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Amit V. Masurkar





Questions & Answers:
Director of Sulemani Keeda, Amit Masurkar talks to FWA...
-How to make film in 30 lakhs, Journey of Sulemani Keeda, and other Questions


Note- The interview is available in both text and video for your convenience

About yourself

FWA – Hi Amit, welcome to FWA. Since this is your first interview with us, tell us something about yourself…

AM - I am from Mumbai but I didn’t have any connection with film industry. I got interested in films only when I was 18. I would watch films and then read about them on the internet which was new at that time. I realized there are plenty of screenplays available online so I made it a habit to read scripts. Having read dozens of screenplays, I started attempting to write my own and realized that I enjoyed writing films more than the Engineering course I was studying for. I dropped out to assist directors in 2002 and joined FWA almost immediately to register stories and screenplays I used to write regularly. It did take a few years to get into the discipline of writing and learning how to write. That was my beginning in film industry.

 

Inspiration 

FWA – How you got the idea to make Sulemani Keeda? What was your inspiration?

AM - Sulemani Keeda is about two writing partners and their journey over three days when they chance upon a huge opportunity to break into films and are faced with choices that would alter their life. It is not based on my personal life but there are characters in it I have met or events that might have happened to me or my friends in some way or other.  So the world is real and I am sure I have a part of me in each of these character because I have written them.
 

Journey N Reasons

FWA - Tell us something about the journey of Sulemani Keeda, how it happened.

AM - I started my writing career with a TV show - ‘The Great Indian Comedy Show’. Since I always wanted to make films, I quit writing TV after a few years and chose to live a frugal life and pursue it. I started writing spec scripts and from 2007-12, five of my scripts were commissioned but none of them took off due to reasons beyond me. I soon realized that I could not depend on anyone else to make my films. If I wanted to direct, I had to spear head the process myself. So I decided to write a film which we could make within the resources that was available to us. I had friends who would help me. Some of these friends were actors some of them had locations and a few could give me materials like a scooter, car or play instruments.

So I made a list of things that were available to me through my friends. I wanted to write about the topic which was very close to me. Since nobody had made a film on scriptwriters in India I was keen to be the first one doing that. I was also interested in creative partnerships because there are a lot of writers who write together even I had writing partners. Collaborative Writing is a very interesting aspect of screenwriting in India, because when different writers come together with their different personalities, a lot of comedy can be created. So I set out with that goal in my mind. I wanted to capture this Writers’ world of Andheri .  Surprisingly this small suburb contributes more than 60-70 percent of a total film content that we see out of India! People all around the World watch Bollywood films, most of which are written by people who live or work in this one square kilometer area!! So I was very much fascinated about this area and I wanted to chronicle this time. Fifty years later if I want to show somebody what was life of a film writer in 2014, than I could show them this film and it would be like close enough to the reality.

 

Film Writers easily identify with!!        

FWA – This film has a lot which any Writer will identify with..say for eg. Contract/payment..

AM - Yes, it’s true. Happens all the time, like I don’t remember if I have met a single writer who hasn’t been given an unfair contract. There is a scene where Razak Khan plays Sweety Kapoor , a producer. This scene has played out in my life several times. You ask for the money and suddenly the colour of the face changes and then you ask for the contract and they say, Kya, Pyar, Izzat Dua kaafi nahin hai? This has happened and will keep on happening. But I think as a writer we should always fight for our rights like I have personally done. There is a case with the DSC right now which I have filed against a mischievous producer who hasn’t paid me money.  So I think writers should keep fighting for their rights. Not just writers but everyone.

How to make films in 30 lakhs? 

FWA - There are plenty of writers who are interested in this kind of projects, they want to see their scripts translate on the celluloid but they have budget constraints. So how this 30 lakhs thing you managed. How will you guide people who would want to experiment similar things? Tell us something about that.

AM - OK. I can only talk from my experience and I don’t think I can advise other people what to do, but I can tell them about my journey and they could probably take things from that.

