Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City produced by National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) has won the Fedora prize for the best young director in the sidebars of the Venice Film Festival, 2015.
In the international film festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival or Toronto International Film Festival, Indian cinema still has a long road to travel as far as the main competition is concerned. However, it certainly is making a wave at the independently run parallel sections of these coveted festivals. Earlier in the year it was Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (2015) at Cannes and now it’s Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City at Venice. The small budget film Island City decreed immense hard work, says Oberoi.
Winning an award for your debut feature film at the Venice Film Festival, how has the experience been so far? Did you expect such recognition?
Well, not really. Venice Film Festival is one of the three prestigious film festivals in the world. First of all, to get featured at such a great platform and then winning an award too, it did come as a surprise. World over, great cinema is being made, so we did not expect that we would make it this big. But, it’s a very encouraging and proud moment for the entire team. Ours is a small budget film and we all had put in the much-needed hard work, certainly we all feel extremely excited.
What made your film distinct over others at an international platform such as Venice?
Indian films have been doing tremendously well at such international platforms since the last few years—whether it’s Killa (2014), Masaan (2015) or Angry Indian Goddesses (2015). These are more connected to the issues prevailing in the society. Hence, we can say that more realistic cinema is being made as compared to the typical Bollywood films that would not make the cut to these international festivals. For my film, I think they liked the modern-contemporary approach and the tone in which it has been made. I didn’t try to flatten the narrative and kept the quirkiness in each of the three stories. It’s a black comedy that deals with the changing socio-economic times. And then there are other important aspects such as the fine technicians and the actors’ performances that have played a major role in making of an award winning film.
As you mentioned Bollywood films cannot make it to these festivals, so would it be correct to say that films like Island City are being made with a view to get featured in these festivals?
Not at all. When I started this film, I didn’t think about these festivals, moreover, I didn’t expect that any festival would even accept my film. I rather thought that Island City has the capacity of being a commercial film because it’s more of a black comedy. While making this film, my aim was to act upon my imagination, upon what is happening around and upon the tools that were peculiar to me. Now, after all this if the film turns out to be good and gets international recognition, it is indeed great. It makes the distributors show interest in the film and you also get benefitted by the screening fee — all these factors help in recovering the cost that has gone into the making of the film. I know there’s a notion going around that “Oh they are making this particular film keeping in mind the international film festivals” but perhaps this notion needs to be changed. There are people who don’t even want to make an effort of watching something different and they keep watching the same stuff that is being churned out by the mainstream industry. This is how such independent films get rejected and labeled by the general public.
Why you think Indian films never make it to the main competition and are always featured at the sidebars?
I think the progress is there. Masaan had won the award in the Un Certain Regard, which is a section of the Cannes Film Festival’s official selection. Another multi-lingual film Court (2014), had won two prestigious awards at the Venice Film Festival last year – the Horizons award for Best Film and the Lion of the Future award for a Debut Film. Yes, my film was featured in the sidebars at the Venice Film Festival. However, sidebars are also very prestigious with an independent jury.
For the Bollywood driven Indian audience, is there any space for independent films?
There are two things– whether people who will watch it will like it or not and second, if people will actually go and watch it. I am confident if people actually manage to get to the theaters, they will definitely like such films. Now the thing is if the studio executives perceive it as a non commercial film then they will not be willing to spend money on the distribution, marketing, publicity and so on. Of course in that case people would not even be aware of such a film. Every week one big film hits the theaters, they would rather bet on those films.
How was your experience in Venice?
This was my third trip to Venice. First time, I had gone for a holiday, second time when my script was selected for the Screenwriters’ Lab and third time for the screening of my film at the Venice Film Festival. I have to say that Venice is one of the most spectacular cities in Europe. According to me, the stupendous location of Venice adds to the beauty of the Venice Film Festival making it one of the most beautiful festivals in the world.
You are a graduate of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. Do you think these Indian film schools are at par with film schools abroad?
Not only FTII is at par with international film schools, it is considered as one of the top film schools in the world. People from abroad who visit our school are shocked to see the kind of facilities available within the school as many schools pay and source such facilities from outside. Also the kind of students it has and the kind of cinema these students make is stupendous. Many films made by FTII students have been to the best film festivals internationally. In fact, for my film Island City, the cameraman and the assistant director both were also graduates of FTII. However, over the years, a little bit of mismanagement is happening. It is taking in more number of students in comparison to the facilities available—which leads to delays in the process of filmmaking.
Do you have any release date for the film?
Currently, we don’t have a release date as we are looking for distributors, so it would come out in 2016 most probably.
What are your future plans?
I am in the process of wrapping up everything and making the trailer. After that, I will start working on other stories for which I am going to look for financers. One film is children’s comedy that has the commercial capability, so I can approach certain studios and the other one is not so commercial for which I have to look for somebody who is interested in a similar idea. If I have written a script then I would want to direct it also because only then I believe full justice can be done to the script, hence I am always looking for like-minded people who will understand my sensibilities.