11 Indian Filmmakers Choose One Film That Impacted Them Deeply

11 Indian Filmmakers Choose One Film That Impacted Them Deeply

“Although for some people cinema means something superficial and glamorous,

I think it is the mirror of the world.”

—Jeanne Moreau

Cinema and time share a curious relationship. While films made purely for entertainment are a dime a dozen, meaningful films age gracefully, and grow timeless as the years go by. With contemporary Indian cinema, especially independent films, making bold strides into experimental and powerful terrains in recent times, we turn to take a look at where these sensibilities are rooted.

As we did with contemporary Indian photographers, musicians, and even artists, we turned our curiousity to filmmaking - an aggregate of various art forms including music, visual language and editing - to find the iconic works of seasoned filmmakers who have shaped the current Indian cinematic landscape with their influence.

[Note to readers: All filmmakers have been listed down in alphabetical order, and in no particular order of preference.]

I. Aakash Bhatia

“As a creative person, there are many things that I watch every day, or instances I observe, that shape my body of work. On a human level, though, there is a contemporary film that has influenced me a lot, and made me want to tell stories like that — Derek Cianfrance’s ‘Blue Valentine’.”

“I’ve seen it a bunch of times — everything about that movie is beautifully human: the way the story is portrayed, the balance of the film, the way it has been shot and performed. It depicts with authenticity what reality is, not the kind of reality that’s made for a screen, or storytelling, — but reality for what it is. It’s disturbing, it’s wild; I personally love stories which are rooted in human emotions and relationships, that delve into simple, binary emotions such as love and hate. This film does lots for me on that level.

The title of my first feature film actually has the word blue in it (‘The Colour of Loss or Blue’). It was hardly intentional, but I had watched it when I was writing my own film. After the making and postproduction processes, I sat down and watched it again, because I was actually physically missing the film. That’s the viewing that made me realise the imprint it had left on me subconsciously. I’m a big fan of Michelle Williams, and a big fan of the filmmaker.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

I first watched it in 2010 when it was released. The pedigree of emotions in the film was such that I had never experienced them before in my own life; it was intense and, in a way, I lived vicariously through it. As I went through different experiences emotionally, and as I evolved as a human being, my association with the film has also moved on. As a creative person, we often feel priveleged to have a tragedy — the writer’s tragedy, the artist’s tragedy; we all romanticise it. The film has become more personal over the years, I can relate to it more as a piece of work. I adore every aspect of the film, from the acting, to the music — music curated well for a film is really important, and Grizzly Bear is one of my favourite artists today because of ‘Blue Valentine’.”

[Aakash Bhatia is a filmmaker who is as passionate about making feature films as he is about directing commercials. He enjoys stories about characters which exist on the fringes of the mainstream, and those about human relationships. His first film ‘The Color of Loss or Blue’ follows a father-son duo, and investigates the ability of men to be able to verbalise and share emotions. His first film is ‘Suburban King/Top-girl’, a hybrid film blurring the lines between a music video and a documentary, premiered at South by South West Music and Film Festival (SXSW), before being selected as a part of the VICE Talent Selects at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, and being screened at a few festivals including Byron Bay, Australia. He is currently working on producing his feature debut ‘The Color of Loss or Blue’, and ‘Buddhagram’, directed by Kabir Mehta.]

II. Amit Masurkar

“Aguirre, the Wrath of God has been on my mind for a while, it’s quite a popular German film by Werner Herzog and is my current favourite.”

“Set in South America, the film is about a group of spanish conquistadores who are in search of the city of El Dorado. The story revolves around how the jungle, as they go deeper, changes everyone, and things start going awry. I was quite fascinated by the story behind the making of the film as well, the team had to hack through thick jungle, the director stole a camera for the shooting, and the set flooded once. ‘Newton’s premise is very different from this film, but the desire to shoot in the jungle was inspired from here.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

“There was a screening at Max Mueller Bhavan, where they had screened a print in 2007-2008. The curator, Devdutt Trivedi, who is a very close friend of mine today, was just 18 or 19 back then, and he spoke about this film at length. It has stuck with me since that viewing ten years ago, and over subsequent viewings, you notice the finer details. The film is in German, and is set in South America, so I’m sure it must be quite weird for German and Spanish audiences. I can only see it from the perspective of a complete outsider. All these years later, it is still a great film, but I am sure my influences will continue to change in the future.”

