His film caught the nation by surprise as its Oscar nominee. Director Gyan Correa on Indian and Hollywood films, and why roads fascinate him

A need to get out of his comfort zone prompted ad-filmmaker Gyan Correa to ultimately end up making a Gujarati film, The Good Road, which went to the Oscars from India this year, but wasn’t among the final nominees. What happened after?

“The film screened at various places in the U.S. — L.A., New York, Harvard…and people have liked the film. America is looking forward to films like this from India. I think America is ready while we are not giving enough; but India is now coming of age in terms of fantastic films, specially Marathi cinema,” says Correa, settling down for a chat. In Bangalore recently for a screening of his film, Correa was immersed in getting a screen up and running on the terrace of Jus’ Trufs Café in Jakkur where the film was shown at the Big Banyan Fest last weekend.

“I’ll be politically incorrect in saying it, but I don’t think the Oscars is such a big thing. If you make films well, they will be picked up. Guys there track films well. What India could do is promote Indian cinema better.” He says he was shocked by his experience in America, with the openness they have from their cultural point of view. “They are nowhere close to Europe or India. Hollywood has perfected acting, scripting and marketing equation. For direction, they still look for people from outside, they always have. I find this very accessible. The only one thing is that you have to be good; and that is difficult.”

Back home, The Good Road was released in Gujarat, but the rest of India hasn’t yet been able to see it on the large screen. The DVDs are out in the market. “Indians famously don’t like subtitles. I’m quite a novice, but I was told that subtitles don’t travel in India. Dubbing the film will just kill it. And releasing a film is more expensive than making it, particularly for a film like this with a small budget,” is how Correa quickly sums up why The Good Road never hit theatres.

When the road is good

While admitting that he struggled with a name for this film, he says the road is a character in the film, which evolves with the film. “It’s a metaphor for how life treats us; and I believe it treats us well.” The film intertwines the story of a lost boy and his urban parents looking for him, a village girl headed unwittingly into prostitution, a truck driver trying to end his life… “The story I learnt on my travels in India is that there is an incredible positivity. And often it’s stupefying, why people are so positive!” Considering there’s a surfeit of films with the road at the centre, like Highway and Barefoot to Goa, what is it about the road that attracts filmmakers? “I don’t really know why…but I guess we are at a certain evolution in our social and economic paths. For me, roads have always been fascinating culturally and historically — it’s where we meet, trade, exchange ideas, that’s how new cultures grow. The road is out there…on the edge of something. You’re meeting and crossing a boundary.”

Correa, who had been directing ad films, specially those featuring babies, decided he needed to get out of his comfort zone; he had been toying with the idea of a feature film. He just started travelling in between film assignments. The Good Road almost took him eight years to make! “When I started, I couldn’t dare dream of making a film. It was a complete shot in the dark. First I thought I would write a book, then thought I’d do a play. But friends said ‘You’re a filmmaker, you should be making a film’.”

Correa agrees that filmmaking as a skill-set is similar to both the ad-filmmaking and feature film industry, advertising is primarily a medium of ideas while feature film is a medium of drama, he points out. “People don’t pay to see an ad, but with a film, they want to see what you care for, what moves you. In that sense it’s a far more rewarding experience for a filmmaker.”

The Oscar hullabaloo

When his film was nominated as India’s entry for foreign language film at the Oscars, most of Bollywood went berserk that Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, did not make the cut. Correa says he

did watch The Lunchbox and found it a fantastic film, and points out the coincidence that both the films, his and Ritesh’s were produced (in part) by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC). “Our films are sister films in that sense. And this is the exciting thing. The whole construct (around which film should go to the Oscar) missed the point — imagine how you are going to spoil a selection committee for choice! What fun!” He says the NFDC is promoting cinematic expression of India, and likens it to a VC company giving seed money to entrepreneurs, who are setting up an alternate trade in the cinema world, especially helpful for regional cinema; a first in many ways, he stresses. But he also admits that Bollywood makes it possible for people like him to make his films; in terms of providing well-established technical people, equipment etc. “A guy like Resul Pookutty (Oscar winning sound engineer) will make his money on the next Shah Rukh Khan film. But he’ll come and work with me for love and fresh air.”

Goan roots

His Goan roots may show up in his laidback attitude to life. “I’ve always lived and grown up in Mumbai and I continue to grow each day in Mumbai. Coastal people are definitely more chilled, I suppose. There’ll always be a coconut up a tree; they never surf deprivation really!” he signs off.