With independent and art house films from abroad finding many takers online, Roger Narayan from Hola Venky! tells us why culture and humour can be a big selling point. By Mrinalini Sundar
While Bollywood’s glamour-driven industry usually catches the media’s attention, a crop of independent directors — both in India and abroad — are slowly making headlines with their distinctive narratives. Some of the better known directors in the indie circuit include Vijay Singh, who gave us Jaya Ganga and One Dollar Curry, and Partho Sen-Gupta, who came out with movies like The Way of Beauty and Le Cocohon.
According to Prashant Nair, who released the indie film Delhi in a Day last year, several of these filmmakers are getting international attention.
“I see a lot of indie directors — from France, the UK and the US — participating in the Sundance Film Festival. They often fly down to India for promotion and distribution too. Though, initially many of them made films with themes like identity crisis, they have now diversified,” says the Delhi-based director, who is currently working on a film called America. Talking about the budget of indie films made abroad, he admits that “it is generally high because they are made abroad, and they often have multiple producers.’’ The advantage is that with a global audience, they get back their initial investment.”
Arun Mani, one of the organisers of the Chennai Film Festival, agrees with this. “I know Datta Dave who produces independent films in the US. Directors now want to showcase their culture and customs, and since these movies get better marketing, the producers recover their costs,” he says.
Anand Gandhi, director of 2012’s critically-acclaimed Ship of Theseus, is a well-known name in the Indian indie film circuit. According to him, “We are all gradually moving towards becoming a global community. Directors like Vikram Gandhi (who made Kumare) and Prashant Bhargava (who made Patang ) — both of whom are from the US — are opening up the platform for other filmmakers abroad.” Most of these indie films are short films.
However, actor Roger Narayan — who is part of Hola Venky!, an indie film made by Sandeep Mohan — feels that “the short story and short film genre liberates the actor and filmmaker in many ways. First, it brings great focus and discipline when you tell a story in a concise way. It also does away with extraneous elements, leaving just the core story and characters. And many times, things can be left completely to the interpretation of the audience.” He adds, “I think indie filmmakers are realising that international stories and characters are something audiences can relate to and connect with. It blends an element of the exotic (in locations) with interesting storylines and characters.” Talking about themes he says, ‘‘People are familiar with the diversity, culture and lifestyle abroad and vice versa. Also the stories that happen across two countries, whether fictional or based on realife, are increasingly relatable to a larger audience. Filmmakers also try to add elements of dark comedy in the script to make it interesting.’’
Who is Venky?
Los Angeles resident Roger Narayan is part of an indie film, Hola Venky! where he plays a South Indian brahmin
Los Angeles-based Roger Narayan is the lead in Hola Venky!. The actor, who began his career as a child artiste in Bollywood and Tamil films, did a lot of television — from working with the likes of veteran actress Betty White in The Bold and the Beautiful to Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother — before moving to films. He’s excited about Hola Venky!, an Indo-Mexican romcom, which is scheduled to release online soon. “I just loved the story and Venky’s character. I lived in Silicon Valley for many years and saw friends go through the process of finding love, so I was able to relate. I thought this was a fresh take on love. Venky represents, in a real, albeit quirky way, the contemporary Indian man and his search for love,” says Narayan, a BITS Pilani graduate who went on to do his MS in the US. “As the name suggests, Venky (short for Venkatesh Iyer) is a South Indian TamBram from Matunga. He is a techie who is down on his luck in the romance department. The story follows his existential angst and mid-life crisis. This is a journey film — both literally and figuratively — since the story happens in India and the US, and is multi-cultural.” Besides the romance in the movie, there are also other issues addressed, like a penis obsession. “The sophomoric stereotype is that men are obsessed with their ‘little Johnny’. Just so no one feels turned off about watching the film, it touches on that preoccupation, in a very quirky, tasteful and humorous way,” he says. Directed by Sandeep Mohan, the movie faced a series of roadblocks before shooting started. “We shot on a tight budget with a small crew, so the challenges were mostly logistical. We also worked long hours, starting early in the morning and going well past midnight on many days. But I think these constraints inspired us to be focused and give our best every day of the shoot,” says Narayan. Talking about the director of the movie, Narayan says he first met him for the script narration. “We met when Sandy (Mohan) narrated the script of Hola Venky! to me. It is wonderful to have that level of creative collaboration and trust with the director. He is a great guy to work with — very creative, passionate and hard working. We have become good friends now,” he says.
A fan of intelligent drama and thrillers, Narayan talks about his other upcoming projects. “I have two movies in Bollywood and two in Tamil, and one of them is a dark thriller. I am also part of a Hollywood period film,” says Narayan, who was previously into theatre in Bangalore and has performed at Ravindra Kalakshetra and City Hall. His earliest memories, however, are of working on Malgudi Days, courtesy his uncle R K Narayan. The actor has aspirations to work with both established and upcoming directors in both the film industries. “Working with Aamir Khan, Farhan Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap will be like a dream come true,” he exclaims.
Narayan says he comes down to Chennai quite often. “Ey inna ma pannikira? See, I can speak Tamil really well. I have a lot of extended family and friends in Mumbai and Chennai. They all tease me that I speak such good street Tamil and I’m in India so much that I should move for good,” he exclaims, adding, “I grew up watching Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and am a big fan of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth.’’ He shares his list of all time favourites, ‘‘Godfather, A Few Good Men, Lagaan, Udaan, and Alai Paayudhey.’’
Narayan tells us that he admires naturalistic and understated performances, “besides professionalism, I notice great attention to detail even in a little production design element.” Narayan tells us about his most memorable soap opera, Castle and working with actress Stana Katic, “she is a sweetheart and a thorough professional. We got to hang out and talk between takes on set. We discovered a lot of things in common, we share an acting mentor and we shared stories and laughed a lot. I would love to work with her again,” says Narayan who has been a part of national and international campaigns for McDonalds, HP, Microsoft and several others.
Director Mohan says Hola Venky! will make indie cinema available to the right audience
After the success of Love, Wrinkle-free — a crowd-funded film which was released through PVR’s Director’s Rare in 2012 — writer-director Sandeep Mohan has come up with a new way to promote his second film, Hola Venky! Mohan calls it The Great Indian Travelling Cinema and he screened the film in corporate offices and homes in Bangalore.
Outside the box
“I think my fans fall under the ‘new age working class’. So with no budget for advertising and inconvenient show timings, this idea works best,” says Mohan, who plans to bring this concept to Chennai soon. “I thought it might be a good idea to take this film into their offices and homes at a time convenient for them,” he adds. Mohan has never experienced the Travelling Talkies himself, but loves the idea. “It is a very romantic concept, and I am just giving it a new twist by carrying Hola Venky! into offices and homes of people,” he enthuses.
No project is complete without its set of challenges, and for Mohan, the logistics were tough to handle. “Since I am on my own, carrying the projector, a small screen and
the blue ray player, was a struggle,” he shrugs. “Plus, I have to ensure that the film plays properly right through without any technical glitches.”