|Neeraj Ghaywan (second from left) at the Sundance Institute Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award 2014
Was direction a part of your plan?
I was working pro bono as an editor for Passionforcinema.com (now defunct) while I was working with a daily. During the breaks and after work, I would go through posts sent to PFC online. I was also writing about films I loved. The passion for cinema led me into pursuing a job with UTV Spotboy. That was the only company I wanted to work with at that point as they were making films I wanted to be a part of like Dev D, Udaan, Aamir, Welcome to Sajjanpur and others. I used to write repeatedly to Vikas Bahl (ex CEO of UTV Spotboy). Since there werenít any jobs at UTV Spotboy, I joined one of their companies to get closer to my dream. I was going through a tough time because I wasnít sure if this is what I wanted to do with my career. Although I was closer to cinema, I was doing the corporate stuff. When Anurag Kashyap called me from Madrid, he was writing the script for Gangs of Wasseypur (we knew each other through blogging on PFC). I explained my situation to him and he told me how he made it this far. I was worried about his phone bill but he spoke to me for over an hour. He said: ďCome on this sideĒ and I replied ďBut I donít even know if I have it in meĒ. He convinced me if I donít do it, how would I ever know if I have it in me or not. That had a profound impact on me. After that when he said I can assist him for Gangs of Wasseypur, I asked him about the CTC and he drew a blank as he didnít know what CTC was. Later, he told me it would be a great experience and if I am hard-pressed with money, he will pay my rent. I finished the call, went back to my desk and emailed my resignation.
What was your parentís reaction after you left your job?
My parents were actually looking for matches for my marriage. They forced me to put my profile on one of the marriage sites and set me up to meet someone in Bombay. The same day I quit. I called them to say ďThere is no easier way to do this so I will come straight to the point. I have quit my job and I am not going to get married any soon (Neeraj is 33). I am going to assist in films.Ē My parents tried to act positive at that time but it shook them up. I can totally understand that they were fair on their part. I was a senior manager and was paid really well. It would have been tough for any parent to understand the situation. They didnít speak to me for four-five months. Later they would always try to convince me otherwise. They finally came around when they saw my short film, Shor. My father said: ďI think you were not drawing out one of your fantasy jobs. You were destined to be here and we are with you.Ē
You have been a part of the films that have a rural or sub-urban background. So do you think the stories with the touch of realism belong to small towns?
Every character that is written, inhabits a world, is part of a culture, has a distinct identity that ceases to exist in the writerís mind and becomes a character for real. So realism is being honest to that characterís world and is immaterial what socio-economic background it is part of.
You must be elated to win the 2014 Sundance Institute Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award as an emerging independent filmmaker for Ud Jaayega (Fly away solo). What is the film about?
Fly away solo is a story of five characters caught in the emotional-financial-existential trap of contemporary living in a small town, waiting for an escape. A coming of age story that deals with the loss of closed ones.
What changes have you noticed in filmmaking? There has been a change in story narrating and scripts of Bollywood. What is the reason behind it?
Cinema and filmmaking is in the process of evolution. The changes are driven by some of the external but important force. Here it is the audience. The audience now are more aware, well-read, connected and watch international movies. They are clear with the concept of filmmaking and cinema. These changes are happening to fill the gap between cinema and audience. The reasons behind the cinema taking realism avatar are audience reaction and specific behaviour towards films.
You have never been a part of any institute. Have the non-filmy and non-technical background ever affected your career?
I must admit at one point I did think of going to a film school. I have great respect for those who come from these schools, especially technicians like sound designers and DOPs. Having said that I donít think it is imperative to go to film schools. The two-and-a-half years I spent assisting Anurag Kashyap on Gangs of Wasseypur was my experience of a film school. I was involved in every department -research, pre-production, production, post-production, direction and marketing. I learned the concepts of filmmaking on ground. So, I have no regret of not having gone to a film school.
Everyone has a positive and negative effect of their professions on their lives. Please tell us about the positive and negative role of Bollywood in your life.
I donít think I ever meant it really when I said I am happy. But now that I am making films, I really feel what it means to be happy. So this happiness has had a profound impact on my life and outlook. I think I have learnt how to be frugal and appreciate the little things in life. Yes, I have become workaholic and itís affecting my health. But there is no gain without pain.
What can be a subject for a good story?
There could be multiple stories but the way you tell them is what makes the difference.
Did you get inspired to make research-based cinema after assisting Anurag Kashyap in GOW and Ugly?
It partly came from my academic background in market research. My documentarian approach to filmmaking also inspired me.
Do you feel that Indian cinema is taking research work seriously now? Or itís a set of directors like you who only invest time in research?
I am extremely anal about cultures, sub-cultures and languages. Like I said before, I feel it is my responsibility as a filmmaker to keep the integrity of the character with respect to the world he/she inherits. So I give special emphasis on keeping it real. Also, imagination has its own limitations. As they say, reality is stranger than fiction. I tend to adapt a lot of reality into my fiction. For my film, writer Varun Grover and I spent a lot of time researching on Varanasi. We were also helped by Abhay and Utpal in our research. We have put in a lot of research into the film. So, Iíd say my penchant to research comes from my affinity to tell real stories.
Publicity and promotion have become a major part of a film that increases the budget of the film. What do you think is an appropriate tool for promotion?
It completely depends on the film and the audience. Social media is the most disruptive and clutter breaking form of marketing today. However, you canít promote every film through social media.
The young folks in B-town can multi-task ó writing script, directing, singing and camera. Do you think multitasking is now among the eligibility criteria to enter Bollywood?
It really helps if one can multi-task. A true filmmaker is the one who apart from directing also has an idea of shooting, editing and sound design. It helps in filmmaking. Writer-filmmaker is a great combination but there is no rule to be master of all trades.
From GOW to Ud Jaayega ó how have you grown as a director?
One is continuously growing as a filmmaker. I started as an assistant on GoW. After two short films, I became the second unit director for Ugly. And now I am going to direct my first feature film. It has been a learning process for me.