In a fascinating conversation with Cinestaan.com during LIFFT India, director Mangesh Joshi spoke about the fast changing world of technology, its effect on an impatient cinema audience, and the struggle of delivering 'slow, visually compelling' films.
There is no 'accidental art': Mangesh Joshi on his film Lathe Joshi
Lonavla - 13 Sep 2017 8:00 IST
Updated : 14 Sep 2017 11:28 IST
It is not often that a late night film at a festival attracts the crowd that Mangesh Joshi's directorial, Lathe Joshi, did at LIFFT India 2017. The film, which has already screened at the JIO MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016, The Dharamshala Film Festival 2016, and the Kaleidoscope Film Festival in New York in 2016 has received acclaim for its visual composition, exact narrative, and the subtle, understated acting.
Lathe Joshi was one of the prominent films to watch at the event. Joshi, who made the film after coming across the story of some lathe workers during the making of a corporate video, is an unassuming, but confident director.
During his conversation with Cinestaan.com, the director stressed on the importance of educating the film audience in order form a platform where good films can be presented and appreciated. Joshi's analogies often range from classical music to contemporaries like that of Dev.D (2009). He has already been hailed as one of the directors to watch in the 'new wave' that has hit Marathi cinema.
Following are the excerpts from Cinestaan.com's conversation with the director:
The film is so much more about the changing world around, and the fast pace of technology. But why did you choose lathe as a symbol for it?
I have myself worked on a lathe machine actually, as an engineer, while doing research. I am very scared of change. As a filmmaker, I shot my first film in the celluloid format. I was very scared when, later, I was asked to make a film in the digital format. It was a transitional phase then. The format was still developing.
I wanted to make a film on this aspect of change actually. We were actually set to make a corporate film for an engineering company, and during that research, I went through the machines, and the memories and discussion revolved around how change was taking place in the industry.
If you look at how he cuts the machine parts with lathe, it takes a lot of skill. He is an artist. I had worked on it during my engineering college days, but those machines were amateurish. They don't have the challenge in them. But as I saw them work in the workshops, I found it very interesting.
I picked it up as a symbol, because for me it was a machine for the artist who gave shape to things. The rest of the characters in the story came later, but the lathe came in first.
How is this changing technology prevalent in cinema today? Do you see the same threat as Lathe Joshi faces?
Film, once you use it, you cannot reprint it. Once it is used, the magazine is finished. While shooting, if I have a four minute shot to take, (and then) if I have another shot to take, I have to buy four other cans. Ultimately, it will affect our expenses. Here, on digital, if I have ten takes, I can keep going and copy it.
While the filmmakers have been keen on the digital medium, it hasn't been the same with distribution. There is still the fight for theatrical release, which is the traditional idea, as opposed to releasing films online.
The point is that when you make a film, it is a big medium. It is a larger than life thing.
You see, sound plays in the subconscious mind. You cannot tell the difference. If you remove the sound, it will sound different. When you go to watch a film in a theatre, you don't think about all these (aspects). You just watch the film for its particular story. It will have, or not have those kind of details. You cannot articulate this kind of thing. It goes with the subconscious. A lay person cannot do that.
With international filmmakers, like Christopher Nolan, who shoots resolutely on celluloid. How about Indian filmmakers turn to it?
Only Christopher Nolan has this power. The point is that these are powerful people in Hollywood. Even if you did (shhot on celluloid), you have to have a projection for that. They have removed everything else. Even if you shoot on film, you have to make a DCP (Digital Cinema Package) and give it to them.
We are still talking about shooting on 4K-5K, but they are preparing for a 25K camera and a 11K camera is already being used.
Technology is changing at a crazy speed. They are actually waiting to recoup the money on the 4K camera before they release a 25K into the market. This is a different power game altogether.
When you were speaking about the negative cutter at the talk, it reminded us of scenes from Cinema Paradiso (1988).
It was not a negative cutter, he was a projectionist. A negative cutter actually cuts the film negative, and adds the soundtrack. We, then have a married negative. But, it happens everywhere. Technology changes everything.
