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Sanjeev Gupta

Cinema has been never an alien land for a school boy from Agra, a place and its surroundings were always bursting with crew and shooting. He went to watch them working in the holy mess of lights, tripods, camera, and actors and the story of a passionate love affair started unfolding, which later rooted and strengthened enough to take him to places and people. Sanjeev Gupta, the award-winning young filmmaker of the upcoming movie, “Q” is one of the prominent figures among the group of filmmakers who break open the new terrains of filmmaking, production, and distribution in the digital era.

His debut feature “Q”, which is getting ready for a Netflix release soon, earned him a number of accolades including the prestigious Gollapudi Srinivas National Award for the Best Debut film. The movie also took around through the film festival circuit and screened at many prominent film festivals like São Paulo International Film Festival, Europe Split Film Festival, and Ecologico International Film Festival, and bagged the Grand Prix Best Feature Film Award at Paris Indian International Film Festival. The movie also earned its leading lady, Heeba Shah the Best Actress Award at Delhi International Film Festival.

In this conversation, Sanjeev goes candid about his debut movie, his journey, and evolution into a filmmaker, who wants to establish an organic bond with the viewers by connecting them with the reality of his movie. “During Agra days, I used to go watching shooting with friends. After watching movies on the screen, the film impressed me deeply was Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari. From there cinema started changing me and I started to think about it more deeply. From that point onwards, I just want films all around me,” remembers Sanjeev.

After completing his media studies in Pune, Sanjeev shifted to Mumbai as an assistant director in 2007. During the AD stint, he worked for UTV and some other production houses, where he learned every nook and cranny of the filmmaking until he left the job with a couple of scripts and a mind full of imagery in 2012. The following years were the nurturing period of his debut feature “Q”, during which he assembled his cast and crew, invented cost effective shooting methods, found the right production house, and most importantly, identified the right setting for the intense portrayal of his story.

“Q”, as the title suggests, deals with a number of questions connected with the journey of an eight-year-old girl who is sold to a family living in Mumbai. The 1 hour 36 minutes movie depicts the complicated cobweb of human interactions between the little girl and the family members, their derailed plans of action and crisscrossing lines of destiny that converge in a pulse racing, unpredictable climax. “For me, “Q” stands for many questions to the society. Those questions itself forms the whole message of the movie, the movie is narrated in a way that on every second there will be a question in your mind about what is going to happen next,” hints Sanjeev. The movie follows the little girl into the new world and leads the viewers towards an inevitable and shocking end waiting for her and the foster family.

“Like all writers and directors do, I was searching for new concepts in magazines, documentaries, and other media. So, the concept of “Q” came from an article in a newspaper and after the first trigger, I did a lot of research and reading. The film is inspired by real events not just from India, but from other countries also. In that sense, my movie is inspired by many real events from around the world,” Sanjeev explains.

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Sanjeev receiving Gollapudi Srinivas National Award for Q

Sanjeev adopted a guerilla mode of filmmaking technique during the making of the movie and he testifies it was an aesthetic decision aroused from the demanding subject matter of the movie. “It is because the film needed that kind of camera angles and very jerky and real kind of movements. The movie was shot in real locations and the characters are very real to the life. So while watching the movie, you will really feel this life is happening in front of you and you feel like we know these people like someone living next to our doors,” reveals Sanjeev.

When asked about his techniques as a debutante filmmaker, Sanjeev says, “I learned one thing in all these years, you make what you write. Whatever I write, I shoot it. Some on-set improvisations are there, but the storyline and the details are really the same. We did a lot of pre-production before going to shoot. Every actor, assistants, cinematographer, and other crew members worked superbly and we just followed the script as it is which makes “Q” a very pure project.”

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Sanjeev belongs to that group of filmmakers who want to connect with their audience and filmmaking is kind of a reach out the process for him. “In Q, I just want to create a bridge between the audience and the reality inside “Q” because the story demanded it. That doesn’t mean that I only make a realistic type of movies. This theme needed such a treatment and I only used Foley sounds. There is no background music in the film and I wanted to make feel the audience very real and a part of the movie,” Sanjeev reflects upon the production. “We recorded every natural sound and ambiance happening in real life situations in the movie. Every film has its own treatment. I can only make this movie in this particular way.” 

The movie garnered positive reviews during its round on the film festival circuit for its gripping treatment and shocking and unpredictable end. After going to a number of places and hailed by critics and viewers alike, “Q” is all set to have its Netflix release soon. “Digital platforms make you closer and smaller. Now the audience has a number of options to watch their kind of movies, any kind of film. The filmmakers also have an option to release on many platforms. The theatrical release is also important and I would like to release it in a big way. But at the same time, if you make a film digitally, then why don’t you release it digitally?” asks an all excited Sanjeev. 

Sanjeev and his team are also keen to collaborate with budding filmmakers and their production house, Pulp Cinema opens doors of co-production opportunities for potential projects. As “Q” is all set to start its Netflix round, the young filmmaker is moving on with his next project which will be a biopic on a larger canvas. “I don’t think there is a divide like an independent filmmaker or non-independent filmmaker. Today I choose “Q” to make and tomorrow I may choose to make a fantasy film or a VFX film. I don’t like the categorization of movies like, this film is a festival film, this one is a theatrical film or this one is an online film,  films are films, stories are stories and filmmakers are filmmakers,” he signs off with a determined smile.   

Interview By: Ragesh Dipu

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