Mankhurd, an independent feature film directed by Praveen Giri, doesn’t hold back. It tells the story of a Muslim father and daughter in Mumbai, where they get wrongfully accused of an attack. After its premiere at the Chennai International Film Festival, the director sat down for exclusive chat with Hindustan Times where he opened up about the process of making the film within a tiny budget but without an iota of compromise. Excerpts. (Also read: Merry Christmas to Killer Soup: The deadly common thread between them)
I watched Mankhurd and it kept me awake. It was so hard hitting. Talk to me about the journey of the film.
Being an independent filmmaker, we didn’t have a proper budget to finish our film. We were working on a collaboration basis with the artists and actors. The actors who performed in the film are not trained actors. We picked for the part who showed passion to act. We trained them for 2-3 months. As we didn’t have proper budget to star professional actors, so we worked in that way.
It took me 3 months to complete the writing of Mankhurd. Post that, we went for location recce. We shot the film within 7-8 days. Then we took time for post production. We also did live recording but editing and colour grading took the longest time. Amidst this, I shot another short film called Nightingales in the Cucoon, which I submitted to the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. I thought that if I attended the festival, I could get connections to co-produce Mankhurd. Unexpectedly, our short film got awarded and that was completely out of the blue. That prize money helped me complete the post-production work of Mankhurd.
I’m surprised that you chose the setting of Mankhurd to be in Mumbai, whereas you belong from Tamil Nadu? Was it a deliberate choice to situate the film in Mumbai? Was it a real life incident that inspired the story?
Yes, most of the incidents which I show in Mankhurd is inspired from true events only. Even the aspect of the railway station is based on a true story- even I was surprised to see those things there. I was researching about the place from an year ago, and I got to know that a certain number of people who live in Mankhurd are from Tamil Nadu. I wanted to show the rooted life they live, without any sense of compromise. When people from Mumbai came to Chennai International Film Festival and saw the film, even they were surprised by these points. Because in films generally, we see a very different Mumbai and we wanted to show a different side to the city. Even Nightingales in the Cucoon (his short film) is shot in Dharavi.
Since you mentioned about the issue of budgeting in Mankhurd, talk to me a little about the journey of the film and what were your takeaways from this experience.
Our production banner is named Unchained Pictures. We had a perception that if a film has to be made we must have a fixed sum, with which we need to complete it. But that stereotype is not true, a film can be done with a minimum budget… one just needs a good story and a passionate team. I was almost supposed to be making a film with a proper production house, but I don’t know if it would be made in the way I wanted, without any restrictions. So with my production, I know exactly what to show in the film.
Talk to me a little bit on the choice of ratios in Mankhurd. Was it always a deliberate choice on your part?
Yes. That was intentional. We decided that aspect during shoot, because I wanted to put the audience into a box. They should feel the suffocation. In the film, that part is drawn out through the response to the suffering- there was no deliberateness to that emotion. They are conveyed through the performances, and shrinking of the screen reflects that exact feeling. The intention was there from the beginning.
I wanted to know about your references as a filmmaker, about some of the directors who have inspired your work.
I think the narrative boldness comes from director Pa Ranjith. He is a revolutionary filmmaker. His stories are for the people, and I got that confidence from him as a filmmaker. I write when an incident or a story impacts me a lot. I am also inspired by the works of director Bala. Also, PS Vinothraj. He made a film without any lead actor or without any production house, which gave me a lot of confidence. No established actors to be in the front, just a solid story and execution and the film will click.
How do think the market for independent films has evolved in the last few years? Do you see change?
I don’t know if I will be able to pitch Mankhurd to the theatres, because their market is completely different. At least if I am able to release it in OTT, I would be able to recover the funds.
I don’t have any film background and I don’t know how the OTT market works. I am not sure how to pitch this film to the censor board or whether it will get cleared. Recently a Tamil film also got removed from a streaming site. I don’t know whether OTT would be interested in my film, not because of its politics but also for the template that is attached to projects. We don’t have established actors so there is no commercial template attached to Mankhurd. Even now, 90 minute-long films are bracketed as short films. Feature films are considered to be two hours long or more. For instance, Pebbles is just 70 minutes-long. The audience also has to take the onus and it’s a collective process at the end of it. Only then will we be able to see more films. If Mankhurd succeeds I will be able to begin my next project. One is not able to present the film on a platform, since we don’t have a market for such kind of films. That needs to be positioned foremost.
Take a look at the Malayalam industry- where we can see mainstream cinema exist beside a film like Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam or Jallikattu. These films are backed by the superstars of the industry. This is a practice which must be in every industry, not just in the Tamil industry. In that regard, Mammootty sir has been instrumental in creating a market for independent films. Last year it was Mammootty’s year, with the kind of support for independent cinema. Only then will the market be in place.