From 'Lucia' To 'U Turn': How Pawan Kumar Defied Filmmaking Norms & Stereotypes To Make Films He Cares About!

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on March 29, 2016

Having directed the critically and commercially acclaimed Kannada romcom Lifeu Ishtene, filmmaker Pawan Kumar could not have asked for a better debut. But the filmmaker was not content with sticking to stereotypes and wanted to tell stories that went beyond the diktats of mainstream cinema.

As a result, despite a successful debut, Kumar found it tough to secure funding for his second feature Lucia. But Kumar was not the one to be bogged down and used these adversities to his advantage. Subsequently the filmmaker opted for the crowdfunding route for Lucia.

And Kumar created quite a stir in the Indian Indie filmmaking circles with success of Lucia. Besides the successful crowdfunding campaign, the film also completed a 100 day run in Bengaluru - a rarity in today's times of limited attention spans and multiple screens.

The film also bagged a lucrative satellite deal besides being remade in Tamil as Enakkul Oruvan by director Prasath Ramar with actor Siddharth in the lead.

3 years after Lucia, Kumar is back with his latest feature U Turn. The film which stars debutante Shraddha Srinath, Roger Narayan and Radhika Chetan in key roles, follows a journalist who gets embroiled in a murder case.

The film also marks the distribution foray of Drishyam Films - the indie production house that has backed films award winning films like Ankhon Dekhi, Masaan and Dhanak.

We recently spoke to Kumar about his filmmaking journey, the film vs digital debate, the journey from Lucia to U Turn, his filmmaking process, influences and much more.

Republished below are excerpts from the same.

Tell us about your early days and what inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I started out by acting in theatre. During this stint, I wrote, directed and often ended up producing plays, because no one else was willing to. I started enjoying this process. Once I got deeply involved in theatre, I felt that the stories I wanted to tell were becoming larger and going beyond what I could handle and execute on stage. I felt they also needed more funding because theatre doesn't pay that well.

That's when I started watching movies and got introduced to world cinema and films we would usually not get to see. I started appreciating the filmmaking process and got inspired to do similar things. That's how I learnt filmmaking. It took me a long time to understand how to execute scenes, their relevance, the importance of editing etc. The learning came through a lot of trial and error. Whereas theatre was more about executing every single sequence, since it is a live platform.I tried to convert a few of my plays into short films. And with each short film that I made, I learnt more about the process of filmmaking and its execution.

Which films and filmmakers have inspired you?

I started by seeing a lot of Iranian films among other films from world cinema. However from an Indian perspective, Anurag Kashyap inspired me to shoot realistically. While Nagesh Kukunoor was one filmmaker who inspired me in my initial days and his Dor and Bollywood Calling are two of my favorite films.

Some of the other films which inspired me initially were Philadelphia, Gandhi and those of Spielberg. But the film that inspired me to make the transition from theatre to films was Fight Club. It served as a major transformation for me from a filmmaking perspective too. My views about life also changed a lot after watching the film. The film made me realize how hard hitting the medium of cinema could be.

Where do you derive your stories and inspiration from and how much of it inspired from real life?

My personal experiences till now have been a strong source of inspiration.  If I have experienced something that is disturbing and has made me realize about an aspect of life, then I would like to share that. I tend to write my stories keeping this aspect in mind. The plays or the films I have written, were inspired from things I was going through at that point of time. The starting point for my stories are things that play in my head and then I make a story out of it for the film.

My first film Lifeu Ishtene was about the new generation love stories and breakups. I had got married when I was making the film and when I look back, I figured that I was in and out of so many relationships. And once you get married, you tend to ponder about such relationships. This is what prompted me to write the story of Lifeu Ishtene.

After this film, I had become a somewhat known face in the city and people would recognize me. This experience made me wonder as to how a big star would not be having privacy and must be missing on small joys of life. This idea inspired Lucia.

Tell us about your new film U Turn. It seems to be in the same broad genre as Lucia. What attracts you to themes like these?