[Amit V Masurkar is a director and writer who made his directorial debut in 2014 with ‘Sulemani Keeda’, a mumblecore film about two screenwriters in Mumbai. His next film ‘Newton’ is set in the jungles of Chhattisgarh, and centres on a clerk on election duty. The film premiered in the Forum section at the Berlin Film Festival in February this year.]

III. Ashim Ahluwalia

“Faces (1968) by John Cassavetes — it’s a case study on how to make a film about the power relationships between men and women, something that rarely emerges in more conventional films. The organic hand-held style, 16mm grainy B&W photography, improvised performances, experimental editing, the intense energy... it’s incredible.

“Faces invented the American indie, and casts a massive shadow over everything that came after it — fashion shoots, music videos, Woody Allen, Tarantino, Altman, Scorsese; everyone was influenced by this film, and yet nothing comes close even after nearly 50 years.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

“I saw it alone in an empty cinema as a film student in New York. I was around 19 years old. I was breaking up with my girlfriend at the time, and it changed my life. I couldn’t believe how cool, intense, poetic, funny and sad it was, at the same time. It’s even better now.”

[Ashim Ahluwalia is a filmmaker based in Mumbai, India. His directorial debut, JOHN & JANE, had a world premiere at the Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals. His next film, MISS LOVELY, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and his new short EVENTS IN A CLOUD CHAMBER screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2016. He is currently finishing DADDY on the life of notorious gangster Arun Gawli. Ahluwalia was named “one of the ten best emerging film directors working today” by Phaidon Press in “Take 100: The Future of Film.”]

IV. Bikas Mishra

“Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pratidwandi’. I love everything about the film, the way it’s photographed, edited, the way Ray uses music some of the scenes from this film are the best I have seen in cinema. Siddharth’s interview scene, the scene in which he goes out looking for a singing bird — these are the greatest scenes I have ever seen in World Cinema. I was tremendously lucky to get an opportunity to work with Dhritiman Chatterjee, who plays the protagonist Siddharth in Pratidwandi.”

“Ray takes us deep into the inner world of Siddharth — a young man trying to find love and employment in a big city — through his experiments with the medium. A bold editing style plays around with time and space, dream and reality. In many ways, this film is a predecessor to Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’, and a tribute to Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s ‘Memories of Underdevelopment’.

An intensely political film that exposes the follies of extremist movements, ‘Pratidwandi’ is critical of the individual aspirationalism driven by capitalism. It’s a deeply moving film about a disillusioned young man who couldn’t cope with the city life, who is forced to migrate to a small town. The final scene, and the frozen frame, makes me cry every time I watch the film. A lost dream can’t ever be captured so magnificently on screen.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

“After having watched the film countless times, I’m still as much in love with it as I ever was. I’m still in awe of the genius of the master, and I wish he had lived longer, so that I could have been able to sit and discuss the film with him. I can’t thank Dhritiman Chatterjee (who will always remain Pratidwandi’s Siddharth for me) enough for having agreed to work with me on my first feature film ‘Chauranga’.”

[Award winning writer-director Bikas Mishra’s debut feature ‘Chauranga’ (released on January 8, 2016, and available on Netflix here) won Grand Jury Prize at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, and was declared Best Indian Feature at Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI). The screenplay of the film was developed at NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab in collaboration with Locarno Film Festival and ScriptStation of Berlin Talents. It also received a development grant from the Göteborg International Film Festival, Sweden.

