There’s Kung Fu in the air
Get a taste of Kung Fu flavoured with the essence of Assam. Debutant director Kenny Basumatary talks about how his film, Local Kung Fu, is all “local” and at its special-effects-free best
These are normal podgy guys fighting in their jeans, tracksuits, sweatshirts, hoodies, barefoot, with sports shoes, fighting in courtyards, in grasslands. They execute some swift kicks, and then there’s slow motion to add to the impact. There are kicks, punches, long lunges in the air. A big toe pops up on screen and the camera follows the foot to the grumpy man who’s shoved up his leg in a Kung Fu pose, all ready to strike. There’s a guy fallen on the ground, beaten, bursting out into a beautiful musical note with his eyes closed. Here’s a girl threatening a boy that she’ll have him kidnapped by her boyfriend and thrown away in the jungles of Singapore!
Anyone who’s watched the trailer of Local Kung Fu should have been stirred enough by curiosity to see what’s in store. After all, it’s being pitted as India’s first martial arts comedy. The film, in Assamese and Hindi, is being released with English subtitles. It premiered at Osian’s-Cinefan Film Festival (the largest festival for Asian and Arab cinema) and had a repeat show on public demand, and also showed at the International Digital Film Festival in Mumbai.
But why choose to label the film “local”? “Pretty much everything in the film is ‘local’ — it was shot in Guwahati, the cast and crew is made up of local people, mostly my friends and family. We also wanted to communicate this is not a big-budget endeavour. It’s like local fruits and vegetables,” laughs the film’s writer-director Kenny Basumatary, in a telephonic interview. The average age of the Local Kung Fu team was about 31 years, and some were even in their early 20s, says Kenny. His uncle, (perhaps the only member of the cast in his mid-50s), is a Kung Fu coach in Assam and it was his band of students who star in the movie, along with their guru. There’s a special appearance in the film by Kenny’s grandfather.
Local Kung Fu was shot over a period of 100 days on a Canon digital camera for Rs. 95,000. “I was too lazy to go knocking on producers’ doors. Moreover, I knew I would have to make the film on my own. It would be too much to expect someone to put about three crore rupees on a first-time director.” offers the self-deprecating Kenny. All the action is real, and rehearsed — there’s no cables suspending the fighters, no special effects to prop them up. “For indoor scenes, we had three 200-watt bulbs!”
Kenny learnt Kung Fu for two years. “You can’t make a film without knowing the subject in great detail. All films that are genuine, are those that take you into another world — like The Hurt Locker, Rocket Singh. You’ll know the nuances. You have to be on the same page.” He talks of current trends in Hollywood action films “where the camera is moving around so much you can’t see anything. You have five cuts in one second…My gripe with Batman films is that you can’t see who’s hitting whom! We knew our techniques, we decided we will shoot in a proper way. We were not looking at blowing up cars and buildings,” he says of the way he chose to make Local Kung Fu. He rates Haywire and Jack Reacher as good “real” action films.
“Movies like In Search of A Midnight Kiss, El Mariachi, The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project inspired us to make a film along similar lines,” says Kenny. “Obviously Jackie Chan, and Undisputed 2 and Undisputed 3, were primary influences. The tone of the film is very much Jackie Chan — neither completely funny nor completely action. I like entertaining people. I like hearing people laugh. Even my debut novel Chocolate_Guitar_Momos was like that. I was not a popular kid in school so I want to make up for it now,” he laughs.
Kenny’s been in the Hindi film industry for about five years now, after he quit IIT-Delhi midway. “I told my family about it over the phone,” he pauses. He’s done about 10 to 12 ads, “a few roles here and there”, the role of a police inspector in Shanghai, and a 15-second role in Phata Poster Nikla Hero. “I hope to do work like Danny Denzongpa,” he says. He attended a scripting lab in 2008/09 where his script (a different one) made it to the top six and was supposed to be produced; the entire project was shelved. “But the fact that my script was selected gave me some encouragement,” says the cheery Kenny.
“It’s not just about being from the north east. If you don’t have a film background, if you’re not a Khan or a Kapoor, or have the North Indian muscular look, it can be tough,” he says of getting an acting break in Bollywood. His parents are both state government employees. “Let’s see how it works in the field of direction!”
The story of Assam, where Kenny hails from, doesn’t seem too different from the rest of the country when it comes to cinemas — a lot of theatres have closed down. Multiplexes are there in the three of the bigger cities. “There are about 40 to 50 Assamese films made every year, and only a handful are good. Jahnu Barua is our best filmmaker. Growing up, we watched pretty much everything — Assamese films, rarely! In college it was the usual Hollywood fare, and Hindi films also. Every Friday I would bunk class to watch movies. There are a whole lot of young people who want to be part of the industry in Assam but it’s not economically viable. We have only about five TV channels. We’re not a huge population. And it’s the same with films.”
Local Kung Fu releases though PVR Director’s Rare tomorrow.