By Aditya Savnal. Posted on January 05, 2016
Inspired by a real life incident, Chauranga tells the story of 14 year old Santu, who wants to go to school much like his elder brother Bajrangi. But residing in a village that’s deep-rooted in caste-hierarchy, oppression and debauchery makes it difficult for Santu to pursue this aspiration. Whether Santu is able to overcome these obstacles and fulfill his dream, forms the crux of the film.
The film is directed by Bikas Mishra and produced by Sanjay Suri, Onir and Mohan Mulani. Mishra's script was selected for the NFDC Screenwriters Lab in 2010 and the ScriptStation at Berlinale Talent Campus. The film had also won the 'Incredible India' award for the Best Project at the 2011 edition of Film Bazaar. The film also received script funding from Goteburg International Film Festival.
Chauranga has won the Grand Jury prize at IFFLA (International Film Festival Of Los Angeles) and the Best Film award in the India Gold category at MAMI (Mumbai Film Festival) 2014. Besides this, the film was an official selection at Dubai International Film Festival, Chicago South Asian Film Festival and New York Indian Film Festival among other international film festivals.
The film which stars Sanjay Suri, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Anshuman Jha and Dhritiman Chatterjee among others will release in India on 8th January 2016. We spoke with Bikas Mishra about his process of filmmaking, how he turned a filmmaker from a film critic, what inspired him to make Chauranga and the challenges he faced during the making of the film. Here are the excerpts from the same interview:
The idea behind Dearcinema.com was to make information on filmmaking accessible to everybody and build a community around it. In Dearcinema.com, we tracked the journey of indie filmmakers which also gave me the chance to meet and interact with many of these filmmakers. These interactions helped me a lot as when you dream of making films and meet people of your age and see how they are working towards achieving their filmmaking dream, it is encouraging and shows that it is possible to get your film made.
Since I was working on Dearcinema, I was well informed on the opportunities available for filmmakers such as the screenwriting labs, co-production markets and was actively tracking them. The knowledge I had gained by writing for Dearcinema, came in handy when I set out to make my own film.
I also formed a very close friendship with many active supporters and readers of Dearcinema. Many of these are filmmakers are my close friends; we meet and still watch films.
As a filmmaker and a film buff it has been a very rewarding journey. When I look back, it seems painful that when my journey as a filmmaker is achieving a personal milestone with release of Chauranga, Dearcinema is not in existence anymore. There were many personal, professional and commercial reasons behind its demise. But I have not yet given up on Dearcinema. I intend to revive it in a different way, which will also be sustainable and useful to the community.
The idea came from a newspaper headline about a boy getting killed for writing a love letter. But rather than being the story of the boy and the letter, the film gradually developed as the story of the village, where everything is calm and placid on the surface, but there is a simmering violence beneath it.
I had this milieu of a story in mind and the characters I knew belonged in it. But I didn’t know how to weave a story around them since they were disparate characters having disparate lives and were strung together by the village. But this headline gave me a string to weave these different characters together and make a story out of it. The film is set in the village Salvawal where I grew up. The film became much more than what I had envisioned it, due to the fact that I always wanted to write a story about the place where I come from.
The newspaper headline struck a chord in me and I did not follow the usual process of writing a one liner or one pager. I started writing the screenplay and a week later I had written the first draft. Though it was flawed I felt very happy about writing it. Of course the first draft was reworked several times since I wrote it and that’s how it helped me shape the film. I also realized that writing is about rewriting and building and consolidating upon your draft further. During the process, many things changed but I didn’t want to change the essence of the story which had emerged in the first draft.
Behind the scenes: Chauranga
I was also lucky to have a found mentor (Marten Rabarts) through NFDC & Berlinale talents who guided me through the process of screenwriting which became a very invigorating journey. I kept working on the script and it was the 10th draft of the script that went into production. I had Chauranga inside me; all I needed was a trigger to write it which was given by the newspaper headline.
I was able to make the film only due to the existence of initiatives like the Screenwriters Lab and the Co-production market. The journey at the Bazaar wasn’t only about the guidance and help I received for the script. It also helped me in a practical sense and also helped me meet my producer Onir, when I had gone to Screenwriters lab with Chauranga. And that’s how he discovered my script. We started talking and he ended up being my producer.
Onir got involved at a very early stage of the screenplay and he kept encouraging me to complete the draft so that the pre-production process could begin. He was more confident about the script than I was. This confidence came from his experience as a filmmaker, while I was just a beginner and I was unsure about how my film will be received.
Since you can’t see the flaws of your script beyond a point, you need an expert to help you with it. And that’s when Marten came into the picture. He was gracious enough to provide his feedback and try to understand about what I was trying to achieve. He invested a lot of time and interest in my script. Due to his contribution, I was able to work on the script. Following his feedback, I kept revising the script repeatedly.