His short film ‘Naach Ganesh’ has travelled widely to several prestigious film festivals, and, he has, most recently, finished a cineplay adaptation of Badal Sarkar’s ‘Pagla Ghoda’ for HotStar. Bikas is currently working on a contemporary re-telling of C. S Kambar’s ‘Scapegoat’ for CinePlay and HotStar. You can read more about him here, and watch his short films here.]

V. Kabir Chowdhry

“It’s very difficult to select one film as the film that has nurtured your visual world, taught you how to tell a story, chiseled your craft and enthused your passion. Many influences coalesce into one another and inform your choices. But if I had to say, the one film that certainly lingered in my imagination and mind was Thomas Vinterberg’s iconic film ‘Festen’, a chamber drama that involves a wealthy family celebrating the birthday of the patriarch.

“In this exceedingly complex and rich family drama, skeletons tumble out and contradictions build up. Food and deprivation — rich colours against bleak lights — a sort of baroque chiaroscuro of shadows and memories, of forgetting and remembering.

‘Festen’ came out of a unique film movement, a movement that did not have any political or social affiliations, but came out of a codified system of filming. The movement was called Dogme 95, and was started by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. The idea behind the movement was to assert (to what they considered in their manifesto) the traditional values associated with storytelling, acting protocols and thematic content, without the use of elaborate technology. There are ten rules of a Dogme 95 film, also known as the vow of Chastity, as a part of which shooting must be done on location, props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found), the camera must be hand-held, and the film format must be Academy 35 mm, and the director must not be credited. This is to name just a few.

So the film ‘Festen’ subscribed to all the rules of the manifesto, and was considered the first Dogme 95 film that followed the prescriptive limitation imposed on a filmmaker, and how within that constraint, works of great imagination emerged.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

“My impression has been fairly consistent, and it never ceases to surprise me, that despite these self-imposed regulations, the film haunts me for its magnificent understanding of the dark spaces that exist with us, and the director’s ability to shed light on them.”

[Kabir Chowdhry is a multi-disciplinary artist and film director. He began his experiments in film as a teenager and went on to direct several short films and music videos, while working as an art director in Bollywood. In 2007, he won the ‘Passion for Cinema’ award for his one-minute film, ‘Dolly’. His 42-minute film ‘Good Morning’ received the grand Jury Award for Best Narrative short at the South Asian International Film Festival 2011, in New York. In August 2012, he was awarded the HT Youth Icon Award for young achievers in North India and later, in December, 2012, he participated in India’s first collaborative feature film ‘The Last Act’. His directorial debut feature ‘Mehsampur’ is in post-production under the Dark Matter Pictures banner.]

VI. Leena Yadav

“A film that had a huge impact on me in my student years was ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ by Alain Resnais. I don’t know if it influenced my work, but it sure influenced my mind, and defined the power and depth of what film as a medium can communicate and explore.

“What makes the film stand out is the various layers at which the film communicates. It takes you through an experience that is not yours, yet so familiar! The director has used every aspect of the medium to take you on the journey of the characters. There is a truth so deep in the film, that everyone will connect with it. It leads to a lot of introspection. For me, a film must live on in your conscience — that is a good cinematic experience for me. Then, there are films that get over the moment the lights come on. That is entertainment – if you are entertained at all, that is!”

On how her impression of the film has evolved over time

“My first impression of the film is what I have described above. And that has stayed with me. I have not seen the film again since then, but I intend to revisit it sometime soon. I am sure it will reveal more truths to me, because even I have grown and evolved since I first saw it.

[Leena Yadav graduated with Economics honours from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi, and studied Mass Communications in Sophia College, Mumbai. The filmmaker and producer started her career in the television industry, before moving on to making feature films. She has directed films like ‘Teen Patti’ and ‘Shabd’, and her first international feature film, Parched, which premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in 2015, was a tour de force.]

