Q and A With Debut Director whose documentary bagged Rajat Kamal at 66th National Film Awards
Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu honored the winners of the 66th National Film Awards at Vigyan Bhavan. On the occasion, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar announced the launch of 'Real Single Window' by the Film Division to promote the production of films of international level in the country. Many feature and non-feature films bagged the awards and the award for the Best Art and Culture film under the Non Feature Film category was given to 'Bunkar: The Last of The Varanasi Weavers'.
Director Satyaprakash Upadhyay’s very first film focuses on the characteristics, history and the problems of Indian weavers. Describing the National Film Awards as a moment of pride for the entire team, Satyaprakash Upadhyay said that this award has boosted my enthusiasm and also increased the responsibility of raising social issues with prominence. Director Satyaprakash Upadhyay gave Prabhasakshi an exclusive interview after receiving the National Film Award and here are key the highlights-
Question-1. You had to make an artistic film, that is fine, but why you chose this theme?
Like everyone else, I was aware of the issue but the credit for choosing the subject goes to producer. When I was approached with the subject, the idea was to make short video on the cause. As we researched and discovered the real story, I realised that it’s not something a 5 minute film can do justice to. So the concept of a full length documentary was born. I strongly felt that till now videos and films on this topic that I had been able to access, had all been made with various perspectives, but this was a story that needed to be told completely in a multidimensional manner.
Question-2. You were aware of the problems and characteristics of the people of that region, but what new experiences did you get during the making of this film?
In the beginning I just had access to media, news articles, and online documentaries. All of them together gave me the impression of this issue being a unidimensional problem of lack of work and commerce to the weavers of Varanasi, which was hence leading them into a life of poverty. The articles I came across were often Political blame games, and I began to believe that this was basically the governments’ problem. But when I started my on ground research- Casual conversations with weavers and other stakeholders – it all lead us to understand various other aspects, and more importantly why this particular art of handloom weaving needed our special attention. Ngo’s, master weavers, historians and handloom experts who have given their whole life to this cause, are the people we spoke extensively to and understanding the issue from them gave us a better perspective. Hence film is not stereotype or a blame game– it is a genuine documentation of this art, its history and of the reality of these artists – the bunkars.
Question 3. Why films on art are considered commercially risky in India?
All films have a risk component, and I believe a way to mitigate that is to work with honesty, clear vision and research. These three I believe are the ingredients to a good film – no matter which category or genre of film it is. If you have the right ingredients, then it’s a good way to mitigate your risks.
Question-4. Why do documentaries often face controversies? Is the disputed content placed intentionally so that the film can be brought into discussion?
This is my debut documentary and I do not want to comment on what others do or have done and whether it is on purpose. From my experience and the process we followed, I can say for sure we ourselves were also learning along the way as we made the film and the human story of these weavers was documented by us. Not with any intention to make it controversial but as a reflection of reality. The trailer of documentaries sometimes is made to create awareness and therefore seems more controversial. But the entire documentary, when watched, is generally an honest picture. We are extremely sensitive that they are real people and real stories and in no way would we want to utilise their reality to our advantage, our sole purpose is to bring their story to the world, make their voice heard and be a medium of creating an awareness that can fuel a change.
Question-5. What should central or state governments do to further promote films on art?
The audiences and government both play a role. As for the government, maybe if they could provide platforms to screen and showcase films like these it would help greatly in creating awareness. It will bring the audience closer to the cause and filmmakers. Another tool perhaps would be access to Prasar Bharti and such mediums. They can help encourage these kind of films too, and help it penetrate Indian markets via their vast satellite network. I believe this used to happen also till the recent past, the network would effectively reach the story of our arts, culture and rich heritage to crores of people.
Question-6. If we talk about commercial cinema then the trend of remaking old films and remixing of old songs is emerging. Is it actually happening due to the lack of creative scriptwriters or lyricists?
Films in general have commercial considerations involved and hence are risky and so makers are scared to try new or experimentative things any more with a fear that if it doesn’t work they will lose their investments. They prefer to play safe with formulae that exist or have already worked successfully. That is probably the reason for this stagnation. In this scenario then, the one thing that suffers is originality. In a country like ours, talent is not lacking at all its sometimes just courage, to be different or original.
Question-7. Your very first film was so well received, it was honored on various forums and even received the prestigious National Film Award, how much did your enthusiasm as a director grow and what are your plans for the future?
I have been Fortunate my adventurous attempt worked and people received it well. Our documentary also is unconventional in its approach and design, but after this experience I Can confidently say that audiences are ready and in fact craving new and innovative content and methods of handling cinema. More of us should have the courage and make the difference. As for my future plans, there is a feature Film concept I am working on for some years now. Koopmandook. The script is ready and we are actively looking for production avenues. Also we have a production house Narrative Pictures and under that banner we are working and researching on some subjects for documentaries.
Question-8. Would you like to try commercial cinema too?
I am from a “commercial film” background and in fact started my career there. Even my new concept for feature film Koopmandook is on those lines, but I have reservations personally on classifying my work into commercial and non-commercial projects. I want to make films that are important to me and concepts I can relate to. With high Social relevance. Honest and impactful cinema is what I believe in. And that’s what I want to take forward. Then may it fall in the category of mainstream or not.
Question-9. What other subjects for social films do you have in your mind?
Education, and harnessing the energy of today’s youth productively are some social issues very close to my heart. I strongly believe the youth and their political role and participation is this nation’s biggest strength, if given the right direction. Going forward, my cinema will hopefully reflect on these aspects.
Question-10. What message or tips would you like to give to the youth who want to make a career in films as directors, actors etc.?
Only this – don’t plainly focus on technicality, and do not get discouraged if you are less technically qualified than others in this field. All you need is a story – something you want to tell people. Like any art, filmmaking too just needs a message and No matter what art you practice you are only as good as the strength and communication of your message. So make your art (filmmaking) the medium and say it! Your training or lack thereof is not everything. Your vision and your message is what is important.