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Round Two

2017 was marked by a flurry of new directorial talents. They share their movie-making experience and what’s next for them

In 2017, while many experienced filmmakers wobbled, trying to deliver strong content, there was a fearless group of filmmakers who tossed their hats into the ring with fresh ideas, new stories and experimental techniques. These were first-time filmmakers who gave us a bunch of unique movies last year.

From feel-good, slice-of-life dramas like Tumhari Sulu to laugh-riots like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, most of these newbie filmmakers made sure they steered clear of the tried and tested. Some films worked while others didn’t but the content generated by these newcomers holds out plenty of promise for Bollywood.

As the most special year in their career came to an end, we spoke to these debutant directors and talked about the experience they had while making their first films. We also asked them about their upcoming projects.

Suresh Triveni, Director (Tumhari Sulu)

Tumhari Sulu was a dream come true in every single way. From writing the script to getting Vidya Balan on board, and then making the film, everything unfolded perfectly. After Vidya said ‘yes’, I spent six months trying to find the right producers. Both Vidya and I were keen on having a passionate and energetic team, so when Ellipsis came into the picture along with the other producers, it was a perfect match.

It was great that T-Series came on board to promote and market the film. I am a first-time director and when a name like T-Series is attached to your film, it is a great confidence-booster. I am grateful to Bhushan Kumar for that.

We started the shoot in April 2017, completed it in June, and released the film in November. Its release was actually advanced by a week. We didn’t treat it as a small or big film; we just thought of it as our film and I was overwhelmed by the way it was appreciated by everyone.

The biggest challenge I faced was trying to maintain the right atmosphere on my set. Everybody is excited in the first week but it’s day 25 when things start to go down. It is a challenge to make sure your crew has the same enthusiasm you have but it helps when the results are good. One thing I learnt was patience. I am from an ad background and all my shoots last two or three days, and the product is in front of you in 10 to 15 days. But, here, you shoot for 42 days, then wait for the film to be completed in post-production, and for it to be released… all this takes patience and I learnt how to wait.

I am still basking in the response that Tumhari Sulu has received from everyone and I have also started working on something else. I am writing something that should be done by mid-February. I am also in talks with people who have written scripts. Of course, I would love to work with Vidya over and over again. There is pressure when choosing one’s second project but I am not going to think about that.

Shree Narayan Singh, Director (Toilet: Ek Prem Katha)

To start with, I want to clarify that, technically, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha was not my directorial debut. However, I did go on the sets with the humility and fire of a first-time director along with the intention of making an entertaining film. Here was a story which was written beautifully, in a simplistic manner, by our writers Siddharth and Garima. I tried to achieve something that was not only relevant to the nation at large, but since it was set in small-town Uttar Pradesh, it was especially close to my heart. I think I have managed to tell the story to the best of my ability, which was my singular purpose.

The entire shoot – and I mean every single moment on and off the set during our long schedule – was an experience to be remembered and cherished. Mr Akshay Kumar’s humility and dedication towards his work was a guiding light each day. I recall one day when he was supposed to leave at about 11:30 am and we had finished work with him by about 10 or so. He did not leave but insisted that we use the remaining time to do song cuts. We did that and each of those shots enriched the song Hans mat pagli.

Another interesting incident that I recall is that when we were at Mathura, some people announced an award of a crore of rupees to ‘cut my tongue’ and stop me from making the film. I made an honest attempt in making TEPK and I feel blessed. I am also grateful for the audience’s overwhelming response, which was humbling and extremely motivating. I cannot thank the people who appreciated TEPK enough, for boosting my confidence and endorsing my story-telling abilities.

My next project is titled Batti Gul Meter Chalu. Conceptualised by Vipul Rawal, with story, screenplay and dialogue written by Siddharth-Garima, BGMC explores the flaws in the system, all with a touch of humour.

Anshai Lal, Director (Phillauri)

For Phillauri, we had a very long pre-production phase because the technical aspects were challenging. We were in pre-production for about eight months. Also, ours was a very young team and it was Clean Slate’s second production venture. As a first-time director, there is a lot of pressure, apprehension and nerves before you get into it. However, since the team was young and the crew was so good, we had a lot of fun shooting the film. We were on a really tight budget as well for the kind of scale we wanted to pull off but more often than not, all of us had a great time working with each other.