VII. Onir

“I don’t think there has been one film that has influenced my body of work, but the film which inspired me to get into filmmaking was one I watched when I was very young, in Class 10. It was Ritwik Ghatak’s ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’, and the film really resonated with me cinematically, both in terms of visual style as well as content. ”

“There are lots of films that I love — European cinema, especially, has left a deep impact on me, be it the works of Godard, Tarkovsky or Truffaut. ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ however was a film that left a visceral impression on me, because of the rawness that Ghatak’s works usually have. The film touches on stories which are not really in a feel-good space, Ghatak often tackles difficult issues and, hailing from East Bengal, most of his films talk about refugees. I could identify with this, as my dad is from East Bengal, even though I was brought up in Bhutan. The process of making a place your new home, is a theme that drew me.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

“There’s no one like Ghatak to depict the harshness of reality. ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’ features one of the most beautiful portrayals of a brother-sister relationship, and my first film was ‘My Brother... Nikhil’. Both feature the relationship between siblings, which is an impact the film has had on me on a more subconscious level, and there is a very deep connect.”

[Onir is an Indian film and TV director, editor, screenwriter and producer. He is best known for his film ‘My Brother…Nikhil’, based on the life of Dominic d’Souza, starring Sanjay Suri. It was one of the first mainstream Hindi films to deal with AIDS and same-sex relationships. He has also won the National Award for his film ‘I Am’. His next movie ‘Shab’ is coming in early 2017, starring Raveena Tandon and newcomer Ashish Bisht.]

VIII. Q [Quashik Mukherjee]

“I think the strongest impact any film has had on me is VISITOR Q, by Takashii Miike. The Japanese auteur is a favourite of mine, anyway. But this particular piece of work made me question almost everything I knew, or thought I understood.”

“Anti art house, anti social, anti film; this is a savage piece that brutally defies any genre or subculture of cinema. It stood out in its ugliness, its unapologetic punk approach. It is a deeply political film at many levels. Some say that VISITOR Q resonates with Pasolini’s ‘Teorema’. However, Miike’s world is far more ingenuous and compelling for me, set as it is in a distinctly oriental mindspace.

It is a film about shift. Change, as brought about only from the outside. The human resistance to inevitable change. I especially think that this film challenges the way cinema has been treated as a medium, to confuse audiences into choosing between human empathy and manipulation of emotions. This film is about a world beyond social emotions.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

“With the first watch, I was stunned, physically violated and mentally displaced enough to decide that my filmmaker identity would be called ‘Q’. I am deeply afraid of the film, and have managed to watch it only thrice. Every time it has been a religious experience.”

[Q is a filmmaker, artist and general troublemaker. He is an alter ego of the rapper Doktorgandu. He has never been institutionalised. He is learning drums and butterflies.]

IX. Ridham Janve

“When I first saw Aguirre, The Wrath of God by Werner Herzog, I had no prior knowledge of who had made the film. It was around the time I had started discovering films from other countries, and it was a time filled with surprises. I would keep discovering films, and if I liked the film, I would look up its director and watch their other stuff. But I had a habit of falling

asleep watching films. And then one night I saw Aguirre, The Wrath of God, and it stunned me.”

“Never had I imagined that a film like that was possible. It was like watching a dream wide awake; a beautiful, haunting dream. I had never seen anything like that before. It had a memory-like quality, such as that of a past life. Those visuals, the music — everything had a magical feeling that stayed with me. When the film was over, I felt like I had woken up from a dream. It was an incredible experience.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

“I have seen that film many times since then, and I have watched some of Herzog’s other stuff too, but Aguirre, The Wrath of God has remained my personal favourite. Over the time, watching Herzog’s films has only become a more inspiring experience — one strongly united body of work with a common voice, and a common vision. It is amazing how he made all those films in the manner in which he has.”

