Miriam Chandy, journalist-turned-filmmaker, tells Harshini Vakkalanka that its now an exciting time to be a documentary filmmaker. Her film, The Rat Race is all set for release
An aspiring Bollywood dancer (a Parsi) turns into a municipal rat killer after his father tells him that a government job would be better. But who knew that one day, journalist-turned filmmaker Miriam Chandy Menacherry would meet him at a Mumbai B-ward and decide to document Mumbai's rat killers, making his dream come true.
“I keep collecting clips of things I find interesting. One day, a small newspaper clipping about 2000 people auditioning for the position of rat killers in Mumbai caught my attention,” recalls Miriam. Being scared of rats, Miriam didn't make much of it at that time.
“Then I met the Parsi gentleman at the B-ward. He seemed really proud of his job. He had a good sense of humour and there were many, young, well-educated men reporting to him. This gave me the idea that there was a larger story to be told about people coming to Mumbai for jobs and the tightrope they walk between dreams and livelihood.”
Miriam went on to film “The Rat Race” produced by her firm, Filament Pictures. The film caught the attention of the Cannes jury and sold out shows at Amsterdam's IDFA. Now it's all set for a commercial release in multiplexes across Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi.
“I never really expected this kind of a response because it is a local subject. But I'm having my fingers crossed. The audience at the Mumbai international film festival really got the nuances. The film is humorous, even though it's disturbing,” she remarks.
Miriam is hopeful because she feels theatres are recognising the trend of people wanting to watch offbeat films. She cites Anurag Kashyap as an example. The film was a huge learning experience for Miriam. “It took one year for the Mumbai Municipal Corporation to give us permission because they had never had such a request before.”
Filming took another year. “We set out everyday with them after midnight. We had to shoot in low light, in garbage-filled by-lanes. It was a huge learning experience. These people have to collect 30 dead rats every night and they were counted every morning. We filmed through the rains, the Ganapati festival. We saw the city changing.”
But documentaries are what Miriam loves doing best, after having dappled in news and later, features journalism. Miriam has worked as a correspondent for CNBC and on documentary films for UTV, directing documentary films for BBC and National Geographic.
“We set up Filament Pictures in 2005. It's a small firm and we usually work only on one film in a year. My films are usually socially relevant,” she explains. “The Stuntment of Bollywood” for instance is a behind-the-scenes look at Bollywood's stunt industry with its low-budget, high-risk Hollywood aspirations. The film was nominated for the Showreal Asia Awards. Then there is “Robot Jockey”, filmed for National Geographic, which follows the robots that have replaced child jockeys in the Middle-Eastern camel races, after a UN mandate.
But “The Rat Race” tops her list. “The film gave me an opportunity to tell a story in different layers. Earlier, channels dictated the way I shot a film, so I was clear I did not want a channel on board. I wanted to discover my style. There is independence and creative freedom to explore things.”
Miriam believes that this it's now an exciting time to be a documentary filmmaker in India. “Not only have Indian films come of age, people from abroad are looking at Indian films because of where the country is, economically, politically and otherwise. We always had content and story and now it's easier to find foreign collaborations and get visible. The Indian audience too is now potent mixture of people,” she points out.
So Miriam finds herself really excited about the upcoming theatre release of “The Rat Race” because she feels it puts documentary films at par with mainstream cinema. “We are planning to hold discussions between young people and well-known fiction and documentary filmmakers. We are trying to create a culture to enjoy the format and make it more personal, so it's not just about entertainment.”
“The Rat Race” is all set to release in PVR screens across Mumbai and Delhi on April 20.