The crew was amazing. There were experienced people and newcomers, which was perfect. Red Chillies was on board for VFX and there was Vishal Sinha, who is a well-known DoP. There was Meenal Agarwal, who had done the production design for Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Rhea Kapoor, who had done costumes for Piku. Anvita Dutt, the writer, was superb. I think I really lucked out with the crew.

The focus was there, everyone was on the same page. Anushka (Sharma) was absolutely lovely to work with along with Diljit (Dosanjh) and Suraj (Sharma). These guys were playing characters in different time zones. We started with the old world and working with Diljit was a lovely experience; he’s really funny, charming and hard-working. Then Suraj featured in the modern world along with much of the secondary cast, which was fun. The modern world was more challenging because the ghost was in the new world. But it was all good. My team made it really easy for me.

Having said that, there were some challenges we faced… juggling two worlds and it was a very deliberate effort to make the transition between both the worlds seamless and make it look like one film. This had a lot to do with the production design of the film. Subconsciously, Meenal played with a lot of colours that are present both in the old world and in the modern world. Also, the technical challenges were immense to shoot.

Anushka was on a harness all the time when we were shooting in Punjab in 45 degrees. It wasn’t the easiest shoot for her. But I have learnt to be patient and accept that things take time. I figured out how to handle my nerves better and hopefully I will use this experience in my next film, which I am currently writing. It is too early to talk about it but it should be ready in a couple of months, when I have to present it to the production house. My next film will also be with Clean Slate Productions.

RS Prasanna, Director (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan)

When I started shooting for Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, I was concentrating on the fact that I should not screw up the first five days of the shoot. I was told that when you’re a first-time director, everybody from the light person to the actors to your producers, will be judging you. You don’t need to pull off magic on your first few days but you have to ensure that you deliver on what you promised.

Luckily, in the first couple of days, people were confortable with my work. Ayushmann (Khurrana) and Bhumi (Pednekar) told me that it was a pleasure to work with me because I was one of the most clear-headed directors they had worked with. That meant a lot to me because I think that clarity of thought is important for a director. I wanted to keep my set a very happy place because I believe it affects the way people work. I wanted it to be a smooth shoot and I achieved that, which was great.

What I take back is that whatever I do, I do from the heart. I made a film based on erectile dysfunction and sex, which was a risk but I made it with conviction and energy. That, and my honesty resonated with the audience, who was surprisingly waiting to watch a movie like this. I was used to working with people whom I had known for years but here my entire core team was new, which was different for me but still I learnt so much.

I was very conscious that my film should not be a typical Bollywood film. I was determined to stay grounded and make the movie I had set out to make. When the movie became a success, I didn’t let it go to my head. I am obviously glad that so many people liked it but I stayed away from all of it and enjoyed the love from afar. My only reaction was one of relief, I was relieved that the audience had accepted my vision and enjoyed the movie so much. It also gives you a sense of confidence when your first film does well.

I hope to get the same love, if not more, for my second film, which I have signed with Siddharth Roy Kapur. It sometimes happens that a director gives a good first film but his second movie flops. But Siddharth and I are working very hard to ensure that it comes out as a feel-good movie for the audience.

Lastly, I want to thank the one person who stood by me throughout my Bollywood debut journey, and that is producer Aanand L Rai. I had approached him with the concept some time ago, and it took a while before we got this film on floors. Still, he never once questioned the script or thought the subject wouldn’t work; he just believed in it. And that is so great for a director trying to make his way in the industry.

By backing this kind of movie and it becoming a success, it gives confidence to other producers to give a chance to other stories which seem a little risky and a little hatke. I am grateful to Aanand L Rai for that. I am also planning another project with him but he is currently busy with another film right now. We will work on it soon.

Shreyas Talpade, Director (Poster Boys)

It was wonderful to be on the set as the director of Poster Boys. Being a director is the ultimate kick that anybody can have. You are involved in every aspect of filmmaking from writing the story to developing it into a screenplay, to the dialogue, casting, shooting, post-production, etc. All of it is amazing. The silver lining was that the movie did extremely well on television, although I do wish it had done better at the box office.

