By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on March 03, 2016
Mockumentary is an exciting, relatively under-explored genre of films, where a film takes the form of a serious documentary in order to satirize its subject.
The origin of the mockumentary format can be traced back to the late 1930's when America’s Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio network aired an adaptation of HG Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds. Narrated by actor (and director-to-be) Orson Welles, the broadcast was presented in the form of simulated news bulletins, suggesting that aliens had started invading the world. Since then, the format has flourished across the world and we have known some great mockumentaries like Man Bites Dog (1992), directed by Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belvaux and André Bonzel, Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Woody Allen's Zelig (1983) and Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s sensational The Blair Witch Project (1999).
However, the form remains largely unexplored in Indian cinema so far. Apart from rare examples like Kunaal Roy Kapur's directorial debut The President is Coming (2009) and the recently released mockumentary web series created by Dice Media Not Fit, launched by TVF. Some of the young filmmakers, however, are willing to experiment with the medium and are exploring new formats.
Rohit Mittal's mockumentary Autohead was one of the few chosen films in the ‘Film Bazaar Recommends’ category at the NFDC Film Bazaar 2015. The film has now been selected to screen at the prestigious 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) to be held from 21st March- 4th April 2016, where it'll have its World Premiere. Autohead is the only Indian film selected to be screened at the HKIFF 2016. Also, the director Rohit Mittal has been nominated for the FIPRESCI award.
The film's synopsis on the HKIFF's website reads as 'Man Bites Dog' meets 'Taxi Driver' on the streets of Mumbai in Rohit Mittal’s startling debut feature. Mittal and his crew essentially play themselves, shadowing migrant auto rickshaw driver Narayan (Sampat), as he plies his trade for a documentary project. He moonlights as a pimp and grows increasingly frustrated with his lowly station. But when his mother arrives, and he is rejected by the object of his affections (Chakroborty), Narayan finally snaps, lashing out in increasingly violent, ultimately murderous fashion.
While talking about why he chose the mockumentary format to make his debut film, Mittal says, "It is an intriguing format because it's more real than a normal form because the camera itself is a character and at the same time it's mocking reality. There is a direct involvement of the camera in the story. At the same time it questions the intent of the filmmakers, it questions the camera or the eye through which you see the film. In a very generic way it questions media and imagery in an everyday life. It also allows one to experiment with basic aesthetics of filmmaking, with the use of jump cuts and long takes. It’s very raw in nature. In some ways it is anti filmmaking or a criticism on filmmaking. It gives some space to the filmmaker to put a point of view in the film in a more effective way."
The intriguing trailer opens with a scrawny man telling is name as Narayan Srivastava confessing to the camera that he has committed nine murders. The film tries to peep into the mind of this auto rickshaw driver as he deals with day to day struggles, stresses and challenges. Mittal says, "I wanted to make a film that is more of a character study of a destructive mind in a repressive society. At the same time I wanted to question the intent of filmmakers who make films based on social issues, documentary or fiction. I also wanted to incorporate a point of view in the film that I think is more important than the story or form. That point of view maybe wrong but it is what drives me to make films."
Even though the film is a work of fiction, it takes the narrative form of a documentary. When the depiction is so close to reality, realistic portrayal becomes an important factor. However, Mittal has a different point of view towards the realism in cinema. He says, "I am not so sure about realism in cinema anymore. I don’t think I like it anymore. I think most of the movies or videos or TV that you see are an extended version of reality. I know there is the popular stuff but that is hyper or an extended version or not too far from reality. I like films that either have imagination or a strong point of view. There can be criticism of reality but portraying reality as it is can get boring. Also I think we have had lots of real films since the time we started making films. The whole progress in cinema happened to imitate reality. Or say things in a real & convincing way. I had these things in mind when I made the film. I wanted to investigate into these things and also criticize the realist kind of filmmaking. That is why you will see that it is full of sarcasm. There is always an undertone in the film that’s mocking realism."
Filmmaker Rohit Mittal (extreme left) on the sets of Autohead
Shot on the streets of suburban Mumbai in 14 days, Autohead was shot on a microbudget. Mittal borrowed money from friends and family to shoot and edit the film. Though that got his project started, the money wasn’t enough. So Mittal started looking for another producer. That’s when the producer Amit Verma came on board. “He thought it was 'Faadu'. He loves films in general. This is his first production as a producer,” says Mittal.
Mittal, while sharing the experience of shooting the film, says, "We shot the whole film in 14 days. Like you know Mumbai is very chaotic and at times impossible to handle. So we had to plan a lot of things accordingly. But we did the planning so that we could let accidents happen and capture things in a more organic way. A part of it was shooting with a minimal crew of 12 people. We would make sure that we were not making a lot of noise or did anything that would grab any kind of attention. We would never stand in groups. Usually filmmakers don’t want people in the streets to look in the camera because it breaks the illusion of fiction. But we used that since it is a mockumentary. The camera is alive so anybody can look in the camera. We also had to be fearless because at the end of it we are shooting a film and not planting a bomb. So we didn’t care that much about the authorities."