September 8 2016
As the film festival gets underway, we talk to the director behind a film that aims to show how India is responding to the challenges of the modern world…
ONE OF THE MOST eagerly anticipated of films that will show in the documentary strand at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – which opens today (September 8) – will be the Google/Youtube (crowd sourced) “India in A Day”.
Put together in the UK by filmmaker Richie Mehta and Scott Free (Ridley Scott) productions, this unique document comprising different films all made on October 10 in India last year, will have its international premiere tomorrow at the fest.
Mehta’s films include the award-winning and much feted “Siddharth” which premiered at TIFF and came to the London Film Festival in 2014 and “I’ll follow you down” (“Continuum” in the UK) with Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell.
“India in a Day” is based on a concept first developed by Ridley and the late Tony Scott (as executive producers) for “Life in A Day” where people make their own films and send them in to be made into a longer feature which offers viewers an insight into the lives of others on one particular and mostly unremarkable day in their lives.
India is the first developing country to feature – both Britain (2011) and Japan (2013) have also had crowd sourced films made on the same lines.
“It was very much about doing the best we could do – to pay tribute to the footage we were given, and being faithful to that expression – which was very pure,” explained Mehta to www.asianculturevulture.com just before leaving for Toronto.
Alongside him, reviewing the footage and selecting it was a team of about 15 people. They sifted through 15,000 films submitted to them with Mehta himself looking through about a quarter of the 400 hours in total.
“There was a lot of variety but we didn’t expect so much to be of such high quality and variety,” Mehta revealed.
Thematic narratives emerged and a script outlining the flow and position of films began to take shape and form the final cut, which is 87 minutes in total.
“It’s telling different things to different people. To me, one of the major things it’s saying is about the nature of progress. What direction are we going in as a species, is it good or bad? Or is it entirely good or bad, or does it just have bad and good aspects? It’s a very big question.”
For him, the sheer diversity of India came through.
“From a personal standpoint, I would say I thought I knew India, having filmed there, gone back and forth and being able to speak Hindi – but I don’t, and it’s going to astound me forever.
“Indians themselves watch this film and nobody can actually know everything about that country. There is nobody in the world who can watch this movie without subtitles.
“There are things in the movie which shocked me. There are admissions people make in this movie that are incredibly moving.”
One of those and the only one from a purported public figure is from Rajesh Tailang, an Indian independent film actor, who starred in “Siddharth” and who talks about his brother, Sudhir, a well-known political cartoonist in India, who died earlier this year from cancer.
For Mehta, there were two significant elements that struck him about making the film and what led him to it in the first place.
“It was the challenge of trying to tell an emotional story (in a different way from a conventional feature idea).
“This could be a game changer for the Indian independent cinema world, if this works, so many of the issues that filmmakers are trying to get out in India would be dealt with by people speaking to the camera in a more genuine and honest way.
“So, if I want to make a film about this issue or that, people on the ground have just said it better than I could have.”
In effect then, Mehta is talking about raising the bar for the Indian indie fictional sector in general.
What also was interesting was that no one from a high socio-economic status submitted any film.
“We would have shown it if we had it, but the fact they didn’t submit it, says something about their interests.”
He said people did ask about why certain aspects of Indian life did not feature when the “India in a Day” was seen publically for the first time at Sheffield Doc Fest in the UK this summer.
“If we don’t have it, we don’t have it,” he told the Sheffield audience. “Questions will arise from watching and I am here to answer them,” he explained to www.asianculturevulture.com
“The people who did (submit films), they are really passionate and have put their heart and soul into it and have something to say.”
Mehta (pictured) could call on the expertise of Anurag Kashyap, who is credited as an executive producer on the film and is one of India’s best known independent producers and directors. Kashyap is currently enjoying rave reviews for his debut starring role in the Bollywood action movie, “Akira”. Bollywood film director Zoya Akhtar and director Shekhar Kapur are creative consultants and Ridley Scott makes an appeal in the trailer.
“Any time I needed him (Kashyap), he was there. He really helped get the word out in India (with the original trailer inviting submissions). He is definitely integral to the whole process and very respectful of the whole filmmaking process.”
Mehta hopes the film will be seen in high places as its subjects have some powerful points to make about the country.
“I hope it will be seen by people in power, people who are influencers and who can make a difference, it’s a bit of sociological study of what’s happening in India.”
The film will get a cinema release in India from September 23 and will be available on Youtube in India some time after that. Mehta said the producers are in talks about a possible UK cinema release. He is now based in the UK, having grown up in Canada and gone to film school there.
‘India in A Day’ screens from 6pm, Friday September 9. Check listings for other times and information.
Trailer invitation ‘India in a Day’
Other feature films and talks to look out for at TIFF 2016
“Anatomy of Violence” – Deepa Mehta takes a personal and intimate look at the rape and killing of a 23-year-old woman on board a Delhi bus in 2012. In collaboration with theatre artist Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry.
“Barry” Vikram Gandhi looks at the early college life of President Barack Obama and the racial politics that have defined his political sensibilities.
“A Death in the Gunj” – Debut feature by actor Konkona Sensharma. It is the late 1970s and the young man that is Shutu (Vikrant Massey) is trying to find himself and a purpose. As his family gathers for New Year’s Eve at the hill resort of McCluskiegunj, there are underlying tensions and rifts and his friendship with a young girl is brought into the sharpest of reliefs. Sensharma has been as well-known figure in Bengali and independent cinema, as she now makes the crossover from behind the camera to in front. Shot in Jharkhand, this film, described as ‘Chekovian’, is filled with prominent names from the indie scene, including Om Puri, Kalki Koechlin, Tilotama Shome and Gulshan Devaiah, and is being billed as the birth of a significant new filmmaker.
“The Cinema Travellers” – A documentary by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, it explores the fast fading world of the travelling cinema in India.
‘In conversation with Karan Johar’ – One of India’s best known and most successful filmmakers finds himself on the other side of the interviewer’s chair. The director/actor/producer has his own celebrity chat show, “Koffee with Karan” and is working on an autobiography, charting his rise from scion of industry titan to man of myriad talents in Bollywood today.
“An Insignificant Man” – A documentary about Indian political party leader, Arvind Kejriwal, who leads the breakthrough Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi (and the film comes to the London Film Festival next month).
“Land of the Gods” – Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic sets Rahul Negi (Victor Banerjee) back to his people in the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand. Ravaged by floods, and landslides, the quiet calmness of the environment is not what it seems and some are unhappy to see Rahul return when so much had occurred before under a cloud.
“Mostly Sunny” is about one of India’s most controversial recent starlets. Sunny Leone is a former adult film actress from Canada who has carved out a space for herself in mainstream Bollywood. Few can work out quite how or why, as India remains a largely conservative society deeply troubled by any assertion of female sexuality, let alone a woman whose sexual antics are visible on the worldwide web. Veteran filmmaker Dilip Mehta gets behind the scenes access and shows a daughter and wife whose primary concerns seem more Indian (home, family, food) than anything else.
“Once Again” (‘Pinneyum’) – Set in Kerala, in the home state of one India’s most respected filmmakers, veteran Adoor Gopalakrishnan, returns to the screen after an absence of eight years. A former London Film Festival prizewinner, Gopalakrishnan mines fertile territory in a middle class family that finds it can’t pay its way out of ever increasing commitments and leads central protagonist (played by Malayalam film star, Dileep) to think – and act – on the almost unthinkable.
“Lion” starring Dev Patel, “Queen of Katwe” by director Mira Nair, and “The Bait” all come to London Film Festival next month, October 6-15. Look out for more detailed previews on www.asianculturevulture.com