By Aditya Savnal. Posted on May 07, 2015
Neeraj Ghaywan quit his corporate job to pursue his passion of becoming a filmmaker. Having worked with Anurag Kashyap on Gangs Of Wasseypur, Neeraj directed the much acclaimed short film Shor which was featured in the anthology film Shorts.
His debut feature film Masaan has been selected for the Un Certain Regard at this year’s Cannes. Jamuura recently interviewed Neeraj in which he talked about his early days, the difficult choice of choosing a filmmaking career over a corporate career and the things he learnt while making Masaan.
As a kid I used to watch a lot of those “parallel cinema” films shown on Doordarshan. Not because I was interested in them (I was too young) but everyone in my house would watch them. So I ended up watching a lot of those Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani films that triggered my initial interest in Cinema. I was fascinated by them.
While pursuing an MBA in Symbiosis institute in Pune, we had a lecture on movie production that was held by FTII Professor Samar Nakhate which further fuelled my interest in filmmaking. After doing an MBA, I was working in a corporate setup and was also writing for the now defunct blog Passionforcinema.com. It was a very popular movie blog and was instrumental in starting the Indie cinema movement in India. Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Bannerjee and many other filmmakers and passionate film buffs wrote blog articles for this site. For me, Passion for Cinema provided a refreshing escape from the boredom and drudgery of the corporate routine. It was like an alter life we all loved to live beyond our 9 to 5s, our own Fight club.
I once sat and thought through my entire life. I understood that in my whole life I was always driven towards anything audio visual: from dancing in school competitions, to making students’ council videos during MBA, to making “art house corporate videos” when I was in my corporate life. I thought I should be closer to cinema to be happy. When I was blogging on PFC, from commenting, I started writing abut the films I liked. Films that moved me and made me think for a long time.
I started writing exhaustive and extremely academic pieces because I was actually trying to learn filmmaking by dissecting it from a critique’s point of view. Most of those film reviews are on my personal blog. I find them quite pretentious now. Anyway, that interest turned into creation when I made a 1 minute short film for a competition. I was paid well and so I made this short during weekends. I got fleeced by the production company. I made a mediocre and overtly emotional short but I was very kicked about it. That’s how my interest in filmmaking as a medium began.
I met Anurag Kashyap through Passion For Cinema. As part of PFC, he had invited couple of bloggers at his place in Bombay. I went all the way from Gurgaon (where I was working). I had written a review of Kaminey. And to my luck, Vishal ji was also there. That night was like a dream, to sit down and discuss with two of the cinematic icons I always looked upto. When I went back to Gurgaon, I made a decision to move to a film production house and work as a marketer ( I had a marketing communication MBA). This would keep those fat MBA pay checks coming in and my interest in cinema would be alive. That’s what I thought!
After a year’s pursuit, I got into a celebrity digital media company in Bombay. I thought I would be happy but I was feeling miserable. I was burning out. Anurag was in Madrid and he called me to check on me. I told him about my situation. He said if I won’t try then how will I ever know if I have it in me. Something provoked me that night and I quit my job after I finished the call with him.
Gangs Of Wasseypur was the first project which I worked for. I had worked in various aspects of production of the film: research, pre production, production, post production, the making of, marketing. During this time, I also made the short film Shor which Anurag loved and that’s how it became a part of Shorts.
My parents had given up on me when I quit my job. They didn’t talk to me for 6 months. After Gangs of Wasseypur, they said “now that you are done with the film and you have curbed your curiosity, why don’t you switch back to the corporate life”. I think they really came around after they saw Shor. Now my father reads my scripts and gives me feedback. His ideas are not that great but it is heartening to hear him nevertheless.
Varun & I met through Passion For Cinema and we have a very similar background. Both of us are engineers and were raised in a middle class upbringing. So in that sense we had the same value system and similar world view. With him there is always this freedom to be completely candid. He is like my half-soul brother. We had the liberty to openly say if any of our ideas were shitty or great. We never took offence and were very critical about our own work.
We wrote the story of Masaan together and went to Banaras. With an extensive research we had great story line ready. Varun then wrote the screenplay and dialogues by himself as I thought he was lot closer to the world. We then took it to various labs including the one that Vikramaditya Motwane had introduced me to. A bunch of popular directors and screenwriters would review your script with lovely food that Phantom would offer. It was a very nice initiative. With our script we got a round of applause. We were happy that we had a good script in hand. We knew this because that script club was known to be brutally honest. We then sent it to Mahindra Sundance Labs where it was part of the screenwriter’s lab and I was awarded the Global filmmaking award.
After Phantom came on board with Manish Mundra, Guneet Monga got interested in the script. She took it to Cannes. Anurag and Guneet are close to our now French partners Melita Toscan Du Plantier and Marie Jeanne Pascal. They loved the script and then got Arte and Pathe films on board. This how the film became an official Indo French co production.
The film is about escape. Escape in the times of a modern small town India which is restless and wants to break free from its shackles of convention, moral and existential crisis and the rigid socio-cultural structure. There are three parallel stories running and the river Ganga connects them.
One story is of a boy from a lower caste of the Dom community who falls for a girl from a higher caste, the second story is about a receptionist at a coaching centre getting trapped in a police case after a curiosity led sexual encounter turns tragic. The third story is about the relation between a morally degrading man and an orphan kid around a betting game where people would bet on little boys diving in the river to get the most number of coins.
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