The shoestring budget will not compromise technical finesse: Sharad Raj
Posted on 13 June, 2017 by Team Wishberry
Sharad Raj, an FTII alumnus has a wealth of experience in the field of television and cinema. With 25 years of work under his belt, Sharad has also made two featurettes: Ek Thi Maria starring Raghuvir Yadav and Irrfan Khan and Ward No 6, starring Atul Kumar and Kay Kay. Now, Sharad is crowdfunding for his first full-length feature film, Ek Betuke Aadmi Ki Afrah Ratein, on Wishberry. The project has a target of Rs. 26 Lakhs and has already raised over Rs. 13 Lakhs. We sat down with Sharad to discuss his film, his passions and his crowdfunding experience!
Sharad, if you were to introduce your film to an audience waiting outside the theatre for its screening, what would you tell them?
Sharad: I would request them to enjoy the cinematic experience that the film has to offer. This experience is radically different from what is normally there on offer when it comes to Indian cinema. It is not meant for passive consumption. The audience will have to actively engage themselves with the film, and hopefully, there will be a kind of emotion that the film will generate as a result of this active participation. It should also be able to create a discourse between the film and its intended audience.
What I decided is that I will make the film that I really want to make and that I am done with chasing people.
How did the idea for Ek Betuke Aadmi Ki Afrah Ratein come to life?
3 years ago, I was in a phase in life where
there was a whole lot of churning going on inside me about the changing
scenario that we see in our country, and the world in general. During that
period, it struck me that when I was working on my diploma film from FTII, I
had drawn inspiration from the story The Dreams of a Ridiculous Man by Fyodor
Dostoevsky. So, I decided to go back to where I had started my journey as a
filmmaker and see how the tale fares today and what it means to me — after 24
years. That is how it all began. I realised that it makes perfect sense in
today's scenario. Along with that, there was another story by Dostoevsky again,
that I always wanted to make into a film. It is titled White Nights, and it has
been adapted by many filmmakers... it has been adapted into an Italian film, a
French film, and Mr Bhansali adapted it in Saawariya. The story had always
fascinated me as it a fine love story so I took that and I decided to merge the
two... The idea was to see how one can feed off of each other. That's how the
whole thing fell into place.
Along with arriving at the story, I had decided on another thing: I had done the rounds chasing people and I was in no mood to do it again. And at that point a friend said something really important to me: he told me that I would end up spending 2 years chasing a star and in those 2 years I could actually generate the funds for my film. This made a lot of sense to me... I wanted autonomy and I also knew some friends who had collaborated with with Wishberry and were satisfied with the outcome. Therefore I told myself, ‘let me try doing this and maybe I will get in touch with Wishberry and start the whole thing’.
How has the crowdfunding experience been for you?
So far it has been good, but I should also tell you that it has largely been my friends and family, and the family and friends of my actors and my crew, who have chipped in. I would like to see more and more people who are not connected to me, who do not know me... there should be people who simply connect to the film, contributing to the campaign. And they need to realise that even if they do not know me and even if they do not want to pledge a big amount, that is immaterial — even if they pledge 500 rupees, they can become a part of the film.
I hope some people who are not connected to me come on board the project.
Sharad, what according to you defines good cinema?
This is how I would like to describe cinema: in music we have Gharanas... there is a Gwalior Gharana, there is a Jaipur Gharana, there is a Lucknow Gharana, et cetera... all the musicians are different... Bhimsen Joshi is different from say Kumar Gandharv... they may be singing the same raag or a similar Bandish or Khayal, yet they have their own individual style. Similarly, movies have gharanas. For example, if are you are working on a narrative film — something that has a 3-act structure, then your three-act structure has to be correct. There has to be more showing and less telling. Likewise, if you're going to follow the epic structure then the Brechtian elements of “alienation effect” need to be foregrounded, like Ritwik Ghatak used melodrama and unique framing for the same, or if you are going to follow the more poetic, the more abstract form, then in a more temporal fashion it needs to come together. And at the end of the day if should generate emotions — That is the test of a good film.
As long as a film reaches out to the gap within our personalities — if it touches us somewhere in between day and night, in between the good and the bad; I mean the grey zone, the grey zones of our existence, then I think it makes for good cinema.
What happens to films, which only manage, let's say 5 prints or 2 prints...
What are your thoughts on mainstream cinema?
Mainstream Hindi cinema can also be good if
it is done well. I mean look at the work of stalwarts such as Guru Dutt, Raj
Kapoor, and Manmohan Desai. They made mainstream films with conviction and it
reached their audience's hearts. For example, when Manmohan Desai in Amar Akbar
Anthony told you the story of 3 brothers getting blood from the same bottle,
we, the audience, were happy to see that because of the conviction of the
filmmaker. Here was a filmmaker telling you that at that point in time it was
the best way to illustrate that the same blood was coursing through the veins
of the brothers. Similarly, Guru Dutt was a master; Pyaasa is priceless; Bimal
Roy was a master. You can see that in films like Sujata and Bandini. Films like Devdas, Do Bigha Zameen... they were all great films... Awara, Shree 420, Jagte
Raho by Raj Kapoor. They are all examples of exemplary filmmaking!
What is it that you do to your cinema, what is it that you bring to your cinema — These questions are crucial and need definite answers.
