political and includes highly adult content. In the film, I have tried to retain what I think Tagore was trying to talk about.

When one takes cinematic liberties with the work of an immortal writer, it is bound to invite criticism.

Well, yes. But if you are aware of my past works, you will realise I have no such concerns. In fact, I feel filmmakers should take up such challenges. Why would I do something which is considered normal?  Normal is boring.

Your previous film Gandu was very explicit and critics said it had a ‘shock element’. Are you afraid the tag might have stuck?

Not at all. And who are these people and what don’t they like? What are their issues? What is their reference point and what kind of cinema do they watch? I don’t understand why, in a country of 1.5 billion people, we can’t have niche cinema. Why do I have to please everyone? For Gandu, monetarily we didn’t do badly at all. This film was a very cheap film and that was the whole point. We do not need to be distributed in India to stay viable. We want to make films that we want to make. Otherwise, people will be unsure of the kind of impact films like these make.

Who were your investors for Gandu?  And did the film have the same co-production model that Tasher Desh has?

Every film we do is a co-production. But co-productions work on different levels. So in Gandu’s case, it was a mini-micro-budget film. It was mostly resourced. We retained the rights and we didn’t sell out when there were opportunities. We were trying to set up another way of filmmaking. With Tasher Desh, we have different co-producers. It is a far more expensive and production-oriented film. So we needed more money. But we also brought in our own resources. That’s how we remain the primary producers.

Gandu was produced by Overdose, which is our company, and Dream Digital, which is a sound studio based in Kolkata. They did the entire sound for the film and the band was also the co-producer, since music is the spine of the story. So it was more a collaboration than a co-production.

Tasher Desh travelled to the Rome Film Festival recently. What was the response there?

We had our world premiere there and it was the first screening of the film. Rome was important since it had an amazing line-up this year. And the section we were competing in was called Cinema 21, which was looking at form-breaking narratives. Critically, the film was well-received. Audience-wise, I am still unsure because I don’t think the film was watched by the audience I was aiming at. But since a festival-going, art-house audience loves experimentation, they loved the film. Still, that’s not the crowd I want to please.

What is your target audience?

I don’t believe in a target audience. A target audience is impeccably linked to marketing and I don’t believe in marketing. I believe in producing films, not marketing them. Tasher Desh is a very Indian film, a very ‘Orientalist’ film, which Ganduwasn’t. It is a punk film, very foreign. An Orientalist film has to be watched by a specific audience. I am looking forward to it screening in India.

Which other festivals will you visit?

After Gandu, I stopped submitting applications to festivals. There are so many festivals and hence it becomes difficult for us to visit each one of them. That is unfortunate since we miss out on a lot of festivals we could have benefitted from. We have never approached festivals. The Rome film Festival invited Tasher Desh.

How did NFDC come into the picture for Tasher Desh?

Mainly through Anurag Kashyap, who trusts me. When I mounted the film, I asked him for his help with its budget. Which, by the way, is spectacularly small for the film it has turned out to be. Anurag came in as a resource first and then started pulling in the other investors. He got NFDC on board. You could say the film is ‘state-funded’. It appears equity-funded but it is not.

You have made films with foreign producers as well as with local producers. What are the pros and cons of each approach?

There are no pros. We need money to survive. India does not believe in good cinema. Producers and distributors do not understand what it is like. Working with foreign money was our only way. And this is public money. All public broadcasters invest in films. It’s a very different set-up. We pulled off the biggest documentary co-production with Love In India. It had seven co-producers and five public broadcasters from Europe and Australia. Then it was sold to 14 broadcasters.

People in India are only now beginning to understand good content. In the last two three years, there were only 8 to 10 films in India that were high on content. These are great films that can be screened anywhere in the world and will be appreciated.

Can you name these films?

Ship Of Theseus, Miss Lovely, Kshay, GOW I, quite a few in production, a few great documentaries. Bilal did extremely well and it got theatrical distribution in Japan, which is not a country that readily invests in Indian films. The Japanese market is usually impenetrable. So a completely different type of financing structure has to come into play and NFDC can play a huge role here.

Corporate studios like UTV and Viacom 18 are producing a lot of niche content.

I have not been approached by anyone. Viacom 18 might have vicariously come into the picture because of GOW but I guess my films are too niche for their taste. Of course, Tasher Desh is a lot more soft compared to Gandu and Superboudiis another fun subject. It is India’s first superheroine film. ‘Boudi’ means ‘bhabi’ and it is a satire on middle-class society.

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