A recipient of Dadasaheb Phalke Lifetime Achievement Award conferred by the Association of Film and Video Editors, he is widely travelled, and has also served as Jury at 63 national and international film festivals world over.
His proud creation is his NGO, the Childen’s Audio-Visual Educational Foundation (CAVEF), the result of his working with children for over two decades. CAVEF organises workshops and screenings of films for children and young adults. He has also launched his own production company, ‘Movie man’. He talks to A. Radhakrishnan about his career’s ups and downs, and why he will continue to make children’s films.
Describe yourself, your philosophy and how your roots influenced your art?
I hail from a middle class Kutchhi family. I love telling my story in a simple way, something I have essentially learnt from children. I had always been fascinated about looking through the camera, and wanted to become a Cameraman–Director. The philosophy that has influenced my creative work is simplicity. It is very important in life, but it is children, rather than adults who understand this.
Why did you choose children’s films and not commercial ones?
There is no funding available in our film industry; so one can’t make commercial children’s film. There is only one small window open to get funding and that is the CFSI. I never got reasonable finance for my films and I had to fight for it though they earned a good name through me.
As an Editor–Documentary film maker, I had meager resources to make my own children’s films, but trying to get funding from CFSI failed initially, as I was not even considered to be a Director.
However, in 1988, I got an opportunity to make my first TV programme for children Baingan Raja, which was telecast 17 times on Doordarshan and proved very popular with children.
What do you look for in a project? How hard is it to keep going?
I look for freedom and good budget to make simple, thought provoking films for children. It is very difficult to convince your funding authority as they have their fancy ideas. They pay for a rice plate and look for a 5-star meal! It is hard to keep going as most unfortunately in India, there is no respect and support system, and hence, no consideration or encouragement for children’s film makers.
Is most of directing actually casting? How do you choose the young actors?
While working on a script, I have characters in my mind from their look, way of speaking and behaviour in local surroundings. I think about my script visually, and then I get them in place after selecting my locations.
What according to you are the personal attributes that make for a goodfilmmaker, and what do you do to foster them?
Sincerity and loyalty to the story are key principles, I always work hard to maintain and avoid compromising on these.
What qualities makes a film great for you?
Authenticity, simplicity and technical qualities are the basic norms of a great film. Today we see very good quality of cinema, but very few adhere to these prerequisites.
Can you describe briefly the creative process, from conceptualisation to the final product?
Normally, after working on a storyline, I get on to the script keeping the budget in mind. Then comes finalisation of the main star cast as per the story demand, followed by the selection of the technical team. At the same time, locations are selected along with costumes, and other requirements are looked into.
Then the entire crew gets busy with shooting and post-production work like editing, background music, etc., and the film gets technically perfected to reach the audience in theatres.
It is said that there are only six stories. And we have seen it all. What do you do to keep it fresh?
I don’t believe in that postulation. There are thousands of story books written over thousands of years. I am lucky to work with children and they only bring freshness to the stories in my films.
What failures of your own have you been able to learn from?
I am a sentimental person. I don’t hurt anybody and always adjust; perhaps my big failure. I go all out to help my artistes
and technicians. I have lost shooting days in remote areas like Ladakh or Kutchh Desert just to adjust to somebody who came with some personal problem at the last minute, which resulted however in a financial loss to me.
What is the state of children’s films in the country? What do you expect from the government?
The funding I received on both occasions was inadequate as they have no heart to support good cinema, and they just follow antiquated rules. For them it is merely a quota to be fulfilled. They don’t encourage film makers to make good children’s films.
How do you get to know your audience?
I have been lucky to interact with audiences from different cultures during the Q & A session after screening of my films at different film festivals world over. This helps you to understand what the audience desires. Actually, it is very difficult to know what the audience wants and perhaps they themselves don’t know about it. If I, as a story teller, tell my story and the audience likes it, then I derive the greatest satisfaction.
What role have film festivals played in your life?
Film festivals have played a paramount role in my life as a film maker. How audiences from different cultures react to my films, has helped me to understand their thinking. Film festivals are very important because they not only give you an opportunity to see films from different countries, but you interact with filmmakers from other cultures, and gain knowledge.
Who is your favourite children’s director?
I love Iranian cinema and film makers like Abbas Kerustami, Makhmalbuff, Majid Majidi, Gulame Raza Ramzani, Pouran Darakshande and many others. I also love films by Italian, German, French, Chinese and Canadian film makers. We too have very good filmmakers, but unfortunately they have shifted to commercial cinema gradually. There are so many remarkable films too from Bhutan, Croatia, Philippines, etc.
Should films preach? Shouldn’t the purpose of a movie ‘for’ children be to teach them how to behave better?
No… I believe that a film maker is a story teller so he should tell his story through his characters. One should leave to the audience ‘what to take and what not to take’.
Is it true that any movie ‘for’ kids or teens that doesn’t also entertain adults will probably ‘bomb’ at the box office?
It is a myth prevailing in India, but it is not true because children’s films are family films. When you label it ‘for kids or teens’, then there is a risk, but otherwise they are accepted by adults too.
Films like Makkadi, Tare Zameen Par, Stanley ka Dabba, Blue Umbrella, Elizabeth Ekadasi are best examples of successful children films which were not labled ‘for kids’.
Briefly describe your films.
I made two films pertaining to the Indo-Pak border at Kutchh desert. My debut children’s film is Heda-Hoda (Blind Camel) in Hindi, which is about an Indian child who crosses the border in search of his camels.
My second film, Harun Arun in Gujarati is about a Pakistani child who crosses the open border with his grandfather.
My third film was Lukka Chhuppi (hide-n-seek) in Hindi, which is recorded as the first children’s feature film, fully shot at the highest altitude in Ladakh in the Himalayas.
How do you feel about getting awards?
It feels euphoric to have won so many national and international awards, but I also feel sad that thanks to politics, I am today not even recognised by the CFSI and I have to struggle for funding for my next project.
What areas would you like to explore in the future?
I want to explore a story spread in two countries, with children of course. I am also working on a biopic on an unsung freedom fighter.
Your advice to young film makers who want to make children’s films?
As a fellow film maker, I would only like to say, ‘Please don’t label your films or yourself as a children’s film maker’, because you will be treated as an untouchable!