Even in your profession of journalism, people never used to capture things with a recorder. Now, everybody is using a recorder. The problem with this facility is that it hears everything. It is not trained to listen to one sound. Now, in the background, people are talking. I can't hear them. I hear a murmur going, but I am listening to you. A recorder will capture everything. When you hear it back, you will be confused.
Things are changing. Nobody has that kind of time. Not even to spend on film. I had invited many journalists to watch this film. I am showing the film for free, but they didn't have time.
I don't know how many Marathi films have travelled to such international festivals, but few people care about it.
Which is why there is the question, how do we get to watch your film, and how do we recommend others to watch it?
We are planning to release the film. We are trying to get an investor into the project. Releasing a film is very expensive. Everytime we try to show the film, people say 'Why would people come and watch this film? There is no fun, there are no songs.'
But it has a relativity to the person on the ground. These arguments about technology, a generation being left behind so suddenly, we have witnessed them around. But getting back to another point, Lathe Joshi is shown as a slow person in a fast world. He travels on a cycle, while his son goes from a bike to a car. Is that just us reading into the symbolism or was that a purposeful ploy?
One needs to understand that whatever you see in the film is conscious. There is no 'accidental art'. It does not exist.
The rest of the people are very adaptive. The son, grandmother, the wife adapt to changes. He (Lathe Joshi) is not. I wanted him to stick to the bicycle.
The colours are also purposeful. Younger Sathe (Joshi's boss in the film) wears yellow. The helmet, worn by Joshi's son, has shades of yellow. The Nano car he buys is yellow. I wanted it that way because yellow is a symbol of change. It is all with a reason.
The point is that a film plays in very different layers. Very few people are able to understand that. You cannot make films in a single dimension. While writing it, I always come up with elements that run through my mind 24/7. Every night I would fill in those images into the scenes.
The scene of the crane carrying the lathe machine like a dead body, happened when I was driving through Pune. It just struck me, I loved it and I penned it down. I knew where I had to shoot it in — Pimpri.
How long did you take to work on the script?
I think 6-8 months I worked on the script, and then 1 month of pre-production. Six months of post production played through.
The casting is a fantastic job as well. It enhances the film to such a level. How did it come about?
I know all of them actually. Except, Sevatai Chauhan who played the grandmother. One of my friends recommended her. She has been acting since the last 40-50 years. She accepted, but she was 84 that time. I was very worried if she would be able to handle the pressure of shooting.
We had a wonderful workshop of 2 weeks. It was because of her that they really gelled up as a family.
You spoke about technology outrunning people. From the film, there is the sense of technology outrunning itself. The scene where Dinesh has to cancel an order of laptops because he can't find a graphic chip that isn't available in the market stands out. Do you, as a filmmaker, worry about technology in cinema moving too fast. There are mediums changing, with online platforms, and formats changing. How do you approach it?
I worry about it all the time. I do believe that cinema is a dying art. When the government put in 28% GST on cinema (for tickets priced over Rs100), the same as gambling, I found it very disturbing. If you look at the failure rate of cinema, across languages, it is 85-90%. Only few films, a la Dangal, once in five-ten years manage to be a success. Most of the films can't do that. Most of the films don't release in theatres at all. They directly go to Amazon or NetFlix.
At one point, there will be saturation. They will have more content than the demand. The supply chain will be thrown off. Amazon has already stopped buying films. But the amount they were offering two years back, they aren't offering today.
Even in theatres, people are distracted. They pick up their phone, they chitchat on whatsapp while watching a film. They just can't enjoy the sheer experience of cinema. People don't respect this medium anymore.
This changing scenario is...this kind of cinema (Lathe Joshi) needs proper attention. It is a mise-en-scène. You have to enjoy every frame. Like classical music. You have to enjoy every taan, every raga. Notice that the singer is travelling from this raga to that one.
Similarly, you have to have a certain knowledge about cinema. How to watch, how to notice things, to interpret an image.
You mentioned in the talk that you don't choose music to raise emotions. But there are particular points where the music plays an important role.
