New Delhi: Onir, also known as Anirban Dhar, came into limelight with 'My Brother Nikhil' (2005) which dealt with the issues of AIDS and same sex relationship. 'Bas Ek Pal' and 'Sorry Bhai' came in 2006 and 2008 but they failed to make any mark at the box office despite being critically appreciated. Onir has won the National Award for 'I Am' (2011). He talks to IBNLive about the problems of independent filmmaking in India.
Q: How did the idea of independent filmmaking come to your mind?
A: Right through the beginning. I think we were trying to make 'My Brother Nikhil', at that time we approached studios and private producers but they were reluctant. So we decided to make it on our own and started shooting in 2004. Then we realised that it's the kind of film which we wanted to produce.
Q: 'My Brother Nikhil' failed to grab attention at the box office.
A: Box office is not necessarily the driving force. 'My Brother Nikhil' was critically appreciated, it travelled across the world. It did extremely well on satellite and DVD. Ultimately we recovered some money.
Q: 'Bas Ek Pal' had a completely different treatment than 'My Brother Nikhil'.
A: 'Bas Ek Pal' is a totally different film than 'My Brother Nikhil' so it couldn't have the similar treatment. Content of a film decides the treatment, it was much more layered, a lot of things happening simultaneously. Much more complexities were involved in 'Bas Ek Pal' in terms of structure while 'My Brother Nikhil' was a straight forward film.
Q: 'Sorry Bhai' was high on style.
A: As a filmmaker you grow with each film. For me I was never a part of the new stream filmmaking where structure and technique are given the prime importance, where film has to look glamorous. I like to experiment, grow and try out different things. In 'Sorry Bhai' I wanted to use sea as the second narrative.
Q: 'I Am' explores identities at various levels.
A: Yes, 'I Am' explores about identities at various levels. It's also about my identity as a filmmaker. It is the first film in South Asia which is made through social networking, crowd funding and crowd sourcing, and it becomes an important statement as a filmmaker. The audiences have made the film; they are the ones who have funded the film so it is also about their identities. It's also about all the characters, for me in a country like India which is deeply polarized and which is increasingly becoming intolerant to the people of different religion, colour, caste, gender, sexuality you name it. I feel the importance of telling the stories of the people who have masked lives because the society denies them that freedom.
Q: Do you really think that the intolerance is growing?
A: I think the audiences are growing but it's the system which is trying to perpetuate the thought that the people don't want to think. If this could have been true then how come 'I Am' became the highest selling DVD in first three weeks of its release? Today as a buyer it doesn't make any sense to me that if a go to a theatre to watch Rs 150 crore 'RA.One' then I go to the same theatre to watch a Rs 1.5 crore Onir film for the same 300 bucks. It's the entire distribution and exhibition system which is making it difficult. The audience is there but the system is not supportive. The media is also not very supportive. Some of the important print and TV channels are not promoting such films. Publicity has become such a money game that only big budget films find presence in newspapers and TV, so everything is driven by money not content.
Q: Crowd funding must not be an easy task.
A: Crowd funding was more of a necessity than a deliberate decision. When we realised that we wouldn't possibly be able to arrange the finance then we decided to put together four different stories into a film because arranging finance for each story was not an easy job. Somehow people connected to the film and they became a part of the journey.
Q: Crowd funding can be helpful for independent filmmaking.
A: There are filmmakers who are exploring the opportunities. Anurag Kashyap is making two films through crowd funding and it can become an important tool but it is too early to say anything.
Q: You have worked as editor with Prakash Jha and Kalpana Lajmi but your style doesn't resemble with them.
A: As a filmmaker I don't have an idol. I always wanted to have a style of my own. I have worked with Prakash Jha and Kalpana Lajmi who were trying to refine their style as filmmakers. Ultimately a film is how the filmmaker wants it to look like. Prakash is extremely particular about how his films should look, so I think my editing work in 'Rahul' or 'Daman' is not really something that can define my style as such.
Q: What are your future projects?
A: Right now, under my production company we are producing three films; the first film is 'Chauranga' by Bikash Mishra and the second is 'Coach Kameena' by Ashwini Malik. I am directing the third film.