Interview Hindi

Abhishek Chaubey on turning producer: We are a film industry, not a film genre

Two weeks before A Death In The Gunj is released, director-producer Abhishek Chaubey sat down to speak about the changing world of cinema content, audience, and the need for different kinds of cinema.

Shriram Iyengar

Konkona Sensharma's A Death In the Gunj has already won the festival circuit, domestic and international. A writer, filmmaker, and now producer, Abhishek Chaubey is a man of many talents. Since making his debut as director with Ishqiya (2010), Chaubey has marked himself as one of the more technically skilled, daring, and remarkable filmmakers of his generation. Now, he turns producer with A Death In the Gunj.

A Death In the Gunj is the opening film at the 12th Habitat Film Festival which began today in New Delhi. The festival will continue till 28 May and showcase some of the best Indian regional cinema.

Konkona Sensharma's directorial debut is the first production of Honey Trehan and Chaubey's new Macguffin Pictures. Having started his career as a writer and assistant director under Vishal Bhardwaj (a very generous and fair human being, he says), Chaubey has gone on to mark himself as one of the most important directors of this generation with films like Ishqiya (2010), Dedh Ishqiya (2014) and Udta Punjab (2016).

In the quaint office of Macguffin Pictures, Chaubey sat down with for a conversation about Sensharma's little film, film production, and the changing 'big screen' audience in India.

Excerpts from the interview:

How does being a producer change your perspective of a story/script?

The first time when you read a script, what you really think about is whether you are producing a film, or doing anything else, whether this is a film you would really like to be associated with. You just read it like you do any other script. That's how I read the first time, and I really liked it. Once I got through it, I realised that this is a film I would be proud of being associated with.

What was the USP of A Death in the Gunj?

You know, the script was written with a lot of empathy. It had a lot of emotions. They were very relatable emotions. I thought it was a film that was very sensitive in what it was trying to say. Although Konkona had never made a feature film, I also had tremendous amount of confidence in her ability to do this. It is a world that she knows very well, and I was confident that she will be able to bring out all the elements of the script successfully. There was no reason for me to then think twice about it.

The success of the film overseas, while positive, raises the question if it will make the same impact in the Indian audience?

Obviously, the people who are going to Baahubali are not going to come and watch it. It is not going to come up with those numbers. It is not that kind of film. For instance, it is primarily in English. It is set in a specific milieu. It has got a certain sect of actors. There is a certain vibe that the film is giving out. Very easily, you know, that this film has 'a' certain kind of audience. Therefore, it has a certain kind of budget as well. We were aware of that.

Our attempt is to really make sure that everybody who will be potentially interested in the movie will come and watch the film. So that's how we have budgeted it, and that's how we are releasing it. It is not a massive release. It is a limited release. We are focussing on the centres where we know the audiences are there. It's a targeted release that way.

I think it is important to make films like this. Not only like this, but films of all kind. We are a film industry. Not a film genre. We have to make all sorts of films in order to successfully call ourselves a film industry. While we have a Baahubali, we also have a Hindi Medium, and we also have A Death In The Gunj in the same space. It is brilliant for our cinema.

The current scenario is an extremely fertile one for writers and producers. Content is emerging from all over. How do you as a writer, and producer view these different platforms and opportunities?

I think the things are changing so rapidly that you are afraid of being behind the curve all the time. I think we are on the cusp of a very big change. I think cinema watching habits are changing very rapidly. We have already seen it happen in the West, because big screen experiences have become very different. Big screen means large, tremendous amounts of VFX noisy, things you cannot achieve on a television screen.

But drama is shifting on to smaller mediums. Now, television can be 75 inches, 60 inches or your iPad. It is also changing rapidly. A lot of content, for filmmakers like us, the shift will be towards that medium.

As an individual, even before a producer or a director, I just want to watch everything and approach it very carefully. My first love remains movies. I am adapting myself to the changing times to make new movies to watch on the big screen. But I don't want to be left behind, and want to be aware of what's happening.

As a producer, would you take the challenge of tapping into webseries apart from films?

Why not? But we've just started. This is our first film. We don't want to spread ourselves too thin, but want to get the basics right. We also have Honey's (Trehan) film which goes on floors at the end of this year. We have my film, that is going on. It is going on the floors later this year. It is also the first film I will be directing and working on production with. So, we've got our playlist full right now. By the time we finish with all this, it is gonna be a year. Let's see how much things have changed by then. This new media will have made an impact by then. We will know how the market is behaving.

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You entered into quite the battle with the CBFC over your last film, Udta Punjab (2015). But earlier this year, Alankrita Shrivastava went through a long battle to get Lipstick Under My Burkha released. Why do you think this battle between the board and filmmakers continues?

To be fair, I don't think the functioning of the board is a problem. They are doing what they can. They are a government body after all. The problem is the act itself. It is draconian and its ancient. It belongs to the year in which it was made, in 1952, not 2017. It really needs to be amended, changed, whatever the right term. We need to have a mroe rational approach to our film censorship, which means that there shouldn't be any censorship.

I don't see a solution very soon. We are dealing with more serious isuses. Our government is dealing with even more serious issues like the economy. I don't know how much time they will be actually devoting to it, or if they even have the intention to. That's my bigger worry. I don't think the board is the problem. The problem lies somewhere else.

So, what next for you? And for A Death In The Gunj?

I am feeling extremely antsy, anxious, but excited as well because it is releasing finally. Although we are just caught up in a million different things right now to get it out, it is going to be an extremely proud moment for Honey (Trehan) and me to get our film out there.

Once that is done, I think both of us will be completely focussed on our own films. It's Honey's first film, and I would say it is my most challenging film in terms of scale and logistics. The next one year our plates are full. And then, ek saal me toh we don't know where we will be next year.

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Habitat Film Festival 2017