People won’t help you out or waste their time on script which is not good enough. So I wrote a good script then I got people involved. I was very clear that I was not going to wait for anyone because when we showed it to a couple of producers and they all suggested we make it with big actors but I knew that way I was getting back into the system I was trying to escape as it would make me wait for one more year for somebody’s dates and be at their whims and fancy. I decided to do this script with actors who were themselves writers and known to me personally. So I cast Naveen Kasturia and Mayank Tewari. It was quite an enjoyable process – I had written a draft but when we did some rehersals I understood their characters even more clearly and that helped me re-write scenes that would tailor-fit their personalities.

One day, we went ahead and shot three scenes on our own at cost of Rs. 4000. Datta Dave and Chaitanya Hegde really liked it and arrived at a figure of Rs. 8.5 lakhs as the cost of filming and editing the film.

So our immediate plan at that time was, to spend Rs. 8.5 Lakhs and shoot and edit the complete film and if it turned out good, find investors and release the film otherwise put it online. So it was a small risk that we took. Luckily, the film turned out good.

After that the second struggle  began - how do we get the money to finish the film as lot of money was required to do the sound, post production, music, design, colour correction and finally getting the output and then releasing it with P&A. We needed about Rs. 35-40 lakhs.

It took us one year to find the perfect investors. We showed the ‘Rough Cut’ to some prominent producers but their reactions were very negative. But then luck struck when we went to NFDC Film Bazaar in Goa. Channel 4 picked up the UK rights for Television which came as a big boost for us because we suddenly realized that if Nasreen Munni Kabir of Channel 4 likes the film and is actually paying us money then there must be something in our film, so we didn’t give up. We were very lucky that Sailesh Dave, who was creative director of The Great Indian Comedy Show for which I had worked, came on board with his financers Deepa Tracy and Suresh Mhatre. The three of them got the rest of the money required to not only finish the film but also release it.

Sailesh has been working tirelessly even now to get the film a wider release. He and Shiladitya Bora of PVR Director’s Rare are the two people who are responsible for the release.

So my learnings to make a low budget film are:

Step 1: Write a film that is low budget at the writing stage itself.
Step 2: Go step by step. Start with a few scenes. If they don’ work out well, abandon the project or make amends. Otherwise continue. It’s safer this way and no one makes big losses.
 

Technical Aspects (Camera N Process)

FWA :-   Nice, What was the camera you shot on ?

AM - We shot it on a 5D Mark2 Camera.  It’s a very basic SLR camera. If you ask my DOP, Surjodeep Ghosh, he won’t recommend that camera because it has some major issues. But when you are working on a very tight budget, this is okay. Surjo used no lights, had no assistants and pulled the focus himself. Because had we got a focus puller on the set, he would be the most well paid person on the set. We didn’t have that budget, so we didn’t have a focus puller.  The only thing we didn’t compromise on was- good lenses.

FWA :-   OK, this film actually we see, is on 5D.

AM - Yes, because Surjo is such a great DOP, he managed to not make it look like 5D. The Colour Correction was done at Post Black Box. We got a very good colourist, Miten who worked with Surjo on the look.

Liking for Comedy

FWA - Any special reason for choosing comedy or any special liking for comedy, What is your next film, is it also a comedy ?

AM - No nothing like that. I believe in making the kind of films that I like watching instead of trying to gauge what the audience likes and catering to that taste.

Everyone struggles and a writer’s struggle is not more special than anyone else’s. Living in a city like Mumbai is a struggle. There’s struggle on the streets, in homes. I didn’t want to make a film that was a self-absorbed journey about writing or Bollywood.

 

What’s next

FWA - So what are you doing next ? What’s on the anvil now for you?

AM – I’m in the process of writing my next film. I am primarily a writer then a director so I really enjoy writing.  Sulemani Keeda releases online on January 14, so there is some work with respect to that as well.

Any Message.

FWA - Any message for new writers, you being a Writer yourself?

AM – Message? (smiles) I would just say that write what you believe in and you will always find others who will help you out when you need them. It’s always better to do that way than write something just for money. I have done a lot of work, just to make money, but it never gave me any satisfaction. So  it’s good to keep working on a passion-project on the side if you have responsibilities and are forced to take up work you don’t enjoy doing.

FWA – Thankyou, Amit, wish you all the best.

AM – Thank You FWA…

 

 


-Sanjay Sharma

Critic who loves to appreciate.

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