Sandeep Mohan – is an independent-spirited screenwriter-filmmaker, who has just finished his second movie “Hola Venky”. His directorial debut Love, Wrinkle-free, which is based on an original script written by him, was critically acclaimed. Sandeep has previously worked as an Assistant Director to Mr. Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. He has also conceived and written “Siddhanth” which was India′s nominees for Emmy Awards in 2007.
Bollywoodirect got chance to talk to him about his movies and more. Here are the excerpts from the exclusive interview.
Your movie Hola Venky has been appreciated internationally; tell us a little about this film.
Hola Venky is the story of an Indian Techie living in Matunga, divorced, middle-aged and depressed, and how a trip to San Francisco for a training changes his life – there he ends up losing 2% of his “organ” forcing him to introspect on stereotypical notions of masculinity/machismo. He also gets exposed to the world of Mexicans through a Private Detective and falls head over heels in love with Mariachi music among other things…It is a 88 minute fun film made under a miniscule budget of 10 lakhs and shot by a 3 member crew – my camera person, my sound recordist and me.
The story is based on IT Professional. How you did initially conceptualized the story on this theme?
See, I don’t hang out with the friends from the film industry as they are constantly talking about movies. It is quite boring to hear people talking about movies all the time. I prefer the companies of normal people…many of my friends are Techies or the office going kinds. I like to observe and hear from them about their life and it really fascinates me as how one can devote one’s entire life to a 9 to 6 existence. These are really bright people who devote their entire productive life to the cause of some big corporations in return for the big salaries. It is fun to be with them. In Hola Venky, I just wanted to explore the psyche of a typical Indian male techie– about the stress related divorces, the obsession with “groin”, their unfulfilled dreams etc.
Your innovative and unconventional way to screen the movies in unusual places has quite impressed a lot of people. What is the reason behind it?
Honestly I don’t do anything to impress anyone. If someone gets impressed, I don’t complain of course! I just wanted to figure out a way to survive in this tough industry where no one let’s you through if you have an independent mind. For me, I wanted to always make the movies that I like. I love writing scripts, my movies are character based, not very plot centric. I also produce my films by getting together funders and other crew members. Then I direct the movie. Now it’s only at the exhibition of the movie stage that I am dependent on lots of people who I don’t really understand. These are hard core businessmen who don’t understand my language. They have their own rules and ideas of what and how things are done. They can easily get up and say that my movies don’t have an audience, and I tell them that there is an audience and with smart marketing, we can take our little film to that audience, then they get offended. They believe they are experts in marketing. I read somewhere this quote “Marketing is much too important to be left to the Marketing Department”.
I know about my movie and the audience that I have made my movie for than these guys who are working in their companies for their monthly salaries. I have a passion that these guys don’t see nor respect. So I decided to make an attempt my way. At least I wanted to try. No fun giving up too easily. With Hola Venky, I wanted to figure out for myself whether there is an audience for the kind of movies that I make, and hence I came up with the concept of “The Great Indian Traveling Cinema” where I travel with the Projector and screen my movie in various alternative spaces – be it a café, office, college, art gallery, restaurant, pubs, libraries, any space. I ask people to Pay as they wish if they like the movie. I get to interact with the audience post the screening, take questions from them. Also this process is extremely satisfying creatively since I am pretty much doing what I want without any questions being asked. I write and direct the movie I want, and then take it around showing it to people. I just like that kinda freedom. I don’t know how long I will be able to do it, but that is true of life too…who knows how long I am going to live..might as well live it my way.
What were the challenges you faced in this new way of Screening?
The challenges were mostly technical. To get the Sound right in different venues is sometimes tough. Also getting these Venues for free, which is my concept, is a challenge at times. But these kind of challenges are part and parcel of life, one has to be ready to find innovative solutions. In fact, filmmaking is not for the weak hearted anyways…I use these kind of challenges to learn a bit more about production. Honestly, I don’t want to complain when I have the kind of freedom that I have in creating films and screening them on my own. I just try to enjoy the journey and process and make new friends and travel to new places and experience new things. Hopefully all these new experiences will weave its way into the scripts that I work on for my future films…I have traveled with the film to more than 85 locations till now, and I will continue this journey for a while.
You have also worked as an Assistant Director with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, what has that experience been like?
That was one of my earliest jobs. It was fun while it lasted. I was like this small frog in a big big well, totally lost. No idea what was going on. The biggest lesson that I learned there was the importance of planning. To this day, I am hands-on involved in every aspect of preproduction right from scheduling to other details. So yes, every experience teaches you something or the other…Also I realized that I am not cut out to make blockbuster movies with ball busting songs. So I stick to telling my little stories with a lot of heart and try to roam around finding my audience. It is more fun this way.
In both of your movies (Love, wrinkle free and Hola venky) you have picked unconventional themes. Isn’t it a risk to go for such an unconventional concept?
I don’t think of taking unconventional themes. I pick themes or ideas that excite me. For me, movies help me make sense of the world around me. That is the only reason why I make films. It is a great medium that helps me stay sane in my real life. Frankly, what you call as unconventional is normal for me. I think in this way, I cannot help it. I won’t be able to do justice to the film if I pick up themes that I don’t believe in or feel for or am interested in exploring. In Love, Wrinkle-free, my first film, I wanted to do a fun take on the society’s obsession with staying young. In Hola Venky, I am trying to explore the Indian Male’s obsession with his groin and how when a man loses 2% of his “organ”, he starts to question the notions of machismo that prevails in Indian society. I love to explore deeper ideas with a light touch. I try to stay away from melodrama, yet try to keep the film engaging for the sensible audience. I am not art house or fart house, I am happy in my rented 2 BHK house!
Nowadays, independent movie makers are appearing with their films more than ever. What are the reasons behind it? Do you think the entry barrier has been lowered down due to social media?
I think it is mainly because people have easier access to digital cameras and even easier access to uploading their films on Youtube or other online portals. Since the entry barrier has lowered, the competition and the noise in the social media about indie films is also very high. Personally for me, there has to be reason to want to make a film. And script is king. For me, the script is everything and at times, in the desire to make a movie somehow, and be counted among the filmmakers, the script takes a backseat…
Are there any other projects that you are working or planning to work on?
I keep writing. I have a few scripts. At the right time, I will move into the next film and will stay true to my beliefs and make it. Also I have been part of a film called X – a film made by 11 filmmakers that is doing the festival circuit right now. When I am not writing or making films, I devote my time to Badminton and play some tournaments here and there. I don’t want to be the guy who is just making films. I want to have a life. So I travel, meet people, live life and make movies about these things or things that I get curious about.