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Interview Hindi

If there are more Mantos, I would love to make them: Filmstoc's Namrata Goyal

The 29-year-old producer spoke with Cinestaan.com about the challenges surrounding Nandita Das's film, her own debut as producer, and the future of cinema as she views it in the digital age. 

Shriram Iyengar

At the recent Jagran Cinema Summit held on 21 September, Manto director Nandita Das spoke about the increasing threat of digital platforms to a more stifled and less diverse cinema production. Incidentally, the panel of six, consisted of most members born before the digital boom took place in India. That's why Namrata Goyal and Filmstoc offer a fresh perspective on the world of cinema production. 

Namrata is the daughter of Naresh Goyal, founder of Jet Airways. Manto marks the production debut of Namrata's own Filmstoc. It is one of the production partners of the film, which includes Viacom18, HP Studios and Nandita Das Initiatives. The film, a period biopic on the writer Sa'adat Hassan Manto, is directed by Nandita Das, and released on 21 September. 

Speaking with Cinestaan.com, the young producer spoke about the need to back films like Manto. 

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"If there are more Mantos, I would love to make them. I come from a privileged family, and people like us don't support films like this then it is a sad state of affairs," she says matter-of-factly. 

Despite that, production remains a business motivated by profit and rightly so. Films are a risky enterprise, and perhaps, this is why producers have started taking on a diverse range of stories to reach out to their audience. 

"It just cannot be about somebody dancing around trees. If it is a commercial film, then it has to have some substance to it," Namrata adds. Manto seems to be a step in the right direction. 

Following are excerpts from the interview:

How did you choose to produce Manto. The film is quite niche, in terms of its subject and lead. As producer making her debut, did you consider these elements before choosing it?

The thing is when we made the film we did not categorise it as niche or mainstream. We would like the film to reach a maximum amount of people. I don't like to use the word niche, this film actually targets the youth. The youth is the catalyst for social change. 50% of our population is under the age of 30, who need to be exposed to the state of our country. 

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It is very important that this film reaches the maximum amount of people for them to stand up to what they believe in. Also, Manto is a very interesting character. The entire story is a story of a man struggling with his personal life, because he is accused of writing obscene works. He is fighting for writers. All that is very interesting, but at the same time, his battle with his wife, his children as he has not been the best of fathers, and his complete love for Bombay as a city. Even as a story, apart from the context, it is an extremely engaging and interesting film. 

If there are more Mantos, I would love to make them. I come from a privileged family, and people like us don't support films like this then it is a sad state of affairs. 

Still from Manto 

What were the challenges involved in producing the film. As a new production house, choosing to make a period film might have had its own share of troubles?

The story is that Manto's first schedule started, and before the second schedule, the producers who were then part of Manto backed out. I had known Nandita for a very long time, and we got in touch, and she sent me the script. I read it, and immediately wanted to invest in it, and be part of the whole process. 

I didn't think about the consequences or the repercussions of us being a small production house. I think that does not matter. If you have a good film, a small or good production house automatically gets recognition because of the quality the film offers. It always depends on the kind of connection you make with the audience. We talk about commercialy viable film, and I am a producer who wants to make a commercially viable film. But I am also a producer who wants to give a voice to those films that actually don't have a voice. 

We always are hoping to make a recovery, because the question is how else do you fund your next project, which might be a proper commercial film? There are challenges, and it doesn't really matter if you are Naresh Goyal's daughter or not. When you are pushed into the well, you either swim or drown yourself. There is nobody there who can help you. 

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I am very clear that this [Manto] was one subject that I did invest on my own. I don't want to invest in singular movies, but to put entire projects together. The challenge is for a 'small' production house, who would want to take the risk? How would you justify it? 

Today, the whole studio system completely overshadows big production houses. Even they are falling back, and turning to MNCs to fund them. My only plea to studios and MNCs is don't just look at feasibility. A film like Manto, how would you check feasibility? No film is similar to another film. You have to trust the story, the script and the filmmaker who will execute it. 

What do you make of the rise of digital cinema, as an alternative platform for audiences that do not subscribe to the mainstream. How does Indian cinema deal with the rising consumer base on this platform?

I agree with the fact that the digital medium has emerged as a key competition. It provides an opportunity that the theatrical medium is unable to. The kind of films, if you take Hindi Medium (2017) crossed over Rs100 crore. I am happy that I am arriving at the time when the notion about cinema is changing. Cinema is something that is accessible as video on demand, to watch at your convenience. 

Still from Manto 

We are not doing an either/or. We are doing a theatrical release, and also looking at different digital platforms whether it is Netflix, Amazon or others... so that it reaches a maximum amount of people. 

As a youngster, you did act in theatre productions. What made you switch to the business side of cinema? Why not acting, or filmmaking?

I have always been interested in drama, but at one point, you realise actors are completely out of control of any situation. They are told what to do. I am a control freak, and realised that it's not my personality [to be not in control]. Second, while putting together the many fashion shows for Mijwaan, I realised that the work on production is exciting. Putting things together, the different elements together is very exciting. 

It was a great combination of being part of a creative process, and putting projects together, commercially or non-commercially. 

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Where do you see your production house, Filmstoc, in a couple of years. What is the ambition? 

I am hoping to make a slate of five films in a year, where I paln to subsidise the films which really need a voice. I want to make different kinds of films, to help understand what cinema is truly about. 

I have been really influenced by auteur cinema. I did my film studies in London, where I studied about Truffaut, Goddard, and Bergman, and that's the kind of films that I would really like to make. Films that have social relevance. 

It just cannot be about somebody dancing around trees. If it is a commercial film, then it has to have some substance to it. 

The audience certainly demands a more wholesome form of entertainment today...

Look at Lunchbox (2013), or Hindi Medium, as I keep coming back to it. Even Taare Zameen Par (2007), it was a commercial film, but the subject is so sensitively handled. These are the stories that people want to see. The audience has completley changed. The audience is far more intelligent, and it is wrong for directors and producers to think that the audience isn't ready. They are more ready today than they have ever been.