The fact that the audience liked it on TV gave me much more confidence because TV reaches more people than a film in the theatre does. The TV audience is your mass audience. Coming back to the movie, I had a wonderful time working with Bobby (Deol), Sunny (Deol) paaji and the entire team. There were times when I would not want to be in front of the camera because I got so involved in this whole director thing. I was so busy trying to tell the cast what I wanted from the scene, what my vision was, that I felt, like, why am I acting in this? I felt I shouldn’t have been acting in this one. I will keep this in mind when I do my next directorial.

I will only direct the film because doing two things shifts your focus. You are thinking about a scene in a certain way, then suddenly you have to get ready for your part as an actor; it distracts you on both levels. At one point, I was actually remembering everyone else’s lines in the scene except my own! But the overall experience was truly wonderful. Also, having been a director will help me see the director’s perspective when I go on the set as an actor.

I am working on something right now, writing a masala entertainer of sorts. There are a couple of scripts that we are working on but this is the one I am particularly kicked about. If everything falls in place, maybe in the second half of this year, we will probably go on floors. I am very excited about this particular project. But, sure, I would love to be a director over and over again. As I said, it is the ultimate kick one can have.

Shlokh Sharma, Director (Haraamkhor)

Haraamkhor released on January 13, 2017. It was a big day for me because it was my first film and it finally released after four years. Despite it being a small film, it ran in theatres for three weeks. The release date also clashed with a few big films, including xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage and Ok Jaanu. Small films always acquire fewer screens, so there was a lot of tension regarding the number of shows. But surprisingly, after the first day, they increased the number of shows to 200. An increase in the number of shows signals positive growth, also for distributors and cinema owners.

I want to add that Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Shweta (Tripathi) did a great job in the film. The greatest thing for me was that the actors stood by my film. I will always remember this, everybody fought for the film. Guneet Monga, the producer, also helped a lot to get the film certified from FCAT. I just shot a film on the iPhone, it was probably India’s first film shot on the iPhone, and it premiered at the Busan Film Festival recently and MAMI too. We will be taking the film to different festivals, and are planning to release it in 2018.

I am also producing a film Cargo, which will be directed by a debutant, Aarti Kadav. Navin Shetty will be co-producing it and the film will be presented by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motawane. Shooting has begun and the film will star Vikrant Massey and Shweta Tripathi in the lead roles.

Avinash Das, Director (Anarkali Of Arah)

The most special thing for me is that Bollywood has welcomed me with open arms. All I had was a story and I started making it into a film. There were many times when I wondered whether or not the film would be made, how it would be made, whether or not it would get a release date and whether or not it would be appreciated by the audience. But the critics really liked Anarkali Of Arah. The promotions weren’t done very well, and we did not have a big star cast. Despite this, people appreciated the film.

It was as if magic had happened to me and it had happened overnight. I had so many doubts but suddenly I could see precious stones and gems in front of me. The questions that were asked in my film already appeared in Pink, that ‘No means no’. Our film was also about consent and this just baffled me but the critics had a different say. They felt the portrayal of the issue was very different from each other.

But Pink remains my favourite film because I liked the subject. Also, 2017 saw many films about women and the issues they face including Phillauri, Begum Jaan, Naam Shabana and Maatr, and the journey continued till Tumhari Sulu. I loved the fact that I could come up with this contemporary character in my film. I keep telling people that I have come here to make films and not business through my films.

I have written a script, whose story has Bihar as the backdrop. It is about a feminine boy and his journey. I am discussing the film for the first time with Box Office India.

Rakhee Sandilya, Director (Ribbon)

My co-writer Rajeev Upadhyay and I had written the script and we were not sure how things would turn out as we were shooting the film with a different technique. For a day or two, there was a lot of confusion with the technicians and the DoP team, the sound team and the actors. We had rehearsed the scenes five or six times with the actors, Kalki and Sumeet, but things look different on the actual sets. The first two days were very challenging. But, in the second half of the second day, I realised there was a lot of collaboration between the technicians and the actors. That was a huge relief because I was really not sure of the film on day one.

I came back home and checked the footage and realised the pattern looked absolutely fine, just the way I had visualised it. I had always wondered how I would get the team to understand it. But from the second day onwards, things became easier, they started talking to each other, the technicians became very friendly and started communicating with each other. And from the third day, I was in control of the shoot and things were proceeding the way I wanted them to. Everybody was on the same page.

