March 11 2016
A new feature made by a British Asian director shot totally in one of India’s most chaotic cities, hits theatres up and down the country this week and director Rajan Patel reveals what it took to make…
HE READILY concedes he didn’t have any experience of filmmaking before making his first feature.
Londoner Rajan Kumar Patel’s “Feast of Varanasi” is a considerable achievement and a decent film – with well-known names in the leading roles.
The film opens today in the UK and enjoyed a world premiere in central London last Saturday as part of the London Asian Film Festival which concludes this Sunday (March 13). See pictures from the Red Carpet below.
But going from zero experience to filming a full length feature in India is a huge leap – even experienced directors can find it difficult and challenging, and so for a novice it’s surely more daunting?
“I hadn’t intended to direct at first,” Patel (pictured above bottom right and below left with Ashwath Bhatt who plays mystic Nana pictured below) revealed to www.asianculturevulture.com. “I had written the story and was going to produce.”
He had lined up Raj Acharya – the first assistant director on Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) but the two, though they got on well, parted on differences in filming styles. Acharya stayed on as an unofficial consultant and encouraged Patel to direct, feeling he had both the vision and ability to do so. He was correct in his assessment.
It wasn’t just filming in India – the architect and town planner by profession, was filming in Varanasi, one of India’s oldest and most visited cities. It is one of the centres of Hindu worship and is very popular as the final resting place for many.
Patel said he built rapport with the locals, going four times for research and recces. They began to accept and trust him and that made his life less difficult as a filmmaker.
He entrusted a local film production company to handle the bureaucracy – there is a lot of it, but with locals on the ground who know the right people, things become easier.
“It was an Indian line production company based in Varanasi, they got all the permissions. The police would still turn up every day at every location and be there for 10-15 minutes and we had all the paperwork and then they would leave,” he chuckled.
The crew still had to be sensitive as others continued their daily work – there are many funeral pyre sites on the ‘ghats’ leading to the Ganga (Ganges) and they accommodate the mourners and carry out the final rites.
“We had to be careful and sensitive and I told the crew not to tell people to be quiet and if there was noise and people, we just included that,” Patel explained.
“There are a lot of people out there in India with goodwill and talent and good intentions but you need to sieve through people – those who talk nonsense and try to make you do things quickly,” he said.
“It’s all about people and time – as long as you can find time to do things properly and meet the right people. It is going to be tough and be prepared to lose people – you will find somebody else but if you always latch onto the same people, you are going by their agenda and their timings.”
He said making a film in India is cheaper – technicians and equipment are not as expensive as in the UK or West.
“You’re not paying them any less or more than what they would get normally. It’s better you go to these people direct – middlemen will always inflate their prices.
“You will get good payment terms and if they see you as honest and sincere and you have the right people, they will break their back for you.
“If you’ve got a dream location, and a budget you can do it.”
His production budget ended up being less than £500,000 but the result is something you would imagine cost well in excess of that. He raised the money himself, getting family and friends to help out and ploughing his own cash into it.
“Some western filmmakers ask about subsidies for filming in India – but why? The subsidy is filming there, it’s a lot cheaper,” he stressed.
Patel said the actors showed a lot of goodwill too, impressed by Patel’s script which mixes Hindu mysticism and occult and stirs it up with a troubled young British woman visiting an aunt, scarred by a similar tragedy earlier in her own life.
Two established stars on the indie circuit head up the film on the Indian side. Tannishtha Chatterjee and Adil Hussain (both pictured in collage above) have a long list of credits with Chatterjee coming to prominence in “Brick Lane”(2007) and Hussain featured in Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” (2012).
The young woman is played by Holly Gilbert (pictured above) whose grandfather Lewis directed Bond films and Michael Caine most famously in “Alfie” (1966).
The whole experience has given Patel the desire to make more films and he is working on a second feature to be shot in India but more of a road comedy, involving rickshaws and another multi-racial cast. He also hopes to spin off some novels which are both directly and indirectly connected to “Feast of Varanasi”.
Previously (Last week)
‘Feast of Varanasi – A different kind of Indian film’ http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/feast-of-varanasi-a-different-kind-of-indian-film/
* ‘Feast of Varanasi’ on release today at Cineworld and Oden Cinemas, see here for more detail http://www.feastofvaranasi.com/
*London Asian Film Festival continues until March 13 tickets/info: http://www.tonguesonfire.com/