EXCLUSIVE: Abhishek Jain On Rebooting Gujarati Cinema (Part 1)

By Yash Thakur. Posted on April 07, 2015

It is appalling to know that in a culturally diverse country such as ours, with almost 20 different film industries, only one industry gets all the attention. However, regional cinema is flourishing; in fact, it is booming. While South Indian cinema has always had strong hold over the imaginations of their respective audiences and Bengali films have had a hallowed tradition, other industries are also standing up to be counted. Gujarati cinema is one of them. For a long time the industry was plagued by bad economics, insufficient theaters and other issues but slowly things are changing.

And one person credited with bringing about this change is Abhishek Jain. Named the 'Trendsetter Of The Year' by the Gujarati Innovation Society in 2013, Abhishek has made two hugely popular films in Gujarati. Both these films, Kevi Rite Jaish (How Will You Go?) and Bey Yaar (Oh Friend!) breathed a fresh life in an industry. Both of his films not only got an overwhelming response back home, but also had overseas releases and traveled to festivals abroad. Below, in an extensive two part interview, Jamuura talks to Abhishek Jain about the difficulties of making a film in a regional language, what direction is the movement headed in and the resurgence of Gujarati cinema:

1. Tell us about your background and early days?

AJ- I belong to a Marwari family, born and brought up in Ahmedabad though. For me love for land is the biggest thing in this world and thus I often call myself a Gujarati, rather Amdavadi.  We belong to an industrial background, my father is a first generation entrepreneur and he managed to create a successful enterprise for me and my elder brother to take ahead. It was quite obvious for me to join his business after my graduation in Business Administration. But I ended up pursuing films.

During my childhood days, to run away from the daily school and hectic subjects, I found certain recluse in theater activities happening next to my house. For more than 9 years of my childhood, I acted in children’s play against the barter of exemption in 3 subjects- Sanskrit, Physical Training (PT) and ironically Gujarati. Back then, I never knew that the language I was running away from, I will end up making films in the same language.

2. How did films happen? How and when did you realize that you want to be a filmmaker?

AJ- People usually laugh when I say that until I got into the film school, I never knew who Subhash Ghai or Yash Chopra is. I mean to say, I always went to a film for the star. So it’s not a story like I wanted to be a filmmaker since my childhood. I had very common dreams like every Indian child; either I wanted to be a soldier, or a film star or a cricketer. It is in my college days, while participating in various co-curricular activities, I realized that I wanted to pursue something in the creative field. I had not yet zeroed down upon filmmaking, it just happened that after my graduation, I was almost sitting idle and my drama sir (Saumil Dave) guided me to pursue filmmaking. One fine Sunday, while reading the paper I came across an admission notice by FTII and that drove me towards film school.

When I appeared for the FTII exam, I was zapped by the questions; they were expecting me to already know what is foreground and background, what is framing and who Bimal Roy is. I could hardly score some marks and decided to pursue filmmaking right from the beginning. Whistling Woods was open for admissions now and its course actually favored my requirement. After submitting an extensive portfolio, I moved to Mumbai to pursue my further studies into filmmaking and that is when cinema happened to me. Whistling Woods was the place where I came across a huge archive of films, a place where films were been taught, a place where films were been made, this was sort of my gateway to filmmaking.

3. What are your inspirations in life? What kind of films do you love and which filmmakers do you admire?

AJ- I believe, everyone is born to make a difference, and the ones who set on to such unconventional journey, facing all sorts of challenges and conflicts even for their personal goals, are true heroes.  My choices for films and filmmakers is very varied, I admire Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai from our times whereas films like Rashomon, Shawshank Redemption, Gangs of New York, Soul Kitchen, Pyaasa, The Road Home, Inglorious Basterds, Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar, Lawrence of Arabia, Deewar have left a huge impact on me. When it comes to filmmakers, I do not admire one director in particular, there are many like Dibakar Banerjee, Vishal Bhardwaj, Wong Kar Wai, Martin Scorsese, Sooraj Barjatiya, Guru Dutt, Satyajit Ray, Vijay Anand, Zhang Yimou, Mani Ratnam, Quentin Tarantino, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and many more.

Abhishek Jain

4.  You are two successful feature films old. Before making these films, you assisted Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Subhash Ghai. How was the experience and how different was making your own film from assisting someone else. What have the two movies taught you?

