Interview Hindi

Don't think there is a system in place to help independent cinema: Director Milind Dhaimade


In an exclusive interview, Dhaimade speaks to Cinestaan.com about the struggles of living in confined spaces and his transition from an adman to filmmaker.

Shriram Iyengar

Milind Dhaimade's journey towards filmmaking emerged from his love for theatre, but it was in advertising that he cut his teeth. He spent a decade in advertising working on some of India's most iconic brands, and won several international and national awards along the way.

It was at the peak of his career that he decided to quit advertising and turn to filmmaking. Having established his production company Love & Faith, he went on to direct his first short film, Prakata Het Yad, in 2011. An absurdist comedy, it has the same 'urban psychosis' as Dhaimade describes, that forms the crux of Tu Hai Mera Sunday.

With Tu Hai Mera Sunday, the director has created a film that touches on the space crunch in the city of Mumbai, and its effect on the lives of people. Starring Shahana Goswami, Barun Sobti, Vishal Malhotra, Rasika Dugal, the film is set to be released on 6 October.

The director sat down with Cinestaan.com in an exclusive conversation to speak about the challenges and the need to make this film.

Excerpts:

After ten years in advertising, what drew you to films as a medium?

What drew me to films? I have always wanted to do films. Actually, when I was in college, I was doing theatre. I come from a very middle-class background.

Back then, you had to think of a job option after graduation. Even if you had to do theatre, you had to think of a job. I thought about taking up a course in FTII, but people warned me that there is no future in it. When will you become a director, and other questions?

Someone suggested I join advertising, as it would allow me to write and make films. That's how I went into ads, and I thought, 'at some point, I will move to what I want to do.' But we had a good time in advertising.

I think it took some time with life also. Finally, in 2005, I decided it was enough. I need to make a film.  

What was the challenge when you switched the mediums. Advertising is a different form of expression, which requires you to condense stories, and expressions into seconds. How did that help or hinder you as a director of a feature film?

I feel film is a very different medium. It is a long format. Advertising is a much smaller format, and is about craft.

When you are working on a project of 15 seconds-30 seconds (duration), you are thinking more about the cuts. You have to have your edit in mind.

In filmmaking, it is very difficult to know if you will be able to tell that story. Especially, when you are telling something which is light or comedy. To keep that going for 30 days sometimes, sitting on an editing table, that is the most challenging thing for me. The challenge in films is also that you are thinking differently.

In advertising, the rewards are different. In the film world, you see that people are thinking the same old things. When you are different, they are a little sceptical about it. That is, I think, very disorienting.

Talk to us about the film, Tu Hai Mera Sunday. A very interesting trailer, how did the story come about?

People nowadays don't write a lot about middle-class and regular people. It started with this friend of mine who belong to a group that plays every weekend. They are a bunch of men, ranging from 18-year-olds to 50-year-olds. They are such a vast group with CEO types, reporters, and nariyal paaniwaalas (selling coconut water), also. They play every Sunday, and he is a football evangelist. For him, getting people to join the group is everything.

I remembered him after I quit advertising, and left the corporate life. What would happen if they can't play their weekend games?

I remember one day I went for a movie with my wife, and I realised the theatre was empty and I got parking. I was wondering how come this happened, and I realised it was a matinee show. It had been such a long time since I had caught a matinee. You suddenly realise that there is a stark difference between corporate life and normal life. I thought of Vinay and his football, and thought 'What will happen if they can't play on Sunday? Where will they find the space in Mumbai?'

I thought what if I take it further about space and living in urban life. The space crunch which is emotional, not just physical.

The crunch, emotional and physical, certainly comes across in the trailer. How much of the urban life has influenced your writing, and life?

The urban context is very important and quite big in the story. I am an urban child. For me, this is my village. I have seen middle-class from very different perspective. I have seen the middle-class values change from an ethical class to a more active class.

For me that is always interesting, how in urban India there is a huge psychosis. People are dealing with different kinds of things, and yet, there is a massive loneliness. I find it very interesting. It is a very great ground for stories.

Despite that, was there a struggle to pitch the story. Seeing how it had no star attraction, so to say?