I wrote U Turn as a challenge. Somebody had asked me to remake a Tamil thriller and had reasoned that the story worked strongly because it had a real life connection to a place in Chennai. But I was against remakes. Following this, I took 2 days to write a film which had a real life connection and went to the people who had pitched the remake to me. And that's how U Turn was born.

The ones who read the script found it interesting and it helped me to make it into a feature film. We decided to produce it ourselves.

The script was written in a linear fashion and I didn't want to experiment too much with the storytelling and style of narration as I wanted more people to watch it. With more, I am referring to regular audiences who thrive on commercial cinema. There is a strong element in the story which I wanted to communicate easily to audiences. I wanted the film to have a lingering effect on viewers minds. Therefore I didn't write it in a non-linear fashion since it already had a complex narrative.

I also feel films with non linear narratives are easier to make and I wanted to make a linear film and that's why I chose to narrate U Turn in a non linear fashion. There is nothing specific that attracts me to themes like these, but right now these are the kind of themes I want to work upon. But going ahead, I would definitely like to try my hand at comedy. People think I am serious though that's not the case. I also want to make films that move you and tell stories that are emotional.

Lucia which was based on the subject of drugs and would have involved a fair bit of research. Is U Turn also based on real life events? How integral is research therefore to your writing process?

More than drugs, Lucia was based on dreams, reality and illusion. The philosophy of the film was important for me and that's how the story began. The drug was used as a tool to give it a thriller angle and it came into the film much later. The film was supposed to be about how poor people dream of being rich and rich guys try to live a simple existence. That's what inspired me to make the film. I thought of introducing the pill to make it more engaging.

This also was around the time when I began researching for the film which helped me discover the concept of lucid dreaming. It got me hooked and once I wrote my first draft, I came to know that there are pills that help you indulge in lucid dreaming. There are also forums where people who practice lucid dreaming talk about it. While writing a script, I try to read as much as possible and then use it in the film in a very subtle way. Because it makes the  story and the characters more real. U Turn was born out of something I had experienced on the roads of Bangalore.

You are once again working with relatively unknown faces. Do you prefer working with newcomers or is it due to budgetary constraints?

I like to write my stories first and then try to find the actors and not the other way around. At times I don't connect my characters to known actors as their history and body of work doesn't help me to connect them to their characters. And even if I try to, budget constraints come in and don't let me do the same. Once a known face comes in, the dynamics of shooting the film also changes considerably. And I am still not very comfortable doing that.

I still prefer shooting the Indie way. I like to make decisions on the set and change things on the spot. If I get inspired by something and want to try it out, I would want my actors to actors to do the same. I don't want actors who are not ready to immerse themselves completely into the filmmaking process.

Moreover, when you work with a new face they bring a certain freshness in the way they approach a character. It also gives me the freedom to experiment and ask them to try various things. I tend to shoot a lot of shots while making a film.  So I can ask new actors to do the same thing repeatedly and they are very enthusiastic about it. It also helps my filmmaking process.

Tell us about how you work with your actors?

As I come from a theatre background, I tend to do it through a process. I let the actors read the text and then let them play it off. I tend to use their strengths and weakness. We really do not have trained actors. We have actors who are pursuing acting solely on the basis of their talent or passion. I work on the basis of their strengths and weaknesses and tend to make it a part of my scene and shoot it accordingly. I never try to show them what I need. I see what they are doing and sometimes it turns out to be far better than what I had thought or envisioned. I then tend to improve upon it.

Digital technology has made it possible for filmmakers like you to make the kind of films you want to make. What are the things filmmakers who are starting out need to know while shooting in digital?

Even if you do not shoot properly while shooting in film, it is difficult to identify the same. But same is not the case with digital as it has a terrible way of making it apparent and look like the content is made for television or other digital media. It lacks the storytelling capabilities of film. One has to be aware of the same and should know how to use it to their advantage.

The drawback of digital is that a lot of filmmakers with a half baked knowledge of filmmaking and storytelling attempt to shoot films in it. At times it works and at times it doesn't. But this trend is probably creating generation of viewers who are endorsing and embracing it as good content.We are losing authenticity of art which the previous generations including mine learnt from watching films.

