Independent films are the ones without any financial backing, without any big banner producers and certainly without any big distribution. They don’t always happen smoothly; there are a lot of obstacles blocking their paths. Only they can survive who are resilient with their imagination and their love for the medium. In this conversation with Kaushik Hafizee, director of upcoming film ‘No Refusal’, he talks about the perils he faced while making the film and what he thinks independent film makers should do.
BongRong: Tell us a bit about ‘No Refusal’, your upcoming feature film.
Kaushik: ‘No Refusal’ is my first feature length film. It is about Manoj, who is a taxi driver. Joyraj Bhattacharjee plays Manoj in this film. Manoj hails from Bihar, and lives in a cramped room with many others in Kolkata. Whatever little money he earns by driving the taxi, he sends most of it back to his home. The film is about Manoj’s life and the crisis he faces in Kolkata. Most of us are not bothered at all about the taxi driver, even though we ride in taxis regularly. There is a strange love-hate relationship between the passengers and the taxi drivers. People always think taxi drivers overcharge, they might be kidnappers, but, they also need them. Taxi drivers, on the other hand, think that passengers are always rich and still they refuse to pay. So from this standpoint, people are not interested about the taxi drivers at all. That’s what I wanted to explore. And not many films like this have been made in Bengal. This is not exactly a road movie…but it has certain elements of that genre.
BongRong: You have primarily made short films earlier, how did ‘No Refusal’ happen? Or more specifically, how did you make the shift from short films to feature length? How different was it?
Kaushik: Even though I have made only two short films, I think it is a very important and powerful medium. Technically, there isn’t much difference between a short film and a feature length film, apart from the funding process. You need the camera, the edit machine etc. But if you focus on the aesthetic side of things, there is a big difference. Then we need to see short films differently. A good analogy would be short stories and novels.
There are some writers who can write very good novels but not short stories, and vice versa. It is the same with films. Even though there isn’t a very big market for short films, I think it is a very important and different medium. And I have not fully switched from short films to full length feature. If I get the opportunity, I will still make short films again. And there are a lot of ideas coming in my head, which would be suited for a short film rather than a feature length. Short films are very flexible, I think. And for independent directors like me, funding is a very big problem. So, if you compare them, short films can be made with a lower budget than feature length films. This has exceptions, of course. Both short films and feature length films are important in their own space. Sometimes we get confused between the two, but first, we have to learn to see both of them differently in their own space.
BongRong: The trailer looks really promising. But the production started in 2014 and it was stuck many times because of lack of funds. How did you cope with that?
Kaushik: It was really difficult. I went to many producers, but none of them were ready to give money to a first timer and a story like this. I had very little money at that time. But I wanted to start the film as soon as possible. One of the reasons why I thought about this script and went ahead with it is because considerably this would cost less. I knew that I would not be able to finish the film at one go, but I wanted to start, because I think that is really important. You can only finish something after you start. Joyraj da was sceptical at first because there was very little money.
What helped me cope with all of this was the absolutely brilliant and helpful crew I worked with. Right from Joyraj da to Amit Majumder, who did the cinematography of the film at the beginning to everyone involved in this film. They never wanted anything in return, all of them loved the concept and the script and came for the love of cinema. We ate anything that was available, lived anywhere we would get rooms. I carried the camera and tripod sometimes. So everyone was multi-tasking. We did not even have Joyraj da’s costume the day before the shoot. I stopped a taxi at Lake Gardens late in the night and somehow persuaded the driver to give me his shirt. He was perplexed at first but then he agreed. And so many things changed during this time. The taxi changed, all the stickers that were used went away with it. They had to be made again. All these are really difficult experiences that we had. But I did not lose my cool even once, because I knew if I lose it, the film won’t be completed. So we completed the shooting after much difficulty, but it was a very enjoyable learning experience.
BongRong: This situation is also a mental pressure to any young film maker who cannot make films because of lack of funds. As you have faced the same situation, what would you like to tell them?
Kaushik: Firstly, I would suggest all the independent film makers to make their films through the process of back calculation. This is the reverse of the prevalent industry practice. We have to decide the budget first, that is, how much money we can spend on the production. We cannot think of the post-production and distribution while doing that. It is a step by step process. For example, I am not thinking of the promotion and distribution of ‘No Refusal’ now. Now I am only thinking about completing the post-production process.
Second, it should not look like the film is made with very little money, even though it is. No one will listen to all these excuses. When I am fighting against the industry and its gloss and its superior technology, I have to make a clean film with that technology. For us, budget is everything. Budget is the key factor in deciding a story, deciding the number of actors etc. For me, with the budget I had, I could not afford to have more than one protagonist. The story needed to be powerful. So I needed to think of how to make a powerful story with that budget. When I was writing this, I thought that most of the independent films being made then were becoming a bit monotonous; everything happened inside a room. So, I thought, why not bring some variation in the location. Why not explore the beauty that Bengal had. Independent film makers always have to think with what they have, not with what they don’t have. One has to accept the reality and work around that. The film maker should use whatever he has and use it as a weapon for his expression and story. There will be lots of problems for the independent film maker, but he has to be more confident than a mainstream director. He cannot lose hope. Only this attitude can bring the film maker success.
BongRong: There is not much infrastructural support for short films and documentaries. With the current onslaught of the commercial industry how do you think this can change?
Kaushik: To be very honest, I am not very hopeful about the situation. I don’t think it can change. Even if it does, it won’t change by itself. We have to keep working and make good films, so that an alternative market can be created. Obviously people want to see good films, I trust people with that. If we think like this, then there are of course people who only want to see good films and good work and nothing else. We have to unite them for our sake. This is also a movement, which cannot only be centred in Kolkata. We have to spread this all over and include everyone. That is when the infrastructure will be built. For that we have to produce quality work first, with whatever means we have. Now, things have become easier with the digital age. Like I said earlier, we have to work with whatever resources we have and also make people understand our language. This is not our responsibility, this is our love for the medium.
BongRong: What are your future plans?
Kaushik: I plan to keep working on, no matter what the obstacles are, no matter how little money I have. Whether it is, short films or documentaries, I plan to explore all mediums. I do a bit of acting, so I would also like to explore that area.
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