AJ- I can't stand my earlier films, or even sit through it now. So better be called a 'yet to make a film' filmmaker. Right from my film school days, I had decided that in spite of learning cinema here, I will go out and assist directors. While assisting the directors, I got to learn a lot, not only about the craft but also about how to manage a film set, how to mount a film, how to keep it creatively tied to your reins, how to plunge and take risks. A lot of assistants today while assisting think that they can do better than their director rather than helping or as the job says assisting the director achieve his vision. My logic has been, when you are assisting, you are assisting the director for his vision, you can't be making your own film in your mind.

Also, people chose to assist a director for various other reasons than the sole reason for learning the craft and management. Both my films has taught me a lot, I have grown as a human being, as a filmmaker with these films, and there are lot of things I have learned like, very few these days respect the producers, they end up making films for their own self, there is a sense of responsibility as a maker which asks you to make sure that the content you are making is sticking to the producers expectations too. Not that you have to bow down to someone's command or unnecessary demands, but you know the poor guy has put in his hard earned money into the film, you can't just spend by getting into a self indulgent mode. That mutual respect has to be there, this has been my major learning right out of the film school where we use to think that we will make what we want to make and not care for anyone else around us.

5. You’ve written the script of Kevi Rite Jaish yourselves. What was the writing process like? How long did it take you to write it?

AJ- Writing is a huge task, it consumes so much out of you. It took me more than 2 years to write KRJ and in those days, I was absorbed, totally sucked into the subject. That is scary, that can create a vacuum in one's life. There were moments of fight within my mind, there were moments of disagreement even after the draft was ready. So I have been to that tedious process, moreover it was my first time that I was writing a feature length film, things got pretty much into writing and re-writing zone. But today, when I look back, it was the best phase of making KRJ, and i intend to repeat such decisions wherein I write for my films.

6. What are the hurdles you faced while making Kevi Rite Jaish? Tell us a bit about the production and the economics of the film? How difficult was it to get distributors for a regional film?

AJ- All the hurdles that ideally any film unit or a film director faces, we had gone through. There was nothing heroic about it except the fact that I had to convince people to be part of a Gujarati film and to convince people to go for a Gujarati film. See, I am a management graduate and also belong to an industrial family thus managing the money or managing the project was pretty much easier. I had set targets, be it about budget or the number of days, and we were stuck to it. It was a war like situation, you have to prepare yourself enough to just go out there in the front and not think about anything but to execute. That's what exactly we did, unfortunately we spent a bit more on marketing and distribution, only because that went out of proportion. We had not expected the film to do so well and not even thought that we would end up releasing it overseas. That's where the economics went wrong. We haven't yet recovered from KRJ yet, but people refuse to gulp this fact. One has to understand that in filmmaking money goes in like funnel, and it takes time for it to come out.

Moreover, we do not have the conventional mediums like any other industry has, like we do not have satellite rights, music rights, overseas rights, remake rights, air borne rights, etc. so the only dependency is on theatrical. The percentage shares are lower compared to mainstream and thus the revenues are not enough for us to recoup the investment, also regional films (especially Gujarati) doesn't open like a Hindi film. Once KRJ was ready, we made couple of rounds to the bollywood studios and producers, they weren't interested in buying a Gujarati content. We also went to the distributors and asked studios to support atleast on distribution front, but it seemed to us that they were only putting an offer which was in their favor. Suddenly their risk became bigger than the risk taken by the producer, which didn't fit in my logic and then we thought that we had hardly to lose anything, why not plunge into distribution and give it a shot. We wanted this film to see light of the day and that's what we could do. Since we couldn't find distributors for our regional film, we found ourselves capable enough to do it, this came in only because we had immense faith in the content and we knew that our intent was right.

7. How did the success of KRJ impact you? What were the learnings from KRJ that helped during BY?

AJ- People recognized a Gujarati film, that's the biggest impact KRJ could create. Not only people in Gujarat but the mainstream audience also got to know about a Gujarati film been made which ran for 100 days in cinemas. Personally, I think KRJ pushed me to make more films in Gujarati. If KRJ wouldn't have been successful, I think it would have only been an attempt. After interacting with the audience in cinemas, I got a sense of responsibility that now I have to continue doing this and their love motivated to me to tell more stories in my language. KRJ, for me now is an amateur first timer's film. There are so many flaws, so much more could have been better. There were so many mistakes we pointed out and decided not to repeat the same. One of the biggest learning was to organize everything, to not have everyone do everything and with lieu to the same, in Bey Yaar I ended up having 10 assistants! (Laughs)I called my friend from film school, Amit Desai to take care of the production so that I can secure my creativity and work towards making the film and not managing to make the film.. CONTD.

Catch the rest of the conversation in the Part 2 of this article!


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