Independent Film making in India
How to reach for your dreams
How to become more than your environment
Often while fulfilling everyday tasks or pursuing our goals we may have an opportunity to meet inspiring, creative people. Wherever we go, on the way to store, at the airport, in the train, traveling or simply connecting through internet we have a chance to interact, share, learn, influence somebody and let others do the same for us. Something great may happen...
Today let me introduce you to a filmmaker from India: Amit Mehra - in his mid 40’s, Amit has written an English feature film – Karma; Crime, Passion & reincarnation, A murder mystery which won the Best feature at Marbella, Spain in 2009. In 2012, he made his first narrative short film as a director – EKANTH, a suspense drama, revolving around a middle class family in Bhopal, India grappling with a mysterious disappearance.
This short film (EKANTH) has been selected for two American festivals in 2014 - Big Sur Film Festival hosted by Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur, California (Screened on July 24th, 2014) and by ENCFF, North Carolina where it will be screened on September 12-13th. Also, Dinesh Nair who played the lead role of AKSHAY has been nominated for Best Actor award by ENCFF Film festival in USA.
Amit also owns a boutique production house Amp Angles, where they make advertising films and documentaries. Currently, he is developing a script for his first feature film as a director. I spoke with him about his journey so far, life as an independent filmmaker in India and his dreams, future plans.
Amit, when in your life you knew you wanted to be a filmmaker? Why? What was your motivation? your story...
I was 6 years old when I had written my first story. It was called "Mystery of The Last Drop". A suspense thriller about a mad scientist who has been shunned by his community and he decides to take revenge on them by creating a peculiar mysterious potion. I used to narrate this story to anyone in my family who would give me the time of the day. There were many loopholes in my story and when I was made to confront those, I remember I wasn't very pleased and would endlessly argue the illogical story I had written. I think the desire to get validation develops pretty early in human beings and for many of us, that desire never goes away. My older cousin brothers saw that I was deeply interested in films and stories. They would often narrate me stories of films that I was not allowed to watch. Film's like Godfather. When I heard those narrations, I realized how half baked the story I had written was. Then when I saw Star Wars, I think that completely sucked me into the magical world of movies. I had to be dragged out of the cinema hall. As a teenager in the 80's, I also got exposed to a new emerging phenomenon of music videos. I was also fascinated by James Bond films. Later, I was hugely influenced and motivated by cinema of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Alan Parker, Francis Ford Coppola and many filmmakers in India as well like Ramesh Sippy and Gulzar. Essentially, fascination for storytelling and creating unique worlds around them is what led to my journey as a filmmaker.
What have been the challenges for you as a filmmaker?
For me, the biggest challenge was and still is trying to find my way within my industry. There was no one in my family or friends who were even remotely related to the world of films. 24 years later, I do have some wonderful friends from the industry and though there are all kinds of avenues of collaboration available today, I am still traveling on my own, trying to find my voice as a filmmaker. While on most days I cherish my freedom, on many occasions, this can be deeply isolating and frustrating. It's not that I can not or do not wish to collaborate with others and there are plenty of great folks working here whose work I admire but perhaps I have not found my groove yet.
Amit, you are 45 and yet to make your first feature film, do you feel insecure, given that a lot of younger filmmakers, who probably started much later than you did have already achieved a substantial body of work?
Yes and no. I feel insecure all the time but it has very little do with younger filmmakers or what others have achieved or are achieving. Those only result in momentary sense of envy, which is only human. It mostly converts to admiration and inspiration soon after. My insecurity stems from my own fears and self doubt that whenever I do make my first film, I may not be as good as part of me thinks I am. At the same time, I have made peace with the fact that life of an artist, any artist, no matter how good or bad is filled with insecurities and self doubt. So, in that sense I don’t worry about it a lot. For me, age is not a crucial factor for being an artist, a filmmaker. If you start late, you just tell different stories than what you would have if you had started 20 years earlier. We all have a different journey and it is futile to compare.
What do you love, like about being a writer, a filmmaker?
