– . – Beyond Bollywood
While Indian faces featured heavily in the coverage of this year’s Oscars, the key winners from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE’s success were, as usual, established Western filmmakers such as Danny Boyle (director), Anthony Dod Mantle (cinematographer), and Simon Beaufoy (writer).
I went to visit the Tongues on Fire Asian Film festival, in London, to find how the next generation of Indian filmmakers aim to break into this exclusive club.
In the history of the Oscar® there has only ever been a handful of Indian winners (five in total). Three of these were picked up during SLUMDOG’s grand sweep: namely two for A. R. Rahman’s score and one for Resul Pookutty’s sound editing. The two previous winners were Bhanu Athaiya for costume design in the film GANDHI (1982) and a lifetime achievement award for the internationally respected Bengali writer/director Satyajit Ray in 1992.
What would Satyajit have made of the lack of awards for Indian filmmakers both before and since his Oscar®? Indeed, where are the Indian filmmakers of today and tomorrow?
Some of them showcased their work at the Tongues on Fire Asian film festival, which took place in London during March of this year. The director of the festival, Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry has overseen its development over the last 10 years to the point where it has now become a key date for UK based Indian filmmakers to present their talents.
“Tongues on Fire is a film festival dedicated to expressing the drive and spirit of Asian cinema culture. It provides a unique international platform for Asians working in film and media around the world,” says Dr Chowdhry. “Our screenings and events include feature films, documentaries, and short films, panel discussions, and educational and community screenings. It is important for us to create a platform for the next generation of filmmakers.”
In true SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE style, here then is a million dollar question for some of these Indian filmmakers of tomorrow: which of the following directors established themselves with films that they both wrote and directed?
A. Gurinder Chadha
B. Deepa Mehta
C. Asif Kapadia
D. M. Night Shyamalan
The answer is, of course, ALL of them.
Gurinder Chadha with BHAJI ON THE BEACH, Deepa Mehta with her elements trilogy (EARTH, FIRE and WATER), Asif Kapadia with THE WARRIOR and M. Night Shyamalan with THE SIXTH SENSE.
When you think about it, that makes perfect sense. If you are a struggling director, you are unlikely to be sent scripts to work from. Similarly, if you are an up-and-coming writer, you won’t have a queue of directors waiting to film your magnum opus. So one solution seems to be both to write and direct your own work.
If you do choose to take this route, as a director your success will depend upon how good a writer you also are. This is clearly demonstrated by the entrants of this year’s Tongues on Fire short film competition.
As an example, the winner of the short film competition (Amit Gupta) not only expertly directed his film LOVE STORY, he also wrote its razor sharp narrative-with-a-twist about a father reminiscing about the courtship of his wife.
But what do you do if you see yourself as a director but not a writer? One obvious answer seems to be to dispense with a story all together and produce a documentary.
It was no surprise then that the Tongues on Fire competition runner-up was Nina Duttaroy, who beat off the other drama-based entries with her enthralling documentary FROM THE WAIST UP: an intimate portrait of a former Hell’s Angel and his life in a wheelchair.
Gurinder Chadha, of BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM fame, seems to have followed this classic path in her career. Beginning with documentaries such as I’M BRITISH BUT… (1989) and ACTING OUR AGE (1991) before writing and directing her first feature in 1993 (BHAJI ON THE BEACH). Now that she has established herself as a director in her own right, she has moved beyond the Bollywood-lite of movies like BRIDE AND PREJUDICE to the point where she is even linked to mass-appeal projects such as Dallas the movie!
After the Tongues on Fire competition shortlist was screened and the winners announced, the first two people I bump into are not entrants but aspiring filmmakers of the future: Eddy Rajendram, who has completed two screenplays, is looking to have them accepted for production; Lavinia Remedios, on the other hand, is a budding director looking to complete a script so that she can begin her directorial career. Wouldn’t it make sense for people like Eddy and Lavinia to work with each other?
This simple yet brilliant idea has been put into action by the Tongues on Fire organisers with their Film Frat group for aspiring filmmakers.
Not only does the Film Frat allow a community of aspiring artists (from writers and directors to actors and cinematographers) to pool their talents, but it also organises workshops and sessions with established Indian filmmakers such as Gurnider Chadha, Deepa Mehta and Asif Kapadia. The hope is that, with the support of peers and established artists, Indian filmmakers will at last begin to make the breakthrough into the mainstream. Amrita Kumar, organiser of the Film Frat, explains:
“Filmmaking is a daunting industry and network support from fellow filmmakers and, advice from established filmmakers is much needed.”
So now, if you are struggling to put your feature film together, you really do have a lifeline that you can use: phone a (frat) friend!