All you need is fire in the belly
While the big studios continue to dominate with their showcase of stars, there’s always independent films for filmmakers with passion and vision

Time was when a young person keen on learning a craft found it necessary to attach himself to a guru and learn the nitty-gritties through a long period of association and rigorous training. The craft of filmmaking has not been left untouched by this guru-shishya parampara that can be traced back to our mythologies. In fact, in a labour intensive and technologically oriented activity like filmmaking, it is necessary more to gain experience through working under an established director and learn the complicated art form.

Some of our renowned directors have honed their skills through similar manner. Guru Dutt assisted filmmakers Amiya Chakraborty and Gyan Mukherjee in Mumbai before he decided to wield the baton. Raj Khosla who later became a hugely commercially successful director joined Guru Dutt as his assistant and passed on his skill to Mahesh Bhatt. Mahesh Bhatt in his turn churned out low-budget musical potboilers, giving breaks to a host of young directors who had worked under him.

Ayan Mukherjee who is a noted director today, started off as Karan Johar’s assistant. Karan Johar in his turn assisted Adity Chopra on DDLJ while Aditya Chopra assisted Sooraj Barjatiya during the latter’s debut with Maine Pyar Kiya in 1989.

But such practice, while ensuring continuity of tradition, runs the risk of being monopolistic, exploitative and feudal, closing the door to ‘outsiders’ who want to break into the craft and business of filmmaking. For such aspirants, and to promote unknown talents who generally don’t find a voice or representation in a vast and underdeveloped country like ours, the government of Indian set up the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune in 1961. Filmmaking suddenly became democratised. Gradually other films schools, mostly private, followed suit and over the decades thousands of technicians passed through their doors. But it was still difficult for young film graduates to find work in the conservative industry which looked at them with unholy suspicion. It took years to gain a foothold in the industry for most and many withered away, disillusioned and heartbroken.

Beginning ’90s, with the opening up of markets post liberalisation, things started to look up gradually. There was a sudden surge of outsiders — both film school graduates and people from other professions like management, engineering and finance — people who had no knowledge of the craft but were driven by passion alone. Nagesh Kukunoor, a NRI chemical engineer from the US made an impressive debut with his English-Hindi Hyderabad Blues in 1998 and turned into a prolific filmmaker. Much before him, in the ’80s a chartered accountant from London —Shekhar Kapur debuted with an adaptation of Love Story – Masoom (1983), after failing as an actor. Anurag Kashyap, also a failed actor, turned into an accidental writer with Satya before he became famous with his unreleased Paanch (2003) followed by Black Friday (2007).

In recent times Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru, two young engineering professionals from the US have carved a name for themselves with their out-of-the box ideas.  Debabrata Paine who debuted with a critically acclaimed Chittagong (2012) has been a NASA scientist while Sujoy Ghosh has a degree in engineering and an MBA from Manchester University. Homi Adajania has been a Scuba diving instructor before he casually walked into filmmaking with Being Cyrus (2006), while Anusha Rizvi of Peepli Live (2010) fame has been a journalist with no exposure to filmmaking whatsoever.

While the big studios would continue to dominate with their showcase of stars and insistence on experience, a young filmmaker, if he does not fall prey to the glamour of big names and waste his time chasing prejudiced moneybags, could draw inspiration from small independent films that have left a mark in recent times.

With independent funding sources and concepts like crowd funding gaining currency, today there is definitely more scope for people without godfathers to get into filmmaking. Newer and cheaper cameras have made the shooting process easier and affordable. With social medias like Facebook and YouTube to help him reach out to countless people, he can forgo the traditional platforms of marketing and distribution.

The only two criteria he needs are a bloody good script and fire in the belly — and of course — vision.

(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)

Ranjan Das