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    Fairly new to the storytelling game, they are making the cut at Cannes and Sundance festivals. We identify five indie filmmakers to watch this year. By Udita Jhunjhunwala

    Every year, it’s the Khans, the occasional Roshan, sometimes a Kumar or a Kapoor that dominate Bollywood. But last year unequivocally proved that middle-of-the-road, independent films with big stories and sincere storytelling could touch a chord with audiences. Thierry Fremaux, general delegate, Cannes Film Festival, recently said, “So far there has been a perception that there were two sides to Indian cinema—mainstream Bollywood and auteur filmmakers like Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen. But in the past five years a new generation has emerged in the middle of that, with films like Gangs of Wasseypur, Miss Lovely, Lunchbox and Monsoon Shootout—and they are finding their own way.” The Lunchbox, Ship of Theseus, BA Pass and Shahid were indeed those very independent-spirited films that broke out of the box and defied conventions of profitable and celebrated Hindi films. And if Anand Gandhi, Ajay Bahl, Hansal Mehta and Ritesh Batra were the breakout directors last year, here are a few filmmakers and films to look out for in 2014.

    Amit Masurkar Sulemani Keeda

    Sulemani-Keeda--Naveen-Kasturia,-Aditi-VasudevAs an engineering student, Amit Masurkar found himself drawn towards creative expression through the movies he watched. One day he wrote to Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary expressing his interest in filmmaking. “I’m not sure how serious he was, but he wrote back telling me to quit college and make films if I was that passionate. I was foolish and I followed his advice,” says Masurkar.Sulemani-Keeda--Writer-&-Director--Amit-V-Masurkar-
    That was the beginning of his adventure, which started as a staff writer on the TV show The Great Indian Comedy Show followed by directing the ‘making of’ documentary of Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex aur Dhokha and then co-writing the screenplay of Murder 3 with Mahesh Bhatt. His debut feature Sulemani Keeda, the story of struggling film writers, not unlike Masurkar, premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival last October. The two actors who play the leads, Naveen Kasturia and Mayank Tewari, are also writers by profession. “The idea was to make an honest film about young people living alone in the city. The journey of these two struggling writers brings them to a position where they are forced to choose between their friendship, love and a big break. It’s a funny film, very relatable and partly based on true events and characters,” says Masurkar.
    Influenced by the works of Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Sai Paranjpe, Farhan Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Salim-Javed and Jean Luc Godard, Masurkar most enjoys watching “the American independent films which are derisively called “mumblecore”.

    Kanu Behl Titli
    Kanu
    “Coming from a house steeped in film (father an actor/director, mother a writer), my exposure to cinema was early and intense. I remember watching Ben Hur in the Shankuntalam theatre in Delhi at the age of six, and marveling at a world long gone, knowing someone had taken years to recreate it painstakingly. I knew that I wanted the magic of that experience early on.”

    And Kanu Behl did find an in. After dabbling in radio, copywriting, acting and theatre, he majored in film direction at the Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute, Kolkata. Then, after making some documentaries, he dove headlong into fiction as an assistant director on Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and then as co‐writer of Love, Sex aur Dhokha, both with Dibakar Banerjee.IMG_2287
    Behl describes Titli, his first feature film, as “extremely personal, lived over a span of several uncomfortable years”. He says, “Once I knew that I wanted to speak about people passing on as images within a family, it was just about instilling the rigor in the writing. I’ve tried to be fearless and make this a contemporary document about patriarchy.”
    Starring Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial and Lalit Behl, Titli is about a young boy brought up in an all male house who wants to run away from an oppressive older brother. “The film chronicles his travails to make good his escape. And what transpires when he realises the monster he wishes to escape is rooted deep inside him.”
    Behl counts Stanley Kubrick, Emir Kusturica, Abbas Kiarostami, Jacques Audiard, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and Steve McQueen among his varied influences. “I find the thrill of moving from one varied experience to another hugely exciting. With the next film, I’d like to jump into another, totally different, territory. Most probably, it will be a comedy set in Punjab,” he adds.