[A film graduate from the National Institute of Design, Ridham’s short documentaries and fiction films have been screened at various international film festivals. His last film ‘Kanche aur Postcard’ was an official selection in the Indian Panaroma at IFFI, and also represented India in the SAARC film festival 2015 held in Colombo. Currently he is finishing his debut feature film ‘The Gold Laden Sheep and The Sacred Mountain’]

X. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan

“Krzysztof Kieślowski’s 10 Dekalogs is a series of 10 short films, each one based on one of the Ten Commandments. Murder, adultery, theft; each film in an hour long, and watching these really changed my life. The fifth and sixth Dekalogs deal with killing and love respectively, and they are shorter cuts from the feature-length films ‘Krotki film o Zabijaniu’ (A Short Film About Killing) and ‘Krotki film o Milosci’ (A Short Film About Love).”

“I first saw it just after my graduation in law, at the International Film Festival of Kerala around 1999 - 2000. Those films are really powerful, and their visual language and philosophy presentation really appealed to me. It dragged me towards the works of filmmakers like Michael Haneke and Tarkovsky, and I already admired the works of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, and K. G. George.

They have made films with very strong content, in rich poetic language that does not compromise artistically. Their approach to the their stories and their philosophies resonated with me, and for these filmmakers, cinema is much more than just entertainment. With its strong experimental vision on life, this film too is provocative, and thought-provoking. These kind of films follow you around long after your first watch, they make you question things, and help you interpret life in society.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

“Watching 10 Dekalogswas a whole new experience, like getting a knock to your head. It made me think more, and made me yearn to create something like it. It is films like these that made me want to be a filmmaker. I don’t watch too many films or read too many books, but whenever I do, it is a religious experience, and I read or watch it seriously. The short film on killing was especially interesting to me at that point, as a law graduate; the film is narrated through the viewpoint of an advocate appearing in court, representing a criminal. He himself is a new lawyer, just like I was, at that point. He was trying to stave off capital punishment for the criminal, even though the crime he had committed was brutal. It was highly shocking for me, and it changed my perspective on violence, violence of state, and human beings. It was really powerful, if a film really hits you, it stays with you for a long time, and helps you understand society, and politics — this is why films, I think, are a useful tool to live, and survive.”

XI. Shubhashish Bhutiani

“I find this question so challenging, because different films have made an impact on me at different points of my life, and ideally, I would rather make a list. But one film I have really loved has been In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar Wai that has found its way back to me multiple times.”

“This film was a revelation for me; two neighbours, a man and a woman, connect over their respective relationships with their spouses, and each other. With such a simple plot, the film took me into a sort of dream state which I couldn’t shake off for days. You spend every moment with these two, very reserved characters, and as the characters come to know each other, you learn something new about them in little ways, debating whether what you are witnessing is a love story, or an anti-love story.

Most of the film almost feels like a series of moments captured by accident, and there are so many scenes when the two characters are not speaking, or are in a dialogue scene where they are just listening, but the performances really hold you to that moment. It just happens to be one of those films, where I remember feeling like someone had found a very new and personal way to tell a story.”

On how his impression of the film has evolved over time

“The first time I see something, I don’t think of much apart from what is immediately in front of me — the immediate emotional experience, where I am just following the characters and being part of their world. It is with subsequent viewings that the film had evolved for me, as I notice how everything comes together in a blend with the compositions, the colours, art direction and, certainly, how the score plays a haunting role. It creates an atmosphere which is sometimes very playful, and sometimes lonely. In fact, the main music theme of the film often plays in my mind, and I’ve used it to write to, a couple of times.”

[Shubhashish Bhutiani grew up in Mussoorie, where he attended Woodstock School. After being heavily involved in theatre, he transitioned from acting to writing/directing, and went on to learn filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His thesis film, ‘Kush’, premiered at the 70th Venice International Film Festival where it won the Orizzonti Prize for Best Short Film. ‘Kush’ was shortlisted at the 2014 Academy Awards and has won over 25 awards all over the globe.

His first feature film ‘Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation)’ played at the Venice Film Festival in 2016, where it won the UNESCO Prize. The film is currently playing in festivals all around the globe, and is scheduled to release in India on April 7, 2017.]

Featured Photograph of Ashim Ahluwalia via Man’s World India.

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