The Berlinale Script station is a unique experience as your mentors hail from Sundance and other international festivals. Besides this, there were 12 different writers hailing from different parts of the world.
A still from Chauranga
There were filmmakers from Peru, Uganda, Argentina and other parts of the world. I got to meet so many different filmmakers from around the world and the experience of sitting across the table and speaking about your film was an out of the world experience. You also get additional advice from your mentors who are experts in their own field and one look at their repertoire makes you giddy.
My writing process is continuously evolving. I don’t think there is a fixed process for writing a script. Writing is a long process and it doesn’t happen quickly. The process that worked for Chauranga will not work while writing my next film. There are many things I learnt things about scriptwriting while writing Chauranga which I wrote in a very intuitive process. The process also depends on what the story is and where it is coming from.
While writing for your own film, the process is different. I need to write the story, treatment, screenplay and one has to be ruthless about it. I have discarded several drafts while writing my own scripts. There are no rights or wrongs while writing. But writing scripts for others is easy, though one should avoid getting emotionally invested into it as it can lead to a fight with the person who has commissioned it. Writing your own screenplay is difficult as you are trying to build your own story and it all depends on where it has originated from.
I have understood from my first film that the idea behind making the film has to be very compelling and you must not care for the end result. You might work on an idea for years and people may reject it instantly.
There were two challenges that we were faced with. One was the local guilds while shooting in Bengal, who were rigid about how many and what kind of people we should hire on the crew. Due to this we were draining our resources. As a result we finally decided to move out of Bengal after shooting for 13 days, though that was not the plan. The decision was catastrophic and I thought we would never be able to resume shooting. But I had supportive & encouraging producers, who stuck around and we were finally able to finish shooting.
Bikas Mishra with the cast of Chauranga
The other issue was of the rains that cropped during the shoot. The film was supposed to be shot in the dry spell of the year. But it started raining heavily on the second day of the shoot and made our lives miserable. We somehow survived as we shot the interior scenes during this spell.
I had met Arun Nambiar (the sound designer) a year before shooting and he liked the script and saw the opportunity the script gave him to create the sound design of the film. But the actual work started after the rough cut was ready. The initial discussion was about the mood and graph of the film. But when the actual footage arrived and the film was lined up on the editing table, we started talking about how the sound and its graph would evolve in the film.
Arun is very perceptive and technically skilled. The idea behind the film was that it will begin on a playful note since it shows the world of the children and the life in the village. But the simmering violence underneath it had to be captured through the cinematography and the sound.
There were different kinds of sounds used that were to be used in the first part of the film and gradually the soundscape of the film would change. To give you an example, there is the tree where Santu climbs every morning and sees the girl as she drives a scooter to the school. In the beginning you can hear the sounds of the birds on the trees but gradually you don’t hear it as the film changes course and all you can hear is the sound of the crickets.
Arun approached the sound design very thoughtfully. The idea was to capture the mood of the film through the sound and cinematography and act as a means to tell the story. He also worked closely with Vivek Philip (Background Music Composer) and they had worked on several films earlier.
Vivek is a sound designer from FTII and he knows sound design very well. I was not keen to use too much of a background score in the film and he gave me a wonderful idea which won me over. We were discussing the climax of the film, wherein he said the rhythm of the film has to be derived from the sound of the hand pump which has a lot of prominence in the film. So Vivek said he will build a score around the same meter of the sound of the hand-pump as it will merge well in the background. It took a while to develop the score but it came out beautifully and merged well with the storytelling.
The first crowdsourcing campaign we did was for the publicity design of the film. Our first poster was crowdsourced. We also ran a campaign to hire the background composer for the film. We did find someone earlier, but by the time the film got complete, the selected candidate had gone far ahead in her career. Due to that, we had to get someone new for it and that’s how Vivek Philip came on board.
We also crowdfunded a small portion of the film’s finances. The idea was to not raise funds but build a community around the film and get people involved the film in every possible way. Many of them acted as our ambassadors and spoke about it on social media and other platforms.
Currently all my energies are focused on Chauranga. I am not working on anything. I will start working on something post the release of Chauranga, though I don’t know what would be my next project.
Filmmaking is a risky career and the people who like the filmmaking process and are ready to offer their lives to uncertainty. If you want to make a film with an intention to enter the 100 crore club or get awards, then the process will be tough. There is a lot of uncertainty involved in the process of filmmaking. It can take a several months or years to get a film made. One should ask themselves if they are ready to commit themselves to this cause for such a long period of time.
You also need to convince people to fund your film. Because if you can’t convince people to fund it, then you won’t be able to convince people to watch it.