Ruchika Oberoi On Island City, FTII & Winning At Venice

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on September 16, 2015

Directed by Ruchika Oberoi, Island City narrates three different stories set in Mumbai. The first is about a middle-aged man who wins the office ‘Fun Committee Award’, that entitles him to a whole day full of fun and who is reluctant to enjoy these benefits of it. The second story is that of an autocratic man whose family brings home a television set, while he is critically ill and admitted to a hospital. The third story centers on Aarti, whose dull and dreary life changes thanks to the arrival of a letter.

The film stars Vinay Pathak, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Amruta Subhash and Chandan Roy Sanyal among others and has won Ruchika the Fedeora Award for 'Best Director Of A Debut Film' at Venice Days - the sidebar of the Venice Film Festival.

We recently interviewed Ruchika wherein she talked about studying filmmaking at FTII, the things she learnt from her stint at NFDC Film Bazaar and Screenwriters Lab, what inspired her to make the film and the struggles faced by aspiring filmmakers who do not have bearings in the industry.

Republished below are excerpts from the same.

On FTII And Her Early Days

I graduated from FTII in 1998. And studying in FTII was very different from the way we are used to studying in other educational institutions. In FTII, we also saw films which we don’t usually get to see. It was a great space to discover one self and know the kind of cinema one would like to do in future. It was a great platform for learning about filmmaking and getting into FTII was a defining moment for me.

After that there was a long period of struggle and I found it difficult to get an opportunity to make films. In order to pay my bills and survive, I was working for MTV where I used to work on a show called Filmy Fundas which had funny & sarcastic content. It was a fun experience and helped me to develop a way of writing stories that had black comedy in it.

At the same time, I was also working as an associate director and writing stories. But my writing was not really finding much work. Studios would not want to back me, because they were wary of backing a first timer. At times they would ask me to sell my stories, but I wanted to make it myself. It was a frustrating phase.

On The Experiences Gained From NFDC Film Bazaar And Screenwriters Lab

I had sent my earlier scripts to Film Bazaar. And my earlier interaction with NFDC made me realize that they are looking to back films with fresh content and made by first time directors. In 2012, after applying the lab, I got to know that NFDC was producing it after was selected for the screenwriters lab.

My script was almost final when I went to the lab. But the experience at the labs helped me a lot to improve and better my script. At the labs, there are much more experienced screenwriters who go through your script. And the interaction with them helped me a lot to gain a perspective on making the film. It also was a great platform to connect with people who are going through similar issues. If your film is selected for the lab, it also makes the funding process a bit easier.

On What Inspired Her To Make The Film

The film is set in three different milieus and was derived from my interactions and experiences with people staying in Mumbai. The corporate work ethics, the emergence of malls and a new lifestyle also inspired the film. Some of it was also derived from the experiences faced by the people I knew. The film however could be set in any city which is changing and is going from a traditional to more alienating or modern kind of lifestyle.

On How She Cast The Actors For Her Film

When I wrote the script, I had Vinay Pathak in mind for the first story; I really felt he would be the best choice after considering various factors. I had spoken to him about it. At that point of time, I still hadn’t found a producer for the film. He was however keen to work on the film and also suggested Tannishtha’s name for the third story. And for the story which features Amruta Subhash, we auditioned a lot of actors and zeroed in on Amruta as she was perfect.  

Island City 2

On The Challenges Faced While Making The Film

One of the issues was that the budget was very limited. NFDC gives fixed budget for first time filmmakers and the film has to be made within that stipulated budget. I had three stories and it was shot in various parts of Bombay, which was tough. Getting the permissions, formalities in place was a nightmare. However the cast and crew believed in the film and put their soul into it. That is how I was able to complete the film and we were able to get good results within the given budget.

There also was a challenge of getting a certain kind of look without compromising on the artistic quality. Each story had a different kind of treatment and tone, so it again was challenging to differentiate between the three stories. However, making the film was a fun and creatively challenging process which we enjoyed.

On Winning Awards At International Festivals And The Indian Perception Of Festivals

Winning awards at festivals helps a lot internationally. It can help you to get international finance for your future films as they understand that every festival is different from the other and winning at several international festivals has a great value.

In India, however many people do not understand its importance and for them, most of the festivals are the same. However in recent times films like Court, Killa and Masaan which have won awards at festivals got a good release in India, so that makes me hopeful.

On The Difficulties Faced By New Directors For Getting A Break

Yes it is difficult to get a break. But with means of filmmaking and production becoming cheaper and easier, people are now shooting films with Canon 5D and you now have an easier access to making films. During our time, we had 16 mm, 35 mm and it was not so easy to get a film made.

Today if you have an idea for a low budget or indie film, you can make it. However getting money for post production and release of your film is still a challenge. Moreover the numbers of filmmakers who do not get a chance to make films are more and you have to fight all biases to get your film made. But on the other hand, there are people like Manish Mundra, Anurag Kashyap and Guneet Monga who are supporting and backing Indie films . This is reassuring for many filmmakers.

Advice To Aspiring Filmmakers

Stick to the ideas that are close to you and give your best shot to make the film you want to, however tough it may be. There may also be a temptation to write films that will work or may get picked by producers which may not be the kind of work you want to do.

But with opening up of new avenues, there will be someone who will help you to make your film and the way you want to make it. It may take a while but you shouldn’t get disheartened and resort to writing or making films you don’t believe in.


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