Nagesh Kukunoor comes clean on his addiction to work and his bachelor status. Stability still remains a curse for him

The ongoing International Children's Film Festival has turned Prasad's multiplex into a festive zone. School children, film-makers, jury members and the media move from one place to another to get their fill of movies, interviews and discussions. Nagesh Kukunoor, who is part of the international jury, emerges from Screen One after watching a film. A bunch of school girls want to get their photographs clicked with him and members of electronic media await their turn for a sound byte. Nagesh smiles his way through photographs, leads us away from the crowds as he says, “I have to be back in some time to watch a short film of six-minute duration.” Before that, it's time for lunch — home-made sandwiches sent by his mom. “One of the reasons why I agreed to be part of the jury, apart from my interest in movies and obliging good friend Nandita Das, was that the festival would be an excuse to be home,” he smiles, taking a bite of the sandwich.

Festival time, folks

A film festival was where it all started for Nagesh. At the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) festival, Shyam Benegal was impressed with the youngster from Hyderabad and his Hyderabad Blues; one thing led to another and one of the first poster boys of new-age low-budget films was born. A decade hence, Nagesh feels film festivals in India leave a lot to be desired. “The quality of films being screened at most festivals has deteriorated. Things were better a decade ago and would have been better a decade before that,” he shrugs.

Nagesh himself has been going through a wait-and-watch phase for the release of two of his films — Aashayein starring John Abraham and Yeh Hosla starring Sameera Reddy. Aashayein was first caught in a war between producers Percept Pictures and distributors Big Pictures. According to reports that trickled out of the corporate houses, Big Pictures felt that the film, despite being “very good” was “too arty” to find commercial takers. Nagesh smiles, pauses and says, “This is the most frustrating part of being a film-maker: waiting for the film to release and the circumstances are not under your control. When the issues between Percept and Big Pictures were ironed out, the multiplex strike began and pushed many films out of schedule. Aashayein should be out in January followed by Yeh Hosla.”

Yeh Hosla marks his return to women-centric cinema after Dor. Again, it is based on true incidents. “I fashioned a story around this person who empowered women to tell their own stories by teaching them to use a video camera. Sameera Reddy, Tanvi Azmi, Tanuja and two new women are part of the plot.”

Nagesh's rough patch has more than these two films waiting to be released. His most expensive film till date, Tasveer 8x10, was written off soon after its release. Nagesh's anger for critics resurfaces when he says, “The critics wrote off the film. Most reviews lambasted either me or Akshay. There were people who told me they hated Bombay to Bangkok. Fair enough. But Tasveer didn't evoke such negative reactions from the audience,” he says. He doesn't buy critics' argument that Tasveer is not ‘his kind of film'.

“If you look at my work, there is no similarity between Bollywood Calling, Iqbal, Dor or Teen Deewarein to be slotted as ‘my kind of work'. I've marched to my own beat all these years.”

Eleven years after his unconventional debut, he feels little has changed. “Each time I am ready with a script, it is a struggle to find people to produce the film,” he points out. Corporates entering the fray and even ‘mainstream' producers like Karan Johar supporting offbeat films hasn't helped, he says. “You have more directors coming from urban backgrounds and making urban-centric films. I fear these new-age films might wipe out rural or other voices. As much as the NFDC went defunct, it encouraged different films.”

He picks Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bharadwaj for standing out from the crowd. “Dev D shocked me. A film like that takes guts to make on part of the director and the producer. You have to tip your hat to that. And Vishal has a strong sense of cinema and knows how to package it well.”

On the other hand, Nagesh feels regional cinema still offers space to subjects on rural issues. He has no reservations about directing a Telugu film in future. “If I were to make a Telugu film, it will have my sensibility.” Do his sensibilities match that of present-day Telugu cinema? “The sensibility thing is over-hyped. I grew up watching K. Vishwanath's films. He made wonderful films that were so different from the regular ‘loud' films and still made money.”

His production house, SIC (Stability is a Curse), reflects his thoughts on film-making. Having known him over the years, one wonders if he still hates stability. He says, “Stability hampers with creativity. You limit yourself to making a film to make the math work. I don't like to play safe.” He should know, after all he gave up a stable job as a chemical engineer for movie-making. Nagesh will soon begin work on his next project that will star newcomers and is enjoying the time between projects. “This year I took some time off for scuba diving too,” he says. His new look has people asking him if he is preparing for a role. “I was home bound for a month working on a new script and got lazy to shave,” he laughs. Rigorous workouts are also part of his lifestyle. Workouts, for him, are stress busters, addiction and a way of life. Is he joining the six-pack club? “I don't take my shirt off so you won't know if I already have six-pack abs. Workouts take my mind off work and makes me feel like a million bucks.”

A self-confessed workaholic, he loves his bachelor status. Ask him if stability is a curse in personal life too and he guffaws, “Most marriages and relationships are least stable. At least I am stable in my single status.”

Stable team

The core team of his SIC (Stability is a curse) Productions has remained the same over these years. Nagesh chose some of them, like Elahe Hiptoolah, by chance. “The number one criterion to be part of film-making is to have this passion; other things can be learnt. You can be falsely passionate only for a while and then it wears off. I choose people who are passionate about film-making. I take new people for every film but the core team has remained. Devika joined the team during Rockford and stayed with us ever since. Abhay and Supriya have done four to five films with us and are now branching out on their own.”