    Ashim Ahluwalia Miss Lovely (releasing January 17)
    Ashim-Pic-for-Ad-Gully(1)Born in Mumbai, Ahluwalia said he decided to study film, “because I really wasn’t good at anything else.” He adds, “It was the best accident of my life. I got to watch everything—a lot of cinema that I wasn’t exposed to in Mumbai growing up. It changed the way I thought about filmmaking.”

    On his return to India, Ahluwalia began making documentaries. His first film John & Jane, set in the call centre world of Mumbai, won a National Award. Miss Lovely, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, was borne out of the idea of making a documentary about the shooting of a low-budget sex-horror film called Maut Ka Chehra. “I spent time hanging out with the people behind the film. They were quite a wild bunch and introduced me to everyone in the C-grade industry at the time. But they were too scared to talk on camera because there was so much overlap with the underworld and prostitution,” says Ahluwalia. The documentary was shelved, but the stories became the basis for Miss Lovely.

    Miss-Lovely_04Set in Bombay during the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, Miss Lovely, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Niharika Singh and Anil George, is the story of two brothers, Vicky and Sonu Duggal, who produce C-grade sex-horror films. “Ultimately it’s a tale of betrayal and doomed love,” says Ahluwalia. He believes in the personal factor. “I like making films where I can contribute, where I am a part of the vision of the film. It needs to be personal somehow, something unique. I find it difficult to make a film that appeals across all age groups,” he confides.MS

    A former child actor and the star of numerous Malayalam films, Kochi-based Geetu Mohandas, last seen in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Four Women, savours world cinema as much as Malayalam cinema. Switching to direction was not an afterthought for Mohandas, who had been developing scripts for many years. She finally decided to change tracks and made Liar’s Dice, which screened at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2013 and will have its international premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month. “The film is about the journey of a woman, her girl child and a lamb in search of her missing husband. Along the way they meet an army deserter who accompanies them. The story explores socio-political themes such as displacement and migration,” says Mohandas of the Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Geetanjali Thapa starrer. She singles out filmmaker Anurag Kashyap as being a pioneer in promoting independent films and aspiring filmmakers. Her filmmaking style, she says is to “allow everybody else—actors, sound, cinematographer—to deliver.” It’s all about teamwork,” she insists.

    Amit Kumar Monsoon Shootout
    AKPhotoHi
    Amit Kumar watched Sholay at the age of seven, just before his family moved from Delhi to Africa. His older brother and he would enact scenes from the film repeatedly, until Kumar realised that he could re-imagine the plot, characters and narrative. “As I was growing up, I always assumed I would be in films,” says Kumar. Following his 2003 award-winning short film The Bypass, Kumar’s debut feature Monsoon Shootout premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year. “I always had this image of a guy in the rain holding a gun and hesitating whether he should shoot or not,” says Kumar of his film starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Geetanjali Thapa, Neeraj Kabi and Vijay Varma.

    Monsoon Shootout is the story of a rookie cop’s first day at work and his dilemma when he has a gangster in his line of fire. Kumar uses the device of time expansion at the moment of hesitation to go into the story. His influences include Asif Kapadia and Florian Gallenberger, the directors with whom he gained early work experience.
    Kumar is realistic. His next, a World War II story, Give Me Blood, needs a big budget and “to raise the budget you need stars,” he says. “You need to strike a balance, but I am in no hurry.”

    Geetu Mohandas Liar’s Dice
    geethu-mohandasA former child actor and the star of numerous Malayalam films, Kochi-based Geetu Mohandas, last seen in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Four Women, savours world cinema as much as Malayalam cinema. Switching to direction was not an afterthought for Mohandas, who had been developing scripts for many years. She finally decided to change tracks and made Liar’s Dice, which screened at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2013 and will have its international premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month. “The film is about the journey of a woman, her girl child and a lamb in search of her missing husband. Along the way they meet an army deserter who accompanies them. The story explores socio-political themes such as displacement and migration,” says Mohandas of the Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Geetanjali Thapa starrer. She singles out filmmaker Anurag Kashyap as being a pioneer in promoting independent films and aspiring filmmakers. Her filmmaking style, she says is to “allow everybody else—actors, sound, cinematographer—to deliver.” It’s all about teamwork,” she insists.

     

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