The part I enjoy the most about screenwriting or filmmaking is exploring worlds which perhaps I may not encounter in my real life, characters I may not meet or befriend and psychological space that I may not embrace outside of these stories. So in that sense, the process of filmmaking, writing even for realistic stories becomes a fantastical exercise of escaping my own life but also exploring alternate lives that fascinate me.
What does it mean to be a filmmaker in India?
I think being a filmmaker in any country is a blessed life if you love movies and artists. In India, it also means the opportunity to express the collective voice of a society. We achieved our freedom as a nation barely 65 odd years back and for most part have been a poor or an under developed nation and now a developing nation. Till 20 years ago, in the space of mass communication, we just had one state run television channel and films. Thus, a lot of filmmakers saw films as a way to reflect issues that plague our society and not just as a stream of entertainment. Even now, when we have hundreds of TV channels and internet, a lot of our independent filmmakers continue to converge social issues and entertainment. That's a great mix to work with but personally, I think audiences in India largely perceive cinema only as a source of entertainment. They have a tough life and just like the creators, they too want to escape to a fantastical world. Earlier, it was very difficult for filmmakers in India to know what their audiences really want but now that is changing. I think internet in general, social media specifically has given the audience and filmmakers the power and means to communicate with each other and going forward, I see much better cinema and wider acceptability of all kinds of cinema shaped out of this interaction. I think these are interesting times for filmmakers in India.
How are you perceived as a filmmaker? What have been the reactions of people you have met with, of people who have seen your work?
It is almost impossible to answer the first part of your question as I have no idea how I am really perceived by anyone who knows me as a filmmaker or has watched my work. My guess would be that they see me as someone who can do better. As far as reactions go, I think compared to other professionals, people are generally a lot kinder to artists when they meet them and a lot harsher behind their back. Their true feelings and honest reaction probably lie somewhere in between.
EKANTH was about isolation in modern lives but what will your future movies be about? What subjects are mostly interesting for you? Why?
As you know, EKANTH was a short film and while I really enjoy the freedom a short film gives me as a filmmaker, unfortunately, there is no market for short films and it is very difficult to continue making films without any financial returns. So, I am developing few feature film scripts simultaneously and hopefully one of them will inspire me enough to make it as my first feature film. While I am interested in a fairly large variety of subjects - from politics to erotica to science fiction, one aspect that fascinates me the most about any story is philosophy. One treatment that I find most appealing is suspense...or mystery. So I try to explore any story that comes to me from the prism of those two values - philosophy and mystery. The reason I attribute so much importance to these two aspects is because I think philosophy is what defines characters, their actions and eventually the story. I find mystery or suspense as the most interesting treatment even if it's a romantic story and that is because I feel it is in fact the most natural way for any story to unravel...just like life or God or Space.
What kind of assistance you would welcome from people for your new film projects?
Well…any assistance is always welcome but to answer your question more specifically, I am keen to explore international co-productions. I will be happy to talk to any producer who is looking at co-productions.
Amit, lastly, say few years from now, where do you see your life going? Goals, dreams? What do you wish for yourself?
I have this philosophy that I live by - "Always want to be somewhere else". I have no idea where I am going but I am always searching for somewhere else to be. Somewhere else from where I am. It keeps my spirit of adventure, sense of exploration alive even on days when nothing moves. Unlike a lot of people, I am fairly comfortable being perpetually unsettled and restless. Goals, dreams, ambitions, for me are like the Sun and the Moon. When the Sun is out, I crave for the moon and when the moon shows up, I dream of the Sun. It keeps the days rolling but other than that, I believe you get what you really want. If you don't get it, you probably didn't want it enough. You reach where you really want to be and sometimes that surprises you because the world keeps telling you different. The trick is to listen to yourself...really listen to yourself and you will know that you arrived where you want to be, a long while back. The only thing I wish for myself is that I hope I don't lose my sense of humour when I grow old. Humour makes everything more acceptable...even things that are not.
Amit Mehra is a screenwriter, filmmaker based in Mumbai, India. You can see the trailer of his film EKANTH on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkNQrdEo_PA