He is known as the bad boy and he happily welcomes the tag. Critics call his films newage and alternate, while general mass in India, particularly in West Bengal, have often despised his films for being subversive, uncovered and politically agitating. However Qaushiq Mukherjee (aka Q) cares a fig as he indulges in a candid conversation with MIG.
What makes you an avid film festival visitor for all these years?
It becomes very important for filmmakers like me to be at festivals as there are very few screening opportunities in India, especially for the kind of films that I make. Indian films are not known to be very extreme in nature and thus my bandwidth is quite narrow, even in terms of festivals. So when I researched about the festivals, I had to understand where my films fit in. For example, my A-list will be Berlin and Sundance, whereas Toronto or Cannes is not a space that I found much comfort in. Berlin and Sundance have a tendency to support politically charged and extreme filmmaking.
How do you perceive Cannes as a film festival? How important is it for Indian filmmakers?
As far as Cannes is concerned, I come to the market. I have no interest in the festival. In fact I have hardly watched any film in the six years that I have been here. I think, Cannes as a festival is remarkably elitist and you have to be a penguin to get your films in the festival.
For me, the market is very important. It is the biggest art house film market and there are people from all genres who attend this event. Practically, the whole film industry gathers here during this time. This also means that filmmakers like us can seek new people who will understand our work. In the last few years, the global film market has changed completely with the advent of digital players. There is a chaos here as well. The Hollywood is losing out, European film market is crashing, sales agents are clueless and everyone seems to be in state of confusion.
It is important to come here to know what is happening and like most film markets in Europe, this is geared towards a non-commercial scene. Different distribution process, new pipelines, modern funding techniques, etc. These are things that people in India don’t understand at all.
What makes you roll your way to extreme films?
I like film festivals and my taste is unapologetic. I am not a cinema lover – it is not the best medium of expression, rather a highly compromised medium. But at the same time, there is no other form that uses all art forms like cinema does. And till it slowly dies, I think we should keep working on it to see if something comes out of it. For instance, web-series are changing the narrative structure of films.
I was inspired by a string of extreme films such as the German film Run Lola Run by Tom Tykwer and then moving on to Korean and Japanese explosion of extreme films. I was lucky to take up the trend. All these films were very digital in their looks and post-modernist in their approach. Electronic music, subversive storytelling, non-traditional approaches of narrative and the four-act structure that emerged from the Korean and Japanese films excited me to make the kind of films I make today.
I was very clear that if I had to make films, I have to do these kinds of films. There was no desire to fit in and I guess that is evident. I never wanted to give the people what they want because they don’t know what they want. I am lucky to have that clarity.
Was the clarity there from the very first day you thought you will make films or is it a developed idea?
Absolutely from the very first day. I started off making dogma films that were made with INR 1.5 million and then I made a film that was worth INR 0.5 million after eight years. I started with cheap films, and then ten years later I made a cheaper film; one-third the cost of the first film. I think, that is not possible unless you have clarity.
Recently, Garbage was selected for the Berlin Film Festival. You have been speaking about clarity and choices and the list of festivals. However, how do you justify your financiers and what is the economics that support your filmmaking?
I don’t believe cinema is a commercial art form like many do. It is an art form like and like all other art forms, it needs a sustainable model. For instance, if you are a good dancer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can earn your living by dancing. Similarly, a filmmaker has to go through his share of struggle to understand his sustainable economic model.
For me it was simple. My resources were limited and I planned my things accordingly. I would do my back-calculations to do the budgeting and then plunge for a project. I would think how much a certain film would be valued in these markets and how much can I recover. Based on them I budget the film.
The other thing was the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). I always thought if I was the producer, I will hold on to the IP and not sell out immediately. By doing that, I can retain the aesthetics and similarly see the project mature over years.
When Gandu came out, we were offered to make a Hindi version that the censor board would pass. But we rejected all that. Though that would have meant that I wouldn’t have been this poor, but it’s important to understand that it’s like running an NGO. I and my associates undercut ourselves to make films.
We don’t work in profit motivation at all and we understand our needs and pay ourselves just that. We build equity and put our value in the project by not claiming them. Commercially viability comes when we make films like Gandu, which are just not weekend films. That means even twenty five years from now Gandu will be relevant.