I thought of pitching it to studios and that kind of thing, but I realised down the line that if I pitch it there, then it would be difficult for them to get a script like this on-board without stars.

If they took stars...it is not that stars are good or bad, but this is a story about every day people and putting stars in it would not be genuine for the story of the film.

We needed good actors, people who played football, and could spend some time with each other. I wanted to rehearse also. Things like these make you realise that it is difficult to get that kind of investment from a big star.

We decided that since it is our first film, we shall do it the way we wanted to. So that people realise who you are. Later, down the line, maybe that will be a better way to approach things. We did not pitch it much to studios.

There have been talks of a changing cinema culture. Do you see that happening?

While there is a lot of talk about independent cinema happening, I don't think there is a system in place to help independent cinema. Lot of it is happening because of different markets which are created.

You need to understand, that for me, everything is commercial. Even festivals offer me a market, a different kind of commerce, but it is also a commerce.

People are forced to think one way or another. Some will say 'Well, I am going the festival route because something's happening there', or you can take the commercial route. There is not many options left for you to say, 'I just want to tell normal stories'. The problem is that the sale is so big, that for you, and the audience, there are 20-30 levels deciding what should go through.

What is good is that there is talk of this (change) happening. What is also good is that small and mid-sized films have started to make money as well. That is going to get people's notice.

We never wanted that attention, as I was very happy that it was an urban-Indian film. So, I didn't think it would have a festival kind of a screening. Very strangely, it was picked up and people started to identify with the characters. For us also, it has been quite hard to get this film out, and we are doing it on our own. It is pretty tough to get your film reach the audience, the way you want to reach them. For that, there is nothing put in place.

Your earlier film, Prakata Het Yad, as well as Tu Hai Mera Sunday, have a touch of absurdism to it. Has it been an influence on you as a writer?

I guess it comes naturally to me. If you look at life and people, everything is absurd. Prakata Het Yad, also has some urban psychosis to it. We had more fun, it was an experimental thing.

For some reason, I can see the madness of life and the reactions of people that comes out. It might influence me more in the future as well.

You have worked with Sunil Shanbag to stage the play Loretta. What are your theatrical influences?

I was involved in theatre right after college. For a long time, in those days we were doing all kinds of things. We would do real serious stuff like (those written by) Badal Sircar. But, we also had to do silly comical stuff in college. It was a good training ground to understand what were the triggers for audiences.

After a while, I was disconnected with theatre. My wife used to get angry with me saying, 'Do something', but theatre is a commitment. You can't just do it as a hobby. After a long time, I connected with theatre through Sunil Shanbag. I was amazed at his work.

I returned and saw many things were the same. Sunil's work is really very different. I was lucky that he was thinking of adapting a play like Loretta in Hindi, and somebody suggested my name. That's how Loretta happened. [Originally written in Konkani by Goan writer Pundalik Naik, Dhaimade adapted Loretta for stage in Hindi]

In a world that is constantly shrinking into laptop and mobile phone screens, how does a creative person cope?

More than that, I have seen a lot of alienation with people trying to find happiness in very weird ways. I grew up in something that was like a chawl. But everybody's house was open. Kids could play as they wanted, where they wanted.

Now, I live in a bigger flat, a bigger place. Yet, I feel that we are stuck in our own spaces. Nobody is moving out. Sometimes people live for years in their societies and not know who lives next door.

The other aspect I feel is that a lot of problems of the common man are small, but nobody looks at them. They don't seem like big problems, but a lot of the frustration that happens with these people is because of those. This anger comes out in society through other ways. It comes out through fundamentalism, through rioting. It is all symbolic with space, not given to people to grow and be themselves.

What would you suggest someone jumping from advertising into films?

The first thing I would be telling them is make sure your funds are there. One advise I would give people is to understand the whole filmmaking process. I think we make the film and think it is good enough, but later on we realise that there is a big process after the film, which is far bigger than making the film.

That's the process you should understand. What are the things that go into getting a film out, what are the factors influencing the audience and its release.

Another reason I wrote this film was that I came from a very tough background. The space concept is a very personal thing for me. I wanted to tell people that happiness is a perspective that you can have within yourself. The idea was to tell people that you can positively influence yourself in a better way.