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What happens to a director whose film fails commercially?

Rituparna Chatterjee | http://MasalaBai

Updated: February 26, 2013, 10:17 AM IST
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What happens to a director whose film fails commercially?
Nambiar, the director of 'David', says a failure often tempts a filmmaker to sell out to the Bollywood 'formula'.

New Delhi: What happens to a director whose film fails at the Box Office? Does it crush him? Does it leave him a cynic? Bejoy Nambiar, the 33-year-old director of 'David', says it really tempts him to sell out to the Bollywood 'formula' and make a commercially safe film.

But he picks up the pieces on Monday after a particularly bad Friday, and steels himself for the blows that are sure to come. He doggedly goes out and makes the films that he wants to make, because, hell, and I quote, in the end you will only be known for the body of work you leave behind.

When I tell Nambiar, who's only two-feature-film-old, that his work is an acquired taste, he enthusiastically agrees. His 2011 film 'Shaitan' was a deliciously dark thriller that was a slow-starter commercially but picked up praise for its unique portrayal of the perversions of city life.

What happens to a filmmaker whose film flops?

"You are talking to one," Nambiar says with a chuckle.

"It's really a tight rope that you are walking right now. Like right now everyone around me thinks I should do a commercially safe film. I have to do something I'm not really good at and I might actually suck at it. I have to really think if I should continue doing this (making the films he wants) or whether or go for a package deal," he says during a phone interview right after the release of his film 'David', a Tamil-Hindi bilingual starring Vikram, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Monica Dogra, Vinay Virmani and Isha Sharvani.

I'm almost afraid to ask what a Bollywood package deal includes. "It means one big star, one big actress, a subject - like already a hit film in Tamil - just remake it. That's the easiest route for me. Trust me, I have enough offers also to do the same, but come on! The choice is whether I go that way or struggle and make the kind of films I want to make."

If anything, the young filmmaker is brutally honest. He admits he got too close to 'David' to look at it objectively. If 'Shaitan' tried to explain the dualities and degeneration of the urban youths, 'David' is diametrically opposite in concept and celebrates the coming-of-age of the young.

David didn't find that wide connect

"I just wanted to move as far away from 'Shaitan' as possible. Once 'Shaitan' was done, the easiest thing for me to do was do was something close to it. In my second film, I wanted to go as far away from 'Shaitan' as possible. In fact 'David' was written even before 'Shaitan'," Nambiar says.

Not every film needs to conform to a set way of reaching people's expectations, he says. "It is an attempt. That way 'Shaitan' is also like that. A simple plan gone wrong. David is also about the same thing. What I tried with it, didn't manage to find that wide connect. It didn't manage to cross over and become a bigger film that it could have been," Nambiar says.

"I expect the audience to come with me when I'm taking them through three stories. If 'David' had worked then you would see more and more films like this for sure. But movies like these need to deliver at least to a certain extent. I'm not saying they need to become blockbusters and make 150 crore. At least become a certified hit for more intelligent films to come," he says.

I showed 'David' to 85 people, only 2 talked about the length

Indulgence is risky, ask any director. It's near impossible to look at your own content objectively. "You asked me if I would do 'David' differently if I could. I was too attached to the content. The length of the film is something I'd look at. I did cut down as much as possible. I would have stripped it further," Nambiar says. Nambiar showed 'David' to 85 people before its release.

"Two people talked about the length. 83 didn't mind the length. The feedback was very positive. Nobody talked about the length," he says.

Of course you'll take it hard, it's your baby

Nambiar, who worked as an assistant director with Mani Ratnam and interned with Hollywood producer Ashok Amritraj after winning the TV show 'Gateway To Hollywood', says he was so confident that David would work that he took it hard when it didn't.

"I'm taking it in my stride now, you know, but the weird thing is, I haven't told this to anyone - in the whole chaos of making the film (and I was happy the way the content was rising up from what I had written) - that I actually didn't prepare for this, for the film not to work. I was so confident that the film will definitely connect. Because for me, it was a better film than 'Shaitan', there was no doubt in my head".

When the numbers started coming, I wasn't prepared for this

"And when that Sunday-Monday when the numbers started coming, I kept thinking it's going to pick up, but then it didn't, that was really...I wasn't ready for that," says Nambiar.

"It took a bit of time for it to sink in that - ok the film has not worked. When you are making a film you think arey, maybe chaley nahi, flop ho sakti hai, I actually wasn't ready for that. Now, going forward to my third film, that will be playing in my head."

I hate dumbing down my content

Nambiar is sure about one thing. He wouldn't dilute his content for an audience that wants a quick fix.

"When people tell me yahan ki logon ko samajh mein nahi aayegi, I tell them 'listen you and me are the people the watching the film. I'm considering myself as the audience and if I get it, of course the other guy will get it'. The multiplex audience is an intelligent audience. They are used to watching all kinds of TV shows, they download and watch foreign films, they are used to all kind of content and they are not dumb."

Making successful films these days is a formula. "I'm not going to sit and think yeh definitely paise banayegi. It's not going to be like that".

New ideas, new voices, new talent need to come out

That he was disappointed with David's reception is an understatement. Yes, a 'Dabangg' works in our industry. It's huge fun to watch too. "But in the long run I think we'll only be watching these kinds of films. We need breakout films. We need films which give you new ideas. New voices, new talent needs to come out." Nambiar is hopeful that years from now, David will have the audience it deserved.

"I'm very proud of my film, whatever people may say. Maybe in years to come it will find an audience," he says.

He wants to keep experimenting even in the limited scope that the Hindi film industry offers and despite its crippling restraints. There are many filmmakers before him who have.

"Kamal sir (Kamal Haasan) is 10 steps ahead in that matter. Look at Vishal sir (Vishal Bharadwaj), every film he does has something new, even if some of them have not worked. We will still experiment, we will still fight. You either sell out and make the easy kind of films or you keep fighting. Because then at the end of the day you will be known by the body of work you do."

First Published: February 26, 2013, 10:17 AM IST
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