I also worked on film format, where we had to be careful about how we shoot and there used to be so much more respect about the format and the way in which we work. We would plan every single shot and execute it accordingly. And we had to be careful because every second was valuable and accounted for with the money spent. With digital that is not the case and we often overshoot.

While shooting in digital, filmmakers often have no respect for what they are shooting and there's no rehearsal too due to which we end up re-shooting. Filmmakers then try and make the best possible use of the available footage.

Many new filmmakers end up doing this mistake while shooting in digital. They should look at it as a medium of good storytelling and not because its an easily accessible medium. They should make to effort to write a good story and use this medium to tell their story in a better way.

Tamil and Malayalam cinema has seen a flurry of interesting and new age themed films. That’s not happened as much in Kannada cinema. What do you think is holding back Kannada filmmakers?

There are many reasons for the same. Film is a collaborative medium and things cannot get better with just an individual improving. Every individual and aspect of the filmmaking process including technicians, be it the art director, music director, editor etc have to improve.

I have met several directors and artists in Kannada cinema who have a great creative sense. But when they are not supported by an equally enthusiastic industry, then it becomes difficult to churn out good quality content. Talking about Tamil, Malayalam and other regional industries, every individual person intends to achieve success and proficiency. And I guess that's what has pushed them to make such good films.

In the Kannada industry, I have rarely seen artists wanting to achieve that level of proficiency and success. It also has to do with how these technicians get paid, recognised and are respected in the industry.This is the reason why in a year or two, they becomes directors or actors themselves. If you are doing good work and after a point if you are still not recognized, you eventually want to jump to a department which gives you enough money and fame. The industry needs to seriously think about giving the technicians its due and should also look at helping them to improve. Only then, will the overall quality of films improve.

A lot of interesting independent films have released in recent times? Which of these films have enjoyed watching in the last one year or so?

The one film that I can instantly recall would be Masaan. I really liked the storytelling and the amount of effort including performances by mostly new actors that went into the making of the film.

For Lucia you tried a very interesting model of promotion. Are you going to use of some of those methods again for U Turn? How do you plan to release the film? Will you be opting for the festival route followed by the theatrical release?

I didn't hit upon great promotional ideas while promoting Lucia. I just started by being honest about my experiences and sharing it on social media. I would share my experiences, problems, successes and the everyday instances that occurred on the set. And that helped people to take note of the film and created a buzz about it. When I look back at the experience, it seems well planned, though that wasn't the case.

For U Turn we are doing a similar thing. We are sharing and celebrating anything interesting info related to the film with our audiences. It also serves as a means to promote the film. I am also concentrating on the theatrical release since there is the onus of giving the investors their money back. But we are also applying to festivals and seeing how it works out.

Netflix is here along with a lot of Indian VOD platforms. Do you think that VOD could someday soon become a viable standalone distribution avenue for independent films?

VOD will be the in-thing very soon. For Lucia, I undertook the VOD route and understood the way it works. It is  a great way to get your audiences to watch your film. The only concern with this platform is that people have to shed their reservations and be willing to pay that small chunk of money that will enable them to watch the film on laptop. We don't tend to value the platform much. The new generation must also soon catch up on it.

But in future Netflix and other similar avenues will emerge as a huge source for churning out quality films. Of course there will be mediocre content that will also be churned. And hence audiences also would have to the right and wise decisions accordingly.

Could you tell us about C10H14N2 aka Nicotine the other film you were working on? What’s happening with that?

I had to forego it due to budget constraints. While we were seeking funding for the film, several suggestions poured in with regards to the film's script. As I needed funding, I accepted many of  these changes and as a result tampered with the script. I soon realised that the film has turned out to be different from the way i had envisioned it. I was not happy with the changes the script had undergone in the process.

The idea of U Turn came to me around the same time and that's how I ended up working on it. Post U Turn, I will resume work on the script of Nicotine. Eight long months have passed since I had penned the first script of Nicotine. I hope I will be able to rework the flaws present in its earlier drafts and make the film the way I want to. I am hoping that the release of U Turn will help me secure funding for Nicotine and ensure that it gets made. It also is a subject which is close to me and something which I have always wanted to make.


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