In conversation with Onir, the 59th National Award winning director of the critically acclaimed, I AM. Nishi Roy of B'Khush explores the director’s journey thus far and shares what next is in store for the viewers.
How has life and work changed post the National Award?
Onir: Life has been hectic. The phone has not stopped ringing ever since the news came out. The last few days have been a whirlwind of interviews and travel. It has taken me a while to let the news sink in. It is amazing and humbling how the smallest budget movie of 2011, won the country’s highest honour. It is a source of collective happiness of the entire cast and crew, who believed in the movie. I AM is different not only in terms of its content, but also the way it was produced. I had completely forgotten about the awards nomination etc, and was not following it up, so when they were announced, I was completely overwhelmed.
I AM, is not a run-of-the-mill movie, and yet it is the recipient of the highest award in the country. Does it signal a sort of change in mindsets and the way we perceive cinema?
Onir: This year’s National awards have been incredible. If you see the winners, you will see that independent and regional cinema has been accorded space. The awards re-iterates the fact, that cinema is a form of art and is not to be judged just on the basis of box office collections. Cinema is a window to a better world. The award gives fillip to filmmakers like me, to continue making movies about issues which we are passionate about.
I AM, is a unique concept. Four different stories, but with a common thread; what was the inspiration behind this thought?
Onir: While each individual story could have been presented as a full length movie, we were unable to do so because of the lack of adequate resources. So we decided to make four short stories instead, with a common thread. We were also unsure when the money for filmmaking would stop flowing in; hence the short story route was a safer option to explore.
You have become the poster boy ( Onir lets out a guffaw when he hears this) for making successful movies via crowd funding. Was it a difficult process?
Onir: Yes, it was difficult and time consuming. Me along with Sanjay Suri, would spend hours on the social networking site trying to spread the message around and get funding. Since the resources were limited, we did all this work ourselves; there was no external agency helping us do it. While there were perhaps thousands who wanted to invest, we had to choose people for the right reasons. There were some, who were willing to put money in the movie, if only we were willing to cast them in the movie and some others had different terms and conditions. At the end of the day, we zeroed in on about 400 people, who we believed were in tune with our vision and dream.
Have the investors who put in money, got a share of profits?
Onir: All the 400 investors have been acknowledged. For most people who put in money in the movie it was less about making profits and more about identifying with the movie. Post winning the National award we now hope to make money through the satellite rights. We have also finally got clearance for screening the movie in the US. One hopes, more people would be keen in watching the movie in the US, post the awards.
Do you think the presence of established names like Juhi Chawla, Rahul Bose, Sanjay Suri, Nandita Das has helped in the movie getting better viewer-ship? Will you always make movies with known faces?
Onir: Yes, ofcourse it helps. People would come to watch, because these names are synonymous with good cinema. These established names have believed in the project and worked for free. Some of our future projects, like Chauranga and Coach Kameena in fact do not have established names. Chauranga is a social drama and is set in rural India. The movie is being directed by Bikas Ranjan Mishra. Coach Kameena, which is a sports inspirational film, is being directed by newbie director Ashwini Malik, work on which would start by August this year.Through Anticlock Films (company setup by Onir and Sanjay Suri), we plan to promote fresh talent in all spheres of filmmaking.
How has the journey so far been? When did the change from Anirban Dhar to Onir happen?
Onir: ( Laughs again) The change of name happened post landing up in Mumbai. I was fed up with the way my name was pronounced. Most people just did not seem to get it right! Also, ever since I was in school I was very keen to have my mother’s surname also as a part of my name, but, since it was not so, I finally decided to drop the Dhar altogether, when I came to Bombay. Hence the name Onir.Not being from a film family, the journey so far has been tumultuous, it is all thanks to the faith of friends and family that I am here today.
Which is the next movie that you are directing?
Onir: My next direction is going to be Shab (means The Night) I hope to begin work on it by October this year. This film is about lives of people who live on the edge. It is about coming to terms with oneself and accepting other people as they are. The casting of the movie is yet to be done and I would be looking for International names, like Frieda Pinto to be a part of the movie.
Glimpses From "I AM"