CINEMA Nitin Raghunath on “Mere Haule Dost” and his indie troubles and triumphs

Buddy films have had a long and distinguished history in Bollywood. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Kai Po Che would be the recent examples of this genre, whose most salient convention is delineating the individual and collective journeys of a group of friends.

While the buddies tend to come in sets of three, Nitin Raghunath’s upcoming indie film Mere Haule Dost deals with a group of five friends. They are in college and want to go on the Himalayan bike rally. “But they don’t have cash and it’s about how they go about trying to make money so they can go on the rally,” the director says, over the phone from Mumbai.

The Hindi indie releases on June 7 under the PVR Director’s Rare initiative. The title comes from Hyderabadi slang, where ‘haule’ means “idiot or crazy or mad”, like grandfathers calling their grandsons ‘e haule’,” Raghunath explains.

Set in Hyderabad, the director’s hometown, the film is largely autobiographical.

The location made sense, because “as indie filmmakers you just set it where you can get resources most effectively and efficiently. Being from there, we could make it easier on ourselves.”

He defines an indie film as one made without the backing of studios. “Stylistically, it can be anything from a documentary to a fantasy. The process can be very difficult but it’s also fun, it’s about trying to get the best use out of your limited resources and coming up with solutions to problems,” the director says.

Raghunath started his career as a copywriter. He has also worked as a photographer, designer and mobile engineer. Since 2002, he has been making ads and corporate films, music videos and shorts. His first film, Turjya , was made on a shoestring budget. “We didn’t have money to even buy a used car,” he remembers. His most recent short was a part of Court Metrage (Short film corner) at the 64th Cannes Film Festival in 2011.

Comparing the experience of making shorts and feature films, the director says, “In terms of storytelling, both have their challenges. But the biggest challenge for the feature has always been the size of the crew. It becomes a little difficult to manage so many people and the logistics of it all…”

Apart from the five friends, there is a sizeable supporting cast too. “We didn’t set about with a star cast in mind, although we didn’t rule out known comedians for guest roles. We tried to get someone through contacts but it didn’t work out. We advertised online, posted casting calls at coffee shops and cultural places in Hyderabad, but the most traction we got was through friends. For the main cast the idea was to work with unknown actors. The point was to get the raw realistic feel,” Raghunath says. Only one of the actors, who plays a female character, is a professional.

Incidentally, before the film came to be made, Raghunath created a graphic novel titled With Friends based on the same story. It will be launched at the Bangalore Comic Con starting this Saturday.

His next is a docu-comedy about two guys who are conspiracy theory enthusiasts, who find out the Yeti is alive.

"It’s a crazy Borat-style absurdist comedy, in search of the Yeti.” he says.