It is one of the best experiences I have ever had. I was able to focus on the way I had visualised the scene and the way the actors were performing because we never stuck to every line in the script. Many were impromptu lines. I was not carrying a burden and that’s what made the shoot possible. I was blessed with two very good actors, they were always hands-on. The little girl in the film would sometimes not stop crying and it became impossible for the scene to be shot but Kalki and Sumeet were so cooperative that it made it all so easy for me. Right now, I am writing a script, we’ll have to see how it turns out.

Atanu Mukherjee, Director (Rukh)

The overall experience of working on the film was great. Since it was my first film, I was quite excited and getting it released on the big screen was an overwhelming experience. The response we have received is very encouraging. The whole process was a learning experience for me. Right from conceiving the idea, to scripting and coordinating with the actors… the entire collaboration and the way we jammed together and were on the same page with our creative endeavour, was enjoyable. I am still developing my next script. It is a little too early to talk about it.

Rajiev Dhingra, Director (Firangi)

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working on the film. Technically, this was my second film but my first Hindi film. I liked the fact that I got to work with great technicians. I was very fond of the set of Firangi. We worked very hard on the sets. We made an entire village; it was a huge set, so I was quite disappointed when it had to be dismantled. I had high hopes from the film even though it did not take a huge opening. But I can say that I made the film truthfully; I didn’t treat it as a mere project. I made a sincere effort. I cannot talk about upcoming projects as I am still working on a script.

Prem Prakash Modi, Director (Panchlait)

This was my first Hindi film and it was my dream project. Phanishwar Nath Renu is a big name in Hindi literature and this film is based on his famous short story Panchlight. I read this story when I was in Class IX, and connected with it very well since I come from a small village in Jharkhand. The entire film was shot at real locations.

It was quite tough for me to get a producer for a film like this. There were also a lot of difficulties while shooting, like we found a village that had no electricity because that is what the script demanded but that meant there were no modern amenities like a make-up room! But I am really grateful to the crew and the actors for being so accommodating. We are planning to make a film on a book called Chabeela Rangbaaj by a professor in Delhi University. Also, we will be shooting Dark Horse in Delhi this year.

Milind Rao, Director (The House Next Door)

It was a fantastic experience because everything was very well planned and systematic. The important part was that everything unfolded seamlessly and it was nice to work in a structured system. There was no interruption with the budget flow, which was especially important as nothing hindered our project. There was this testing of a film where independent marketing firms like Viacom had approached us to test the film, and this helped us with our final output. For me and Siddharth, the producer and co-writer of the film, it was an eye-opener.

I have also worked with Bollywood films like Guru and Yuva and working in both these industries was a unique experience. When I first worked on movie sets as a new director, there was this good, nervous energy which they call ‘butterflies in the stomach’. There are 150 people on the sets that are waiting for you to tell them what to do and that’s quite intimidating. As a first AD, you do have a lot of responsibilities and walking on the set on the first day and calling the first shots and watching what you have written on paper come to life brings magic to the entire process. There are hundreds of unit members waiting for you and nothing happens till you tell them what to do. This was the biggest challenge. The rest was on paper, the discussions took place in a safe environment and the acting workshops in a safe zone. There are a lot of things you have to manage and that’s a huge challenge.

I have been lucky to get my first film in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu and it got some really good reviews and responses in all the three languages. I have a great association with Siddharth because we have been friends for 16 years and we have collaborated in creating this content as well.

I am working on a few scripts with Siddharth and am also pitching to people from all three industries. I am in a very excited place right now. One of the projects we are working on as a team – Siddharth, Viacom and I – is a sequel to The House Next Door. That move till will go on floors soon.

Shankar Raman, Director (Gurgaon)

I have been a cinematographer and also a writer but not director before. I dedicated four to five years to Gurgaon, which includes writing, shooting and the film’s release. It was a challenging time as the writing process and then the shooting had to sync. Moreover, my film is not based on the hero-heroine formula. It doesn’t have a lead character; it’s the story that plays the main role. So, making the film was challenging and it was a roller coaster ride with so much to learn. All the credit goes to my producer Ajay Rai, who released the film on his own. Currently, I am working on a few concepts which includes a TV series and a feature film.

