Neeraj Ghaywan on the making of 'Masaan'

Neeraj, on the sets of 'Masaan'  

The only thing common between two cities separated by geographical and cultural disparities is their love affair with cinema. Benaras has been the subject and backdrop of many films to which it has lent its character to, while Cannes is where many filmmakers take their work hoping to find recognition and buyers in the process.

Masaan has been a bridge between the two cities. Directed by debutant Neeraj Ghaywan, the film narrates the stories of four characters whose lives are woven into the social fabric of Benaras and constricted by it — a boy from a lower caste who falls in love with a girl from an upper caste; a daughter driven by feelings of guilt from a sexual encounter; a father who has lost his moral compass and a young boy in search of family. “Benares, the holy city on the banks of the Ganges, reserves a cruel punishment for those who play with moral traditions,” reads Masaan’s description.

“Only one rule applies here (Benaras) — you’ve got to surrender to this place,” says Ghaywan of the experience of shooting at Benaras. “When we first got there, we had a lot of restrictions. You have to start believing that you belong to this place.”

After working as an assistant director to Anurag Kashyap, Ghaywan decided to venture out on his own. But the shadows of Gangs of Wasseypur loomed over the project, especially with the location team being the same for both films. “I was worried it would sound like one more GoW. But our script and approach was extremely different. Our film is spoken from Benaras’ point of view and it talks about deep personal stories. It is a hopeful film about interpersonal relationships.” The script was so devoid of the “Wasseypur world”, that nobody was reminiscing it, except in spirit.

“Because it had the same people and location, the spirit kind of came back. But also because of the way GoW was made — at a very small budget, everyone was kicked about the script and there was no hierarchy on the sets — just the way Anurag works.”

Since Masaan was made on a small budget, spending on marketing would prove expensive. Hence, the team decided to submit their film to Cannes Film Festival instead. “When you go to a festival and win there, it generates a lot of positive buzz. Now, imagine if I had to create that buzz with money — it would have been too expensive,” explains Ghaywan. And the strategy worked because Masaan ended up winning two awards at the Cannes Film Festival — the FIPRESCI Prize (International Federation of Film Critics) in the main competition section and a ‘Promising Future’ prize (Prix de l'avenir) for debut films.

“There is this notion that we just go to a film festival for a pat in the back. It’s not just that; we also find a market where a film like Masaan can get sold. We were able to take it to territories like Italy and Spain because of Cannes — this wouldn’t have happened in India.”

Richa Chadda says it also benefits her as an actor. “It is a vindication of sorts for choosing to work in a non-commercial movie which does not pay.” The problem with Indian festivals is how the film gets tagged as an arty, boring film. “But thankfully, with The Lunchbox last year, that notion is kind of breaking and we are hoping that we will break it the notion further.”

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 7:04:19 AM |

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