I have no issues with mainstream cinema at all as long as it allows other forms of cinema to survive. The problem with mainstream cinema starts with hogging of space. When there are 5,000 prints releasing of the same film, then you know that a relatively smaller film like Death in the Gunj will fail when it gets an 11 o'clock show. For sure no one is going to watch it. Moreover, when the ticket of a film like Death in the Gunj is 300 rupees... Now, you cannot expect people to pay 300 rupees to watch a small film. It is not a Shahrukh Khan or a Salman Khan film.
With the coming of multiplexes, I had thought that that there would be more space for alternate cinema, but that hasn't been the case. I recently read about Kasav, which is a Marathi film and it won the Best Feature Film Award at the National Awards. The film isn't getting a release. This happens because the screens are booked for other big films. Now, that is the kind of money that only a big producer or the big studios have.
Something like Sairat does not happen often, so what happens to all the things in between? How do we get to watch that cinema, how do we get to know what the audience thinks about it? It makes me sad to think about what happens to films like Thithi. I think if the price of the tickets is reduced, more people will be interested in watching the cinema.
As far as mainstream cinema is concerned, the problem does not lie in the kind of films that they are making, it is the domination of the might of their capital.
If you release a film like Thithi or Local Kung Fu 2 in a theatre that can accommodate 300 people how do you expect these films to work?
What do you think should be done to safeguard independent cinema?
The state will have to help — it will have to intervene because other associations are not helping. For example, look at the country that we always look up to and the country that we always want to ape — the United States of America. You go to the East Coast and you will see that there are separate arthouse multiplexes. They have only two or three screens and they also get tax exemption. These small theatres release films from Latin America, Central America, and Europe and they are proud of it! I think something like that should happen here as well. For example, a company like Reliance has already stepped into filmmaking. If they get into something like building specialty theatres and in lieu of that they can get a tax cut from the government, it would be wonderful. Ideally there needs to be support, either from the government or from the corporates.
Tell us how you assembled your cast and crew for Ek Betuke Aadmi Ki Afrah Ratein...
They are an awesome bunch of people! I had the story. I had no script and that was in July last year and I was looking for the cast so I put up a post on Facebook and I received a huge response. But I realised that especially with the girls, a lot of them were not getting the part. The moment that I would tell them that it was the role of a prostitute, they would say no and I perfectly understood the concern. These were normal middle class girls; they were not actors.
I was talking to a friend one day about the same and he asked me to contact Rani who works at Atul Kasbekar’s production house that produced Neerja. I just called Rani and I told her my name and that I was making a film, and I also told her that, 'I don't have a penny'. Her response was fantastic! She told me that, "I have a whole line-up of artists who do not want to do regular Bollywood stuff, who are looking to do a film that will at least showcase their talent". The first three people that I met through her, I told them that, 'I have a story but I do not have the money to make the film'. All of them told me that they were coming on board and they did not even want to discuss the money! They just told me that "You are going to shoot the film in Lucknow, pay us with kebabs!"
My lead actor is Rajveer Verma who is playing Gulmohar. He is Mr. Bhiku Verma’s son who is a legendary action director. Rajveer was looking for a good role and I contacted him. He is a very hard working guy. Saloni Luthra is playing Gomti. She is from Himachal Pradesh and she has worked in a Tamil film and a short Telugu film. Right now, her short Hindi film, which has been directed by Pakhi Tyrewala (Abbas Tyrewala’s wife), is doing the rounds of festivals and screenings in India. Eisha Chopra, who was the second lead in Neerja (Sonam's best friend in the film), is essaying the role of Anita.
Lucknowi food is the remuneration that all of them settled on.
As for my principal crew, I have Arun
Verma, my colleague from FTII. He shot this wonderful film called Dhoop with
the Late Om Puri and Revathi. He recently shot a film called Moh Maya Money,
which released last November, apart from other Marathi films and documentaries.
Then Angelica — a National Award-winning art director — came on board. She was
part of the film Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Then I contacted Mandira Shukla. Mandira
has done a lot of work including films such as Chak De! India, Agneepath and
has also worked with Mr. Shyam Benegal. Same story was with her as well. I told
her this is what my film is but I have no money! She said,” I am on.” Then for
the background score I contacted Manan Munjal who has done a fantastic Marathi
film called Kaul which released last year and he came on board and he did the
music for the promo. My batch mate Madhu (Madhu Apsara) who did the sound
design for Badlapur, similarly came on board. He has also worked with Mani
Kaul. Madhu is so precise with sound that he did a good sound job on the promo.
I got Yasmin Rogers to do the makeup. She was the one of the people behind
Amitabh Bachchan’s look in Paa and she also headed the makeup department in the
India portion of the film Eat Pray Love. Yasmin has done a whole lot of international
projects like Midnight’s Children and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. And you
know what, I have not met Yasmin till date! She agreed to be a part of the
promo project and even though she couldn’t be there for the shoot (she was in
Kolkata), she Face-timed with the team to get the hair and makeup done! So
everything just fell into place and we were shooting the promo in October, just
I don't even know how I got all of these people on board. My entire crew is either from FTII or they are award-winning professionals. Mine is not a ragtag film. It will not look incompetent. The lack of money will not show in the film.
Where does the film stand today?
I am taking this film one step at a time. Right now, I am waiting for the funding to happen and hopefully it will happen. Then, we will get into pre-production and then finally production. The best time to shoot in North India is between November and December. If I get the money, then I am looking at that time period to shoot the film. It is going to be a 25-day shooting schedule in Uttar Pradesh. So yeah, I am looking at a March-April 2018 release.
Here's more information on Ek Betuke Aadmi Ki Afrah Ratein's campaign on Wishberry.