It is now more than two and a half decades since I graduated from the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, my film school with specialization in Film Direction. Since then, there has been a sea of change as to how we look at films and how we make them. For one, we can no longer be called ‘filmmakers’ simply because there is practically no film or celluloid anymore and movie making is more a terminology that can be aptly used. In the days of celluloid, with the kind of costs involved, it was unthinkable then for someone coming from a middle class back ground like me to be able to home produce a feature length fiction movie. Fortunately, there is an alternative model of movie production available now – a model that can, at the same time, be extremely challenging and yes, highly fulfilling as well.
It is a model that is digital, low in scale, high in content and most importantly, it involves a lot of goodwill and effort. Although it is collaborative in nature, many a time it weans towards the ‘do it yourself’ trajectory. But happily, it promises unlimited creative freedom, as you are your own producer. My films, Suddha (The Cleansing Rites) and Haal-e-Kangaal (The Bankrupts) are manifestations of this kind of movie making. Continuing in this tradition is Bunnu K. Endo Maye or The Maya of Bunnu K. Endo. The film, in Kannada, English and Hindi, looks at a runaway couple, who are having an extra marital affair and who are led by a faceless support group into an empty flat in a city where they soon realize that they are trapped as mere pawns in the larger game of ‘corporatocracy’.
Ever since I had access to the thoughts in John Perkin’s book, Apologies Of An Economic Hitman, I now look at National and International events in a different light, hitherto unseen. Nothing seems to be what it appears to be. It is no longer possible to look at the grand neo-liberal narrative of capitalization of global natural resources engineered by a few family-based, mega multinational corporations as a simple conspiracy theory. The supposedly free choices that we make in our daily ordinary lives, the governments that we elect to govern us and the interests of these mega corporations seem to be intricately connected into this narrative – with or without our informed consent and most times, even without our knowledge. To reflect this grand world thematic narrative in a chamber movie-like situation with only a couple of characters, a limited space and meager resources was the true challenge. Haal-e-Kangaal too had similar production parameters, wherein I was peeping into the minds of the limited characters, who were present in a confined space within the film. In Bunnu K. Endo Maye, the attempt is to look outward – opening out from the micro to suggest the super macro.
By and large, the Indian film formally bases itself on the ancient Indian treatise on drama, the Natyashastra. It gives its audience an experience of all the rasas (emotional essences) but focuses more on one of them, depending on the theme and plot. Off late, there has been a shift to a tight, dramatic cause-and-effect structure with the elements of the Natyashastra thrown in or discarded in various measures within it. As I see it, the general tendency is to dub a film as ‘realistic’ if this dramatic structure is not too tight. There are certain other set of movies that discard this tight dramatic structure; they may or may not have elements of the Natyashastra incorporated into them. They make no qualms of any realistic portrayal and are upfront in taking the audience into confidence about the nature of the stimulated artistic construct that the movies are. Bunnu K. Endo Maye treads this path – a path that is probably isolated, but nevertheless, extremely stimulating.
As is always the case with me, the availability of the location – this time, an empty flat – dictated the contours of the script. Our compact unit stayed at the location itself, and every morning for eleven days we packed our beds and bags, emptied the rooms to roll the camera for the film. After pack up, the beds and bags were unpacked again. We were in a sense living what the characters in the film were going through. While actors Chitrra Jetliy, Vinnay Vishwaa worked hard to get the coastal Kannada dialect right, cinematographer Solanki Chakraborty made capable use of available lights, colors and tones, and sync sound specialist Sudipto Mukhopadhyay played around with the surrounding ‘industrial’ sounding noises that were available to him to create a rather interesting base towards the final sound design. My associate, Pradip Saha, surprised all of us, pleasantly so, in suitably maintaining what he called ‘make-up, costume and properties design’, apart from asking crucial existential questions pertaining to the script. But the icing on our already loaded cake has to be my senior most crew member, the Executive Producer Suresh Gujar, who not only managed the extremely limited resources that he had with him very well, but also acted as a conscience keeper of sorts, not hesitating to call a spade as a spade.
Never before have I worked in a form that is allegoric in nature and bordering towards fantasy. It was thought provoking to depict time and space in the movie in a manner that blurs the line between the real and the unreal using visuals, sounds and temporal aspects of the cinematic language in equal measures. It was exciting to use the settings, properties and costumes in a mythical manner, thereby bringing in a fable-like quality to the movie. The characters too don’t seem to be what they are and even when they are playing what they are not, unknown to them, they invariably ooze out some bit of ‘who they are’. Everything seem to be what it does not appear to be, in the world of the all empowered corporate entity controlling our very existence, whose presence we feel, but do not tangibly comprehend.
That then is the world of Bunnu K. Endo Maye, a world led by a faceless head of an all pervasive organization that seems real, but, at the same time, illusive.
Photographs by Pradip Saha.