Breaking free from labels

Aadish Keluskar, an independent filmmaker who refuses to be bracketed as ‘indie’, talks about his journey ahead of his debut feature film, Kaul — A Calling

Aadish Keluskar confesses that since childhood, he has never been interested in people per se. Rather, what has appealed to him are their ideas and experiences. “[The] human mind is captivated by trying to alter or recreate reality, which is where storytelling also comes from,” says the filmmaker. Through his cinema, Keluskar seems to be preoccupied with externalising these inner experiences and voices, transferring them on to the big screen with his distinctive imagery and soundscapes.

Experience over knowledge

Existential? Mystical? Surreal? Philosophical? It is difficult to pin down and describe his debut Marathi feature film, Kaul - A Calling, that releases on Friday. All that can be said is, the film is as profound as it is perplexing and needs to be experienced rather than understood. Kaul... delves into the mind of its protagonist, in the same way that Keluskar’s short film I Love You Too (2015) did. In keeping with his style, the maverick filmmaker doesn’t attempt to tell a story, he makes the viewer undergo a psychological journey. Perhaps to fathom the despair and trauma? Keluskar himself is in no mood to be helpful, and refuses to tell all. “What I want to say is in the film itself.”

However, Keluskar’s fascination with his subjects is intrinsic, and he doesn’t seek them out. “They come to me,” he says about his form of cinema. He regards himself as just a medium through which the expression of ideas filters through.

A drop-out from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, he believes he would have taken to cinema with or without a film school experience. He can’t quite explain his attachment with filmmaking. “I can lose myself in it,” is all he chooses to say. “There are no boundaries in recreating a world.”

Understanding the indie spirit

Keluskar’s cinema might make an individualistic and idiosyncratic statement, something we associate independent cinema with, but he is quick to dismiss the larger indie phenomenon. “That’s the biggest fraud of all time,” he says. After all, the term ‘independent’ has been derived from Hollywood, when in the 1940s, filmmakers began making films independent of the studio system. Keluskar says the word was used purely in terms of production scale and not the aesthetics of the films. It’s merely one side of the indie spirit.

“One can be independent only when one stays true to one’s own ideas, irrespective of the amount of money that has gone into the production of a film,” he says.

Besides production scale and value, Keluskar feels that independent filmmakers are also getting influenced by the possible platforms available for showcasing their films. For instance, they are now making films according to what people at film festivals would seek out — producers, distributors and the markets — rather than staying true to themselves.

“Festivals are infested with wholesale distributors and agents acting as mediators,” he says. “This is the reason why film festivals are suffering.”

Keluskar is of the opinion that alternative cinema has also stagnated because the content has become homogeneous and has fewer takers than ever before.

“At least mainstream cinema is unabashedly interested in making money,” he says, whereas the so-called independent, experimental cinema is all about wanting to sell films. Yet, instead of being honest about it, the preference is to hide behind the elitism of the term.

What is good cinema?

In fact, the terms ‘conventional’ or ‘mainstream’ cinema and the pejorative connotation of the words elude Keluskar. “There have been films like Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Zanjeer (1973), Sholay (1975) and even Lagaan (2001). All of them were unconventional films when they released, before becoming trend-setters.” For him, ultimately it is all about good cinema, be it masala, indie, art or parallel. “The audience should feel like they’ve entered a different world (when they watch a film),” he explains.

That kind of innovation and creativity, which transports the audience to another world, seems to be lacking in filmmakers, a result of the focus on specialising in a particular field. “It’s the curse of an era,” he says, “We get so caught up in looking at things from only one perspective that there is no scope for innovation,” he adds. The distinction between fields is becoming so binding that one can no longer think “out of the box,” he laughs, while adding, “They don’t even realise that there is a box!”

Ultimately, the true judge, says Keluskar, is the audience. “When they don’t see any honesty in the work, they will reject it.” However, people within the industry mistakenly assume that the audience wants only a certain kind of cinema.

“How do they know what they want unless we show them different kinds of films?” he asks. After all, studio marketing teams have no business reading scripts and making decisions on behalf of viewers. “Give the audience that choice, mere statistics cannot provide an insight into its psyche,” he says.

With no dearth of options available for entertainment, it is the film industry’s responsibility to draw the audience back in, and that won’t happen unless there’s more experimentation.

“Don’t dish out films like products, one after the other! Without an overhaul of the existing system, there is little hope for cinema. We need to rejuvenate the spirit of cinema. I don’t know what that is, but we need to keep trying.” Hopefully, Kaul... will light a small spark.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 4:57:22 AM |

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