He started his career as an Actor and has a repertoire of unique films in his kitty. He then became Producer with an aim to promote and back content-driven cinema and produced some notable films, the latest being Chauranga that is all set for a theatrical release. A regular at Film Bazaar, we caught up with actor-producer Sanjay Suri who talks about his association with the Bazaar, his takeaways from this platform, upcoming films and more.
What brings you to Film Bazaar?
I started coming to Film Bazaar from the very beginning when it was started. This is the ninth year of Film Bazaar and I’ve been year seven times. I found this platform to be extremely fertile for independent filmmakers. There was no platform for them to begin with. I had come here with my director for our film called As A River Flows. We got a lot of traction and eventually NFDC ended up producing our film. That’s how my association with Film Bazaar started and I’ve seen it grow as a B2B platform dedicated towards facilitation of opportunities for filmmakers, writers and people in the business of films. As it grew one kept coming back and reconnecting with the connections one hand, making new connections, exploring ideas, scripts and production sales – the entire 360 gamut. I think it’s a very gratifying experience to be here.
What were the things that excited you this year?
This time I was a mentor for the Romance Screenwriters’ Lab followed by a session on the ‘Importance of film commissions in India’. I gave a talk on Skill Development in those local regions, state wise. Right now I don’t have a new project here. My film Chauranga, which was at the Screenwriters’ Lab a few years ago and won the Incredible India award, is up for release in January 2016. So I’m exploring international sales for that and two other projects. One is a psychological thriller called My birthday Song directed by actor Samir Soni who makes his directorial debut. And the other one is Onir’s Shabd, which is a drama. Both the projects are currently in post production.
How was the experience of getting together with Onir once again?
Onir and I have been working together since 2004 and also have a company together. He’s a producer-director, I’m a producer-actor and we have a great working relationship. We’ve made films like My Brother…Nikhil, Sorry Bhai!, I Am, Shabd and even Chauranga. In Chauranga I saw him in only the Producer’s hat for the first time. That was another experience for him also. We respect each other’s creative vision and agree to disagree on a lot of things as well. It’s a great relationship with Onir not only as an actor but also as a co-producer and a friend. He’s like family.
As an actor how do you go about preparing for your roles?
For the kind of I films I mostly do, the scripts are written in a lot of detail. You know where you’re coming from, you know the world it’s set in, the background of the character is given to you and so on. You then try and imbibe all that in your interpretation of the character, whether it’s emotional or physical, or nuance in terms of language. For example, in Chauranga I play the character of an upper class landlord, so Bikas (Mishra, Director) asked me to not visit the gym for three month. He told me that the character has been a has-been so he didn’t want him to look all muscled up. The physical appearance mattered a lot and so did the language. The film is in ‘korta’, which is almost like Hindi, but it’s a different dialect. That’s the kind of physical preparation that goes in. And then a bit of sensitization happens when you visit the place. Usually I look at the script, understand the director’s requirements for the character and then add value to it with my own little bit – whether research or workshops. Workshops help a lot and I like doing workshops with co-actors also since it works as a bonding process.
As an actor whom do you draw inspiration from?
For me it’s not any one person. I use life as an inspiration especially in a place like Mumbai where things could be different if you were simply born across the road. The more sensitized you are, the more perceptive you become. And I think when you are approaching a character the world that is set in, inspires you. One has seen works of great actors; you respect their body of work and that itself becomes inspiring.
Tell us about your experience and learnings of being a Producer?
Each film brings along its own opportunities and challenges. The common thing for independent films is that they really depend a lot on content. We don’t make our films on names and they aren’t star – driven films. We get the appropriate cast that fits in the film. This is also something that links to Film Bazaar. Here no one is asking you who is in your film rather everyone asks what’s your film about. Content really rules over here. The films I’ve produced have mainly been content – driven. And you’re working with like – minded people, interacting with the cast and crew, and facing the challenges. So the journey is the goal for me. Producing all these films has been tough as they were not easy subjects. But I’m proud of these films. If you look at My Brother…Nikhil, it was acclaimed globally and established Onir as a director. I Am won a National award. So the little library of films that I’ve produced are highly acclaimed and worked for the audience that they were made for.
As an actor or producer what are the things you look for before committing to a project?
As an actor or producer, the script comes first followed by the vision of the director. I’ve worked with a lot of new directors as an actor – Meghna Gulzar’s first Filhaal, Onir’s first My Brother…Nikhil, Sujoy Ghosh’s first Jhankar Beats and many others. Even Chauranga is Bikas Mishra’s first feature and the same holds true for Samir Soni. I like working with new talent and the first film is always made from the heart. The second can be made from the mind (laughs). As a producer, a film may or may not have an acting role for me and I’m absolutely fine with it.
Tell us about your next film Chauranga.
Chauranga is a film that is set in a dark corner of shining India. It’s a story where a lower caste boy who is infatuated by an upper cast girl and he writes her an innocent love letter that gets into the hand of her father – an upper cast landlord. And the consequences that follow. It’s inspired by an incident that Bikas read in the newspaper where a boy was killed for doing this. We fictionalized it but it’s a very engaging social drama that makes you witness that world beautifully.
Bikas being a journalist and also an independent cinema aggregator, what were the kinds of interactions you’ll had?
My interactions with Bikas started with me reading the script first and then understanding where he’s coming from. This incident happened in Hazaribagh that was then in Bihar but is now a part of Jharkhand. And Bikas belongs to Jharkhand. So I wanted to understand the dynamics and socio – political scene there. He had imagined this happening in his village and fictionalized all the characters. He’s a wonderful writer. At the same time he’s a journalist also and his instincts for research come from there. But we told him to stop reviewing films as he was turning director. His love for cinema and his knowledge of world cinema is amazing. His entire taste and aesthetic is very world cinema. I just heard him out a lot. When we were pitching the film here in the Co-Production market or Paris project in Paris, and other markets, mostly he and I traveled. So through the journeys and pitching, we discovered something new about the film. My interactions with him were very candid after understanding what inspired him to make this film. That was a producer-director interaction. Before the casting was done, I didn’t force myself on the film. When he told me that he anted me to play this part, I asked him, “Are you sure? Do you think I’ll be able to do justice to this part?” He said yes and asked me take a little slice from my real life, the way I function, and put it into the film. That’s how I was cast in the film.
As a filmmaker what is the one takeaway from a festival like this?
For a platform like this I always tell people to not take too much pressure because everyone is here to explore collaborations and build relationships. For me a takeaway is building relationships, reconnecting with people, making them aware of what you are doing and vice versa, and then looking for future collaborations and joining the dots. So I’m always positive. Another takeaway is always a lot of knowledge awareness. That’s what I look forward to.
-Transcribed by Esha Verma