Movies

Better late than never

Mumbai, 21/11/2016: Profile of Munish Bhardwaj.
(picture to go with Kenneth story)

Photo: Shantau Das

Mumbai, 21/11/2016: Profile of Munish Bhardwaj. (picture to go with Kenneth story) Photo: Shantau Das   | Photo Credit: SHANTANU DAS

After a two-decade long wait, filmmaker Munish Bhardwaj makes his directorial debut exploring the lure and peril of the parallel economy

The words ‘demonetisation’ and ‘black money’ seem to be resonating in every conversation these days, whether it’s small talk with autorickshaw drivers or extensive policy debates with colleagues. Warranted or not, there’s no dearth of opinion on the matter. But filmmaker Munish Bhardwaj asks a question seldom raised: what if it’s your loved one who is corrupt and sleeping over wads of unaccounted cash?

For Bhardwaj’s directorial debut Moh Maya Money, starring Neha Dhupia and Ranvir Shorey in the lead roles, the demonetisation decree comes at a rather opportune time. The film was conceptualised and shot much before the country was swept by the current financial tide, but it eerily tells a rather relevant story, exploring the malpractices of the real estate industry. Tired of living the middle-class life in west Delhi, Bhardwaj’s protagonist dares to pull off a big real estate scam. But he soon needs the support of his begrudging wife. As the noose tightens, the couple’s dark secrets tumble out of the closet. “It’s about corruption not outside but within our homes,” says Bhardwaj.

Making a debut

For the 46-year-old, Moh Maya Money is the outcome of waiting patiently for a couple of decades. After graduating from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in the early ’90s, Bhardwaj spent his time assisting several Indian filmmakers like Rajat Kapoor, Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul. “Back then, it was difficult to make your own movie, unlike in the digital age,” says Bhardwaj, who was happy doing theatre and making corporate films along with assisting filmmakers.

With an upsurge in digital technology, Bhardwaj decide to direct a film in 2004. “The script I wrote was a mix of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and White Nights, on which Saawariya (2007) was later based,” shares Bhardwaj. But his plans came to a grinding halt as his brother passed away in 2005. “It came as a huge family tragedy and I had to go back to handling my family business.”

As matters stabilised, Bhardwaj felt the urge to return to the creative industry in 2009. He acted alongside Kapoor, Shorey and Konkona Sen Sharma in the play The Blue Mug. After having performed over 100 shows, the filmmaker executive-produced Ankhon Dekhi (2014), a film directed by Kapoor. “While working on that film, the desperation to make my own movie really started setting in,” he says.

Money Matters

With a determined mind, the Delhi-based filmmaker scripted Moh Maya Money and set out to look for investors. There was a clear strategy in place; the budget was capped at Rs. 2 crore and the search was on for 15 investors who could equally contribute money. Bhardwaj initially found support in his businessman friend Sandeep Narula, who deals in printing inks. To the filmmaker’s surprise, within ten days he had ten more investors onboard, which helped set the ball rolling.

The film’s shoe-string budget involved working with friends and acquaintances. This is where Academy Award-winning sound designer, sound editor and mixer Resul Pookutty, a former FTII classmate, agreed to work on the music of the film. “Even my actors have practically worked for nothing,” says Bhardwaj, who believes that Shorey is one of the finest actors in the industry and Dhupia is an underutilised talent.

The first step to convince people of a project is an engaging script. “They know my work, integrity and sincerity,” says the filmmaker, who has offered the actors and heads of departments a share in the revenue of the film. “All I asked from them was 30 days of their lives.”

Despite the financial constraints, Bhardwaj believes a filmmaker must never compromise on his vision. “If I wanted to shoot seven cars a day, three came from friends,” says the filmmaker, who shot most of the feature in areas where he could film for free. He encourages young filmmakers to look for non-traditional modes of funding for their first film. “With conventional producers, your film won’t be yours any more.”

Learning the tricks

While studying the works of renowned filmmakers at FTII, Bhardwaj was inspired by the work of Robert Bresson. “He said a cut can say a lot more than a dialogue,” says Bhardwaj, who has used long takes and a style of narrative story telling reminiscent to French filmmaker’s. “But as much as mainstream audience can understand.” He says the film will be fast-paced, but has been edited slowly.

Another highlight, he reveals, is the change of focus on the protagonists during the course of the film. Bhardwaj narrates an anecdote where the co-writer of the film, Mansi Jain, presented the film to students at Columbia University. Try as they might, the young minds couldn’t fathom the technique. “They are used to a set Hollywood and Bollywood structure. But I made a six-act structure, which is unusual, but exciting.”

Finding your space

Moh Maya Money was a Film Bazaar Recommends project at the NFDC Film Bazaar in 2015. From there, the film went on to be screened at 11 film festivals around the world, including the New York Indian Film Festival, London Indian Film Festival, Chicago South Asian Film Festival and Vancouver International South Asian Film festival. “But my film is neither artsy nor mainstream,” says Bhardwaj, whose sole focus was to make a thriller that outguesses its audience.

When it comes to other films doing the festival circuit, he feels that most independent films seldom break through into the mainstream space. “But makers must understand that the success of an independent film is in not making money commercially, but in keeping the budget under control,” he says.

With the release of Moh Maya Money this week, Bhardwaj is pinning his hopes on positive word-of-mouth. But more importantly, it’s the release of this film that matters. After all it’s his directorial debut after a long wait of over two decades.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 1:56:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/Better-late-than-never/article16672612.ece

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