There is sound and there is music. I was quite happy with the music in the film, but I realized I shouldn't use the music in the film. Only if I am making a film about a musician should I use music.
It is very easy to create an emotion, play loud music. My composer created a 1-hour track for the film. We just used 7-8 minutes. You have to have the visual power, the drama, intensity through characters and camera work to stimulate the emotions in audiences' mind to sustain. Music is a very easy way out.
Even if you play music, and ask people to walk, people will feel it.
What was the purpose of Lathe Joshi?
Well, it is not such an easy question. A film is not a commodity that everyone takes the same thing from it. People have their own perspective towards life, so everybody will take a different thing.
My work is done as an artist, now the film is in public domain. People will decide what they want to take and what they want to leave.
People should watch the film peacefully. It is not a fast paced film like Baahubali. I just want people to look at these 3 minute shots and enjoy it.
Did that play into the struggle of getting the film into theatres, the slow pace and mise-en-scène kind of cinema?
I have always wondered about it. Slow films are boring is what people believe. I will give you the example of classical music. The lay person thinks that the singer is singing the same thing again and again. But he is not singing the same thing. You have to have the knowledge to understand that he is moving in the raga, taan. But people are focussing on the word.
In light music, the word is important. When they jump from stanzas to others, the listener thinks the singer is moving.
The same thing here when people don't know what to see in the shot, they will say he is not moving. The scene is going nowhere. What they don't understand is to show mundaneness in real life, there is no 'cut to'. Even though cinema is a manipulation of time and space, you have to decide how much you have to manipulate.
People don't have that kind of time and patience left. Nobody makes this kind of cinema because nobody understands it anymore. We haven't been taught to see this kind of cinema.
We have come to believe that only films which entertain you are good films. That's why it is easier to sell vada pav than a protein shake.
You have to accept the fact that people won't watch the film in numbers. We knew that even while making (Lathe Joshi). Although Marathi films are making Rs100 crore now.
You spoke about Marathi cinema making money, but do you think there is more space for such films in Marathi cinema today, rather than the mainstream. There are films like Kaasav (2016) which stand as an example.
Experiments have always been there in Marathi cinema. Kaasav was by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar, who have been making films for 20 years. People often credit Shwaas (2003) as the film that broke through, but they have been making films before Shwaas. Their films have travelled to so many international film festivals.
Now, the numbers have gone up. Also because of technology, technology has become cheap. Anybody can make a film. People don't think in conventional ways. Even in Hindi cinema, they do different kind of cinema.
I actually think regional Hindi cinema, like Newton, Parched (2016), and Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017), are better than Marathi cinema. In Marathi cinema, the percentage is very low. Hardly 1% of people attempt, or go to, such kinds of cinema. Most of the people follow the trend.
Even Sairat (2016) is an adoloscent love story. Because one film succeeded and another, they keep repeating it. Very few films are based on different subjects and have a different story narration.
Bollywood (Hindi cinema) has been changing for a while. Even Aamir Khan's Dangal was a very good film, with a very different form of story telling. There is no romance. There is a very honest portrayal. As a filmmaker, I loved it.
There are some things here and there, but the effortwise I loved it. The screenplay is wonderful. You hardly see such screenplay in Hindi cinema now. There is no scene that is unnecessary.
Is that possibly because of poor editing?
No, it is not poor editing. It is again a conscious decision. People think it will sell, so it is a product creation. They know their audience, they know their consumers.
We show it in film festivals because we have a different audience there. That is our satisfaction.
Are you working on any other projects?
No, I am still in this film because it is my own money. So, I will first recover money from this film then I will think of a next one.
But we really hope we will be able to see your film in theatres again.
I hope so too, because it is people like you who will get the numbers (viewers) in. And we want the numbers, because, ultimately, it will change the game. We can go up to them to say 'See, we have the numbers for such films.'
They (distributors) have their own problems, and they are valid problems. They do need the numbers to keep their theatres functioning. It becomes our responsibility to bring in a more educated audience. I hope we can bring about a change to it.