Sun, sand and cinema: IFFI 2019 Day 1 - Minds of masters
The columnist writes about his experiences of Day 1 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India 2019 in Goa
It’s day 1 of the 50th edition of IFFI, Goa. There are a whole host of films to choose from for the afternoon. Among the choices are films from Kashmir, South Korea, America, Ukraine, Australia and Nepal. I’ve almost narrowed it down to Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy (which I still hope to catch sometime) when I spot a familiar name: Vetri Maaran. It’s a conversation between him, director Nitesh Tiwari (of Dangal fame), and writer Naman Ramachandran, and look, I’m a simple man: If I see the name of Vetri Maaran (whose Visaaranai has given me one of my most profound film-watching experiences), I pick him every time.
There’s something liberating about such well-moderated conversations at film festivals. Directors, whose interviews usually occur amid the nervewracking business of finishing a film, seem relaxed in a way they usually aren’t. This was certainly the case with Nitesh Tiwari and Vetri Maaran during their hour-and-a-half session in which they revealed a lot about how they conceive and craft a film, and ultimately, about themselves.
It was hard not to notice certain similarities as they began discussing their work. For one, the beginnings of both their careers were exercises in familiarising themselves with the work of masters. “Balu Mahendra sir would give me a 1,000-page novel and ask for chapter summaries in a week,” began Vetri Maaran. “Once I was done, he’d hand me another and ask me to do it again.” Nitesh called himself “self-taught”. “With my first salary of Rs. 10,000, I got myself a black and white TV. Next month, I got a VCR, and during the following month, I decided to begin watching all the Hollywood films I couldn’t watch in Madhya Pradesh,” he said.
The dissimilarities were mainly in the method: Chief among them, Nitin’s almost obsessive writing style which contrasts with Vetri Maaran’s admitted ‘laziness’ and a habit of beginning shooting without a script. “This is why corporate production houses don’t quite take to me. I tell them I can give them the script once shooting is completed,” he said with a laugh. This isn’t to say he wings it though. “Each film is like a thesis,” he added. “I spend two years mulling over a project, before shoting can begin.”
Nitesh and Vetri Maaran are united in how their childhood affects the setting of their films. “I think the early-late teens of your life determine where you belong,” said Vetri Maaran. “I got to Chennai as a teen, saw its narrow streets and with the exception of Asuran, you see this in all my films.” Nitesh noted that the rootedness of his work was on account of living in many small towns as a child, thanks to his father’s transferable job. “I hated it then; now I realise how fortunate I was.”
The topic shifted to Visaaranai getting chosen as the country’s nomination for the 89th Academy Awards. Vetri Maaran pointed out that the budget spent for promoting Visaaranai, including getting a centrespread advertisement in Variety magazine, was more than the actual budget of the film. “You need to organise screenings for the voters in star hotels, and recruit whisper campaigners,” he said, and proceeded to explain, “They are people who will whisper good things about the film to important people there.”
When the panel was thrown to the audience and someone asked him whether the violence in his films was inspired by the West, he retorted to loud applause that the opening scene in Mahabharata is of war. Incidentally, Nitesh Tiwari is presently working on an adaptation of Ramayana. “Work is underway, not just in terms of writing but in terms of identifying our vision and what we want to say.”
The conversation with two of our best talents ended on that promising note. Two directors different in so many ways, but united in their urge to give us fiercely rooted films — which pretty much is what many of us have been shouting from the rooftops to be the need of the hour, if we truly desired international acclaim. That’s a topic for another day though.