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'Everyone watches pirated films'

She’s 38 but looks a lot younger thanks to her bubbly nature. Shailja Gupta knows the mechanics that goes into film production and is also involved in the business side. She helmed the digital marketing and promotion for RA.One while writing her first indie film. The Kolkata-born New York-based ‘struggling filmmaker’ is currently working on her second film. We caught up with her for more...

Your first film Walkaway never released. Is that discouraging?
Such things happen. After web designing, I wanted to dabble in filmmaking so I collected money from friends and made the movie the way I wanted to. Of course, it hurts not to see it release but I’m grateful to people who helped. Resul (Pookutty) worked on the sound design while Vishal-Shekhar provided the music — not to forget, Ram Sampath who gifted me two songs.

And when exactly did Shah Rukh Khan enter the picture?
We two go back to the days when I was designing the logo for Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. Since my film was shot in NYC, I wanted to complete the post-production part in India. On learning that I was falling short of money, he donated some funds to the project sans paperwork.

How do you perceive indie cinema in India?
The genre seems to have found a direction. Needless to mention, Anurag Kashyap has played a huge part by launching new talents. Having said that, there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome.

What kind of obstacles?
A film is a product— be it mainstream or independent. And like any other commodity, it has to catch the attention of the consumer. In India, only mainstream films are getting that exposure. This gap has to be filled with marketing followed by distribution.

What role can the government play?
Apart from the lack of structural distribution, the biggest problem often lies in infrastructure. In the US, the government ensures that upcoming filmmakers are adequately supported. For instance, I didn’t have to pay a single penny to get permissions to shoot on the streets of New York.

At the Toronto International Film Festival, you spoke about the paradox of being on both sides of the fence…
(Laughs) Well, it’s a paradox. On one hand, I’m an independent filmmaker and on the other, I work with a big production house. I had been to Toronto earlier too when we took Chokher Bali to the fest. I switch easily from one genre to another (laughs again). If I didn’t know what goes behind filmmaking—the PR, word-of-mouth, reviews and ads—I would have been an ignorant indie filmmaker.

Does Bollywood’s style of filmmaking interest you?
I enjoy it a lot as I grew up on it. But I don’t think Bollywood should have to cater to the international market per se. World cinema is all about packaging your content—dropping a few songs here and there! We are a country of 1.2 billion so why not concentrate on making sure that our films are watched by all of
our countrymen?

Are you optimistic about the digital platform?
Due to the internet, the digital platform has become a reality. Even a kid with an odd handycam can shoot something and upload it on YouTube. The generation that preceded us didn’t hand down this privilege. Similarly, it has its share of negatives too.

Like?
Piracy, for example. Everybody talks about it but almost everybody watches pirated films. It’s a huge problem. There are measures to curtail its spread. But a hacker is always going to be one step ahead of us.

What’s next for you?
My next film will be a comedy but I can’t divulge much as it’s in the writing phase. I’m also working on an art exhibition to commemorate Indian cinema’s 100th year.
 

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