Devashish Makhija, Director (Ajji)

I have seen many ups and downs in my career and, finally, after working on 16 scripts, my first feature film Ajji released in theatres. It was a very happy moment for me because I had worked on 16 films before, many went on floors, some were partially shot, and one was 80-per cent complete. None of these films released, either because the producers backed out or the funds ran out.

I had made a film called Oonga, which went to a few festivals but never released. I was, in fact, signed by Yash Raj Films for a three-film deal back in 2006, when Disney and YRF had tied up. They made Roadside Romeo in which both of them lost money, so my film never saw the light of day and I had worked on it for three years.

After I walked away from that three-film deal, I moved on to make short films like Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro, El’aichi, Absent and Taandav. Then finally Ajji happened. I was making films in a time when only happy endings worked and my films had always been dark and with a political backdrop. Therefore, no one wanted to invest in them. But I believe that this is the best time for me because everyone is open to fresh ideas, to newcomers and new concepts. So, life after Ajji has been great and I am happy if everyone who has watched the film hates every character in it!

I have just completed my next film titled Bhonsle with Manoj Bajpayee as the lead.

Amit Roy, Director (Running Shaadi)

I have moved on from being a cinematographer to an ad filmmaker, to a feature filmmaker. The journey was very fruitful while making my first feature film, Running Shaadi. It was very exciting, right from the day my partner Navjot Gulati and I started writing the film, till we went on floors. We probably wrote 21 drafts of the film, at a time when marriage websites had started flourishing, when everyone had an account on one of those portals.

Making the film was very interesting but the film’s release was very frustrating. We completed the film in mid-2014 but the film saw the light of day only in 2017. Worse, we had no idea why the film was stuck. The worst part was that by the time it released, the concept was outdated. People had moved on from websites to apps; the dating process had changed and as had the social scenario. But, as they say, whatever happens, happens for the best. Currently, I am writing another feature film which will be announced soon.

Aparnaa Singh, Director (Irada)

From a writer to a director, it doesn’t sound like a big switch but, on ground, I realised that direction is a very tough job. When you are writing for someone else, you are creating a world for them, but as a director, you are also bringing it to life. So, the making of Irada was a whole new learning process and a roller coaster ride for me, where I once again learnt a lot about filmmaking. No matter how experienced you are or how many films you have done, every film teaches you something new. Irada was a risky story because the film is very subjective and it was treading a very thin line. I couldn’t go wrong with a single line or insert a song just about anywhere. There was not the slightest room for error.

I wanted my film to reach its maximum audience, which it couldn’t. But then, filmmaking is a process and I feel blessed because I got to work with some prominent directors who taught me so much about the craft and also about life. I have been a researcher, a writer and I have also worked as an associate director with many directors, where you are handling everything on ground. Those were the learning years.

So the making of Irada was great and it will always be very close to me. I also had some amazing actors who worked in my debut film – Naseerudin Shah, Divya Dutta and Arshad Warsi.

My next film is based in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, so currently I am researching the two states for my backdrop. It is not a dark film like my first one was; it is more a family drama.

Rajeev Walia, Director (Tera Intezaar)

I hail from a film family so filmmaking is in my blood. Cinema is my passion and that’s why I quit my job as an aeronautical engineer and started making films. I have been working in this industry for 25 years and have done many ad films and documentaries which also featured many A-list celebs. It was only recently that I thought of getting into features and I happened to meet my producers, who were then looking for a different subject. So, I developed the story of Tera Intezaar, an emotional story of a couple.

When I started writing the film, I knew it was not one of those typical Hindi films and when you do offbeat work sometimes things backfire. I must have given 80 narrations to different people and everyone loved it. But yes, things don’t go as per your plans and audiences somehow didn’t connect to the story and its soul. But everyone loved the way the film has been shot and the music of the film has been loved by everyone.

I am working on two concepts, one of them a woman-oriented film and I am talking to a few leading actresses. Women-oriented subjects have always been my forte; my documentaries are largely related to the women of our country.

– Soumita Sengupta, Bhakti Mehta, Suranjana Biswas

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