I may remain only a novelist by the end of my life: Filmmaker Devashish Makhija

The first draft of the script was written in 2014. Like all his other films, it had a life of its own and finally got resuscitated when ‘Bhonsle’ became a sleeper OTT hit during the lockdown in 2020.

“Suddenly there was interest in what Manoj Bajpayee and I could do together. Makhijafilm, set up by my producer partner Anupama Bose and me, stepped in to produce it after Zee Studios showed interest in backing it last year (2021),” Filmmaker Devashish Makhija tells IANS.

This filmmaker, screenwriter, graphic artist, fiction writer and poet, best known for writing and directing films like ‘Ajji’, ‘Oonga’ and ‘Bhonsle’, whose latest movie ‘Joram’, starring Manoj Bajpayee was selected for the FBR section of the Viewing Room at NFDC Film Bazaar, 2022, been exploring the politics of development and displacement in his stories for years now.

Some stories ended up in his anthology of short stories published by HarperCollins — ‘Forgetting’. The film around these themes that predates ‘Joram’ — ‘Oonga’ — turned into a novel in 2020 and won the Neev award for the best Young Adult novel of the year. Another story — which was the breeding ground for the preoccupations of ‘Joram’ — turned into a short film ‘Cycle’, that he made last year.

“It’s travelling the festival circuit as we speak, and was often the starting point of many conversations that led to the imagining of the world of ‘Joram’. A film like ‘Joram’ doesn’t get conceived in isolation. The multiple worlds and themes and characters that populate ‘Joram’ have been charting their narrative journeys through many of my other writings and films to finally arrive in this film. Such an arrival — through endless questioning, explorations, and reshaping — happens over years. ‘Bhonsle’ too was first written in 2011 before it finally got shot in 2017 and released in 2020. It, like ‘Joram’, went through much shape-shifting over those years,” he says.

Feeling he may remain only a novelist by the end of his life, considering filmmaking, especially in the independent space, is an exhausting prospect today, this Kolkata-born and brought up filmmaker, who worked in advertising at one point of time, says, “A novel may not reach as many people as a film, but the writing of one is deeply satisfying. It is bereft of the chaos of mind-numbing logistics, financial jugglery, multiple stakeholders in decision-making, and relentless hustling — all of which define the process of independent filmmaking in this country.”

Stressing that all his interests — as in the case of all multi-disciplinary artists — feed off and nurture each other, Makhija feels a filmmaker needs to be many things to be able to successfully choreograph so many creative minds and ideas and intents across so many media of expression — cinematography, music, sound, colour, costume, performance, writing — towards the realization of one singularly envisioned piece of art — a film.

Talking about his Shorts (‘El’ayichi’, ‘Agli Baar’, ‘Absent’, ‘Taandav’, and ‘Happy’ among others), the filmmaker says they are the reason he even has a feature filmography today.

“They brought me out of a decade of filmmaking anonymity. Unlike most other filmmakers who started out making shorts and then worked their way to a feature film, I had never even considered shorts until I reached the end of my tether after a decade of 18 shelved feature films. Suddenly in 2015, Shorts had a YouTube boom and I rummaged through my decade of written materials to toss up short film after short film, all made in frighteningly non-existent budgets with artists who went out of their way to empower and enable them,” he remembers.

Lamenting that theatres never cared for independent films but only blockbusters, he feels it is not right to expect them to exhibit more engaging, challenging, artistic and intimate films.

“The online space is the first to ever offer an alternative to the cinema hall. Though it comes with its own challenges, at least it has made access to films more democratic. Also, forget the fact Indian films that are garnering critical festival acclaim and not releasing, the best of the international arthouse from the Cannes film festival over the last five years or so have not made their way to theatres or even OTT’s yet,” he concludes.

(Sukant Deepak can be reached at sukant.d@ians.in)




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