It’s time to take risks and be original, says the maker of the critically-acclaimed film Mahek

Sumithra Thangavelu

Cinema should be taken seriously, otherwise we may end up with future generations that can only dance and sing but not have the ability to think, says director-screenwriter Kanade Kranti, whose debut feature, Mahek, was recently included in the curriculum at Otterbein College, one of the oldest universities in the US.

The 80-minute Hindi film about Mahek, an 11-year-old girl whose dismal attempts to be the best in everything she does is further complicated by “a magic-less Modern Fairy”, will be shown in two courses — Integrative Studies Programme and the Teaching of Modern India.

The university had earlier included Mr & Mrs Iyer and Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi in its syllabus.

It’s easy to get drawn into Kranti’s metaphysical ode to cinema as he speaks of it as a means for introspection, a philosophical journey, a medium to empower the viewer (“not enslave them”), and which wields power to influence the world’s subconscious and, therefore, evolution itself (after the release of Gandhi, 12 Nobel laureates came together to sign a declaration for non-violence, he cites as example).

His take on global commercial cinema, however, is far from flattering. “It ‘sells’ dreams, not ‘shows’ them,” says the 29-year-old.

“Bollywood, for instance, doesn’t nurture its writers. Humans have evolved in their ability to express but the industry suffers from plagiarism and lack of worldview. I haven’t seen more than five new stories in the last eight years.”

Mahek strives to be an original expression, says Kranti. At one level, it’s about the need to “respect” not “patronise” children. At another level, it’s about the director’s own painful childhood with teachers who wielded the cane instead of showing understanding. At yet another level, it’s about the impact of sudden economic freedom in India on a child’s value system.

Made in 2007, the humorous film produced by Children’s Film Society of India has since been doing the festival rounds, winning Best Feature Film Award at the 10th Arpa International Film Festival 2007 in Hollywood and this April, the Best Feature Film (Family) Platinum Remi Award at the 41st Houston International Film Festival 2008. Its India release is sometime after August this year.

Indian films have almost no market share in the US but this can change if the ‘stories’ are told, instead of dishing out the same old dance-and-song sequences, says Kranti, who also makes furniture and wood artefacts as a hobby and runs an NGO for destitute children in Pune. “Our films lack coherence or logic and that Americans are not used to.”

Global cues

Mahek had an international crew and, for Kranti, this brought “amazing” lessons: from associate director Matthias Schwelm, from Berlin, who wanted to lock all shots before shooting, that “there is nothing more practical than a good theory”; from music composer Mathieu Lamboley, from Paris, who didn’t know good English, that it was “getting the message across through my eyes, colours, texture… then you realise how similar we all are…”

Technically, Mahek is Kranti’s first film, but as a student at FTII his thesis film Chaitra (Spring), with Sonali Kulkarni in the lead, won three National Film Awards and two National Awards at Mumbai International Film Festival. Despite the recognition, Kranti had felt his work was not lucid enough and chose to study further, entering the Producers Programme at UCLA.

But what really pushed him on his cinematic journey was a one-year sabbatical during his student days at Ferguson College, Pune, when he travelled through north India. He recalls how for every 200 miles, people had a different language or dialect, ways and mindsets, and “they spoke all the time in stories. I came back with a million pictures in my mind and started a film club in college.”

Then 400 Blows by François Truffaut happened. “The film blew me away. It brought back my own painful childhood and, at the same time, it brought a strange feeling of calm. That’s it, I said. All stories can be told! And cinema chose me.”

Next up is an English film which will be shot near Pune. It’s a boarding-school drama, with Indian and British actors in the lead. The crew, once again, will be a mix of Indians and foreigners, and Kranti has his fingers crossed for an international production- distribution.

“The reason I work with new people and those from other countries is to keep myself constantly off-balance. Because, as long as I’m unsure of the outcome I’m happy. That means I’m trying... trying hard. Art is attempt,” he says.

He is positive that different types of Indian films can gain acceptance from commercial-film audiences provided a culture of good-cinema viewing is built up, including films as part of school curriculum, a nationwide chain of cinemas to screen such films, more funds to nurture the arts and producers who seek originality.

“It’s difficult to tell an original story, however non-masterly, because it’s risky. But what is life without original expression?” he asks.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 6, 2008)
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