Sujay Dahake marked his Marathi film directorial debut with the National Award-winning film Shala in 2012. Dahake is back with his third outing, Phuntroo, which he has written and directed himself. The science fiction love story is a first for Marathi cinema. Here’s the talented director in conversation with Rohini Nag
What prompted you to become a filmmaker?
I have always been a good observer and also good at academics. After I completed the 12th standard, I enrolled in an engineering college but after a year, I realised that I couldn’t apply what I was learning to creating something. Since I was creatively inclined, I thought of becoming an architect but someone suggested that I opt for filmmaking. I enrolled at the Pune University for Mass Communications, after which I studied Film Semiotics at Mumbai University. I thought I would become a film critic and did my Master’s in Film Journalism. I studied as much as I could about the theory of cinema, a path most film critics and reporters opt for. I wanted to learn the grammar of cinema.
But it was after I assisted on an ad film that I realised that filmmaking is what I wanted to do. I got hooked to the art of cinema. To acquire technical knowledge, I attended the International Academy of Film and Television in the Philippines. Initially, my parents were apprehensive as I come from a family of doctors and engineers but they supported my decision.
Your first film Shala was a National Award-winning film. Do awards, accolades and expectations eclipse your creative judgment in the hunger for success?
Totally, as my second film Ajoba bombed. The film was based on a wildlife crisis and followed the journey of a leopard from Malshej Ghat to Mumbai and his journey is chronicled by Urmila Matondkar’s character. Ajoba was her first Marathi film and I assumed that featuring a big, mainstream name would help. When the trailers released, I did get a fantastic response but the film bombed. I was 24 years old when I won the National Award and, to be honest, I didn’t realise the value it brought with it. Shala won two National Awards, one for screenplay and other for Best Marathi Film.
Phuntroo is a love story against the backdrop of science fiction, which is a completely new genre for Marathi films. What was your inspiration?
I am a big fan of Tim Burton’s films and I do like fantasy films like Cinderella and Alice In Wonderland. I wanted to make a film on the same lines and at the same time reflect human relations with technology in current times. Having said that, I wanted a story which was colossal in nature and yet as rooted as possible. Initially, people compared the film with the Hollywood flick Her, when the first poster released, but after the trailers released, everyone realised that this is a very different film.
Making a film is about team work, where you work with technicians. How has the team of Phuntroo added to your vision of the film?
It has added a lot. My first two films were made with a Spanish DoP and hence people started saying that my films only looked good due to international technicians. That disheartened me as it took credit away from me and my other technicians. In Phuntroo, I wanted a female DoP as it is a love story and needed a subtle and sensitive touch in each frame. As age, my views on love have also matured and hence I needed someone who knew how to depict that on the screen. Archana Borhade had assisted Santosh Sivan and she was looking for something independent. The great thing was that our vision of the film matched and that reflects on screen as well.
How did Eros come on board as the producer?
I had already released a poster of Phuntroo and work on the film had begun. This was when Eros was planning to venture into the regional space. I got a call from Eros, saying they would like to work with me and I told them I was already working on a film. I already had a producer but with Eros stepping in, things really took off. With my earlier films, I used to extensively take part in the release plans, which took me away from post-production and marketing. But this time, Eros has everything sorted and I don’t have to worry about a thing. Phuntroo is going to be my first film which will get a proper, big release.
Do you keep tabs on what’s working at the box office and what is not?
Absolutely! I keep tabs on which films worked and which didn’t, not only in terms of box-office returns but also content.
What’s next for you?
I am writing a film which will be a small-budget venture, less than `1 crore. Other than that, I had actually written Phuntroo as a trilogy. So it all depends on how this one fares at the box office and the kind of response it generates.