A Delicate Seduction


October 29, 2015

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India & You

Sep-Oct 2015

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With the success of the offbeat independent film Hunterrr, debutante filmmaker Harshvardhan Kulkarni once again proves that there is no fixed formula of success.

With a modest budget, no stars and an “adult” subject revolving around a serial seducer, “vaasu” in Mumbai slang, “Hunterrr” has been one of the surprise successes of Hindi cinema in 2015. But it is still difficult for a “middle of the road” movie to reach its target, squeezed between art films and blockbusters. It takes a lot of craft and new ideas to succeed.

Hunterrr is funny, witty and enjoyable to watch. Directed by Harshavardhan Kulkarni and released in February 2015, it narrates the tribulations of a bachelor who tries to find love and settle down, after having enjoyed a life of “serial dating”. It is a refreshing angle if you are weary of the same old Bollywood commercial formula, with dances, stars and (still enjoyable) clichés about family and romance. And it is relaxing, at the same time, if you do not want to watch a film too serious or “arty” in its pretentions, but still reflecting the
preoccupations of the new Indian urban society. In this respect, it is what some film critics call a “middle of the road” movie. Neither a big production, nor an “intellectual” cinema; a limited budget independent flick but still aiming for a decent commercial success.

In over two hour you follow the adventures of Mandar (Gulshan Devaiah) and how he evolves from a women “hunter” to a subjugated lover, after meeting an independent and modern woman, Tripti (Radhika Apte). His friends are witnesses of this change, submitted to the pressure of social conventions, such as arranged weddings and their inevitable meeting to sort out the right “candidate”. One character is particularly enjoyable: Dilip, the
chronicler of the tale, as in a Shakespeare play. He is the “nice guy” with women and the sensible voice that the “hunter” does not want necessarily to listen to.

How come such an “adult” independent comedy enjoyed such a success? Making more than INR 120 million at the theatre box office, after only ten days of release, with a budget of just INR 40-50 million. First, Harshavardhan Kulkarni has matured over years before this debut film and polished the screenplay through several versions. He has found a good balance between laugh and acidity, like in the Italian comedies of the 1950’s to 1970’s, which could also be regarded as drama, because their core subject was potentially serious.

Then, the theme has echoed the preoccupations of a generation that enjoys more freedom in terms of dating. Finally, Hunterrr benefited a good word of mouth and was shown on many festivals, such as the pan-Indian Jagran Film Festival, in July 2015. You could feel,
at the screeing at Delhi Siri Fort Auditorium, the audience connecting and laughing right from the beginning.

No magical formula

Harshavardhan Kulkarni, a young bearded director, comes from a Mumbai
middle class similar to the one depicted in the film, hence a sense of realism. Son of award
winning Kannada poet Jeevi Kulkarni, he studied petro-chemical engineering in Pune. But
he preferred to pursue his passion and joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), also in Pune. After 10 years of shooting corporate videos and short films and
learning the ropes, he co-wrote the comedy Hasee Toh Phasee (2014) and polished the script of Hunterrr.

When you meet him, Kulkarni is jovial and happy about this success but at the same time cautious and modest. “My movie is relatively not too expensive to produce, around INR 40 million. But you have to add at least the same amount or even double this figure to promote and market it,” he explains. “This is the tricky part. It is hard for this kind of movies to reach their audience. They are not particularly designed for multiplexes and at the same time very much pirated online.”

The director faced a small misadventure with a pirated file of Hunterrr still visible
on internet. “The girl’s number showing on screen on my hero’s mobile is my number
and now I have a lot of “vaasus” (chat up boys in Mumbai slang) calling me”.

Now, Kulkarni contemplates new ways to promote independent films. Since you
cannot avoid piracy and marketing is very costly, you could for instance imagine going
for a single campaign, releasing your film on multiple platforms the same day, he says.
The movie could be shown for instance at the same time in theatres, on Video on Demand (VOD) websites or channels, on DVD or Blu Ray, and very quickly even on TV. Some
independent filmmakers have tried this way of promotion in the US or in Europe. However, there is no magical formula and the hunt to seduce audience is still going on.



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