Cue for Change interviewed Bejoy Nambiar, the director of the thriller Shaitan released last month. The interview comes late but comes packed with his experience of working on the flick, his thoughts on the medium of short filmmaking, lessons learnt in his career and even more of his insights into cinema.
Cue for Change: Are you happy with the way Shaitan has turned up? How many times have you watched it yet?
Bejoy Nambiar: Yeah, very happy with what we have.
Q4C: What do you think of the response you have got for your movie?
BN: I am very overwhelmed by the response. Quite happy with it, I didn’t expect it to be liked by so many people. I am glad that it has.
Q4C: Has it has fallen short of your expectations at the Box Office?
BN: In terms of numbers, yes. I would be lying if I said I didn’t expect it to go over this. I really expected to get better numbers. But I guess we are still evolving as an audience so even though the word of mouth was so positive and people loved the film, to cut across to the average movie-goer the audience still needs to expand. I know for a fact that if it stays on for a few more weeks, it will gain more momentum. In the third week also it is still going well in all the pockets. If it stays on it will get better numbers. But there are so many releases happening I know it’s hard. At least it has recovered its money. It’s got a nice shelf life now. I am not entirely disappointed by the response.
Q4C: You targeted people through the internet that includes the Facebook group. What are the kinds of reaction you got there?
BN: Very overwhelming again. The response that we got online was terrific. People have really gone out and voiced their opinions. They voiced what they loved about the film. They voiced what they didn’t like about the film. In a way it’s been a great platform. I am glad that we could connect to people this way.
Q4C: Do you actually see it attaining a sort of a cult status?
BN: When you are making a film you can’t think of all that. You don’t think whether it will achieve a cult status or not. You just make the film with best intentions and hope it connects. If it attains some kind of status I will be more than happy.
Q4C: Is the box office success something that a director should worry about?
BN: I think it will be foolish of any filmmaker to not worry about it. He should definitely have that in mind. But you can’t only keep the BO in mind in making a film. As a responsible filmmaker you have to make sure the people investing that kind of money are happy.
Q4C:Aren’t you annoyed really with the comparisons people make with Paanch?
BN: I can’t be bothered about it. If people want to keep drawing parallels with it then I can’t help it. I know for a fact that I have not made it inspired from Paanch or any other (god damn) film for that matter. When my writer and I wrote it, we were not thinking of Paanch. I have not seen Paanch and that is the truth of the matter. I know some leading critics have said it is a rehashed version of Paanch. Just because it has 5 protagonists and a kidnapping plot does not make it so. That way all love stories are same. If they still want to compare it I really can’t help much.
Q4C: As a producer what has Anurag Kashyap’s role being?
BN: He came with the money. He set things up for me and he just left. And finally when the film was ready he went all out to promote it. I think that’s the best way to put it. When he really believes in something, he goes all out. I couldn’t have asked for a better producer for my first film. I am very glad that he came on board to give this film so much credibility.
Q4C: Anurag Kashyap in an interview called Shaitan very much like a David Fincher flick set in Mumbai? Could he have been an influence?
BN: Not at all. It is pretty gracious and sweet of Anurag to say that. But it is not like I was influenced by anyone. Definitely David Fincher is one filmmaker a look up to but doesn’t mean that I was trying to ape him.
Q4C: Many of us know you won the Gateway to Hollywood, and Shaitan was supposed to be made as Spiral under the Contract from Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment. But then what happened?
BN: Yes, it was going to be an English film set in Mumbai but Ashok was somewhere not convinced. He was happy with the story initially but after the first draft was written he wasn’t very convinced and wanted me to pursue something else. It happens a lot of times. Producers are not convinced on what you want to do. That is what happened.
Q4C: Do you think Gateway was an important experience?
BN: Of course if Gateway wouldn’t have happened, Shaitan wouldn’t have happened. I was writing something completely different for my first film, so I am glad gateway happened, it also led me to people. It was a great experience. I only have good memories from gateway.
Q4C: You are one of the few directors to have graduated from making short films to feature films. One of the only ones perhaps whose work is accessible to us. Is making short films a crucial lesson for an aspiring director?
BN: For me it was like a learning curve. I was constantly making short films only to get better at what I wanted to do and keep showing people that I am capable of handling bigger material so for them to have faith in me as a filmmaker I kept doing these short films. For me it was only a way of showing people my craft. I still look at it as a great format for an aspiring filmmaker.
Q4C: Here, in India it doesn’t seem to be the usual path for an aspiring filmmaker. A lot of directors in Hollywood in contrast have stated their careers by making Shorts. Then is the Short Filmmaking scene here different here that does not give out feature filmmakers regularly?
BN: I don’t think that is true. Over a period so many avenues have developed for short filmmakers. The more you showcase your work the more attention it gets. It makes it easier for you to get access to people with whom you want to work with. Of course there are different aspects here and there. In fact in India it is much more intimate. It is much easier to connect with people if you have something to show. It is much more accessible.
Q4C: So why don’t we see a lot of short filmmakers making it into the mainstream films?
BN: That depends on the filmmaker to filmmaker. How much perseverance you have and how much you try to get ahead.
Q4C: You managed to bring Mohanlal, a star in Malayalam cinema to act in one of your early Short film, Reflections. How did you do that?
BN: I completely believe that if you really want to work with someone, in our country it is actually possible. It is not difficult to get in touch with anyone. So I actually tracked Mohanlal down, found his number, got an appointment. It took me a couple of months.
Finally if that actor wants to work with you or not that is a completely different thing. As a first filmmaker, yes you will be shunned, you may not be entertained, but it depends on how much you keep trying. And that is what happened with Mohanlal, once I had explained the concept top him, he was on board.
Q4C: Who would you call influences of your filmmaking? Or somebody you admire a lot?
BN: There are a lot of these. I admire Anurag Kashyap very much. He is a definitive hero for aspiring filmmakers, somebody that all look up to. Mani Sir (Ratnam) of course is another. He is one of the reason I joined the media. It is also because of the association I have had with him. He has been a driving force in my career.
Besides them, Mukul Anand and Manmohan Desai. Padmarajan, Bharathan and Ritwick Ghatak are also few of my favorite filmmakers. There are a lot of filmmakers I keep admiring because of their work.
Q4C: Anybody from Hollywood?
Coen brothers, Brian De Palma and David Fincher in fact there are so many of them. They are the big guys.
Q4C: Can you give us a list of your top 5 films.
BN: You can’t ask this to a filmmaker. There are far too many films I like. I just don’t have any favorite five films. As a film-buff you keep updating a list. You keep adding more films to it. It’s never like you have a set of five or ten films that you love. If I stick to a list I will be doing a great injustice to the other films that I like.
BN: The Secret in their Eyes, I keep talking about that film a lot. I also love A Prophet that I saw recently and Mother, the Korean film that I thought was very nice.
The interview ended thus. We are grateful to Bejoy for the opportunity to converse with him.
Interview dated 27.06.2011