Two acclaimed regional films — 'Killa' (Marathi) and 'Labour Of Love' (Bengali) — will be released theatrically across various cities this Friday. Both of them, aside from winning top awards at prestigious festivals like Berlin and Venice, also scored big at the 62nd National Awards held in May this year.
Here are profiles of the two extremely talented filmmakers behind these films.
Avinash Arun, 29. Director of 'Killa' (Marathi)
When Avinash Arun’s debut feature was screened at the 16th Mumbai International Film Festival (colloquially referred to as ‘MAMI’), the response to the film was so good that the organisers were overwhelmed with requests to organise extra screenings. ‘Killa’ ended up being one of the most-loved films at the festival, and took home the Silver Gateway Of India award — the second highest prize for Indian films at the festival — as well as a special jury award for its ensemble cast.
These weren’t its first set of awards or acclaim — in early 2014, ‘Killa’ had won the Crystal Bear award at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival in the Generation KPlus category (awarded by a jury comprising young children and teens). A little more than a year later, it won the Best Feature Film (Marathi) award at the 62nd National Awards.
A charming, coming-of-age tale set in coastal Maharashtra, ‘Killa’ features a cast comprising mostly children — prominently, Archit Deodhar (‘Siddhant’) and the incorrigible Parth Bhalerao (‘Bhootnath Returns’, in which he often stole the limelight away from one Amitabh Bachchan) — as well as Amruta Subhash (‘Shwaas’, ‘Balak-Palak’, ‘Firaaq’). On Friday, it will release in screens across Maharashtra, as well as in certain cities across Gujarat, Karnataka, and Goa with English subtitles.
It mirrors eight years worth of Arun’s own experiences of growing up in Maharashtra’s Konkan region, where he often shifted from town to town as his father, a government employee, would routinely get transferred. “I was fascinated by life there, especially during the monsoon,” he says, during a conversation over filter coffee at a café in Mumbai’s Versova area. “We’d see snakes slithering around and try to catch fish from the river. The rains would turn life into chaos, of course, but even that had its own beauty.”
These indelible images as well as the friends he made over the course of his childhood found their way into ‘Killa’, which has been shot on-location at Guhagar, Vijaydurg, and Ganapatiphule. Arun was also the cinematographer — which is the discipline he learnt at Pune’s Film and Television Insitute of India (FTII), while studying there from 2006 to 2011. “I spent a decade of my life in FTII in total, working as everything from a spot boy to a production assistant, since I was 16,” he said.
Over the years, the plot for what would become ‘Killa’ started developing in his head. “I never thought I would start off by being a director,” he said. Only that’s exactly what happened.
Arun counts himself as part of the generation of Indian filmmakers that got influenced by the vast variety of world cinema that was made available by the introduction of torrents nearly a decade ago. “How many people had access to [cinema by] the Dardenne brothers or Michael Haneke before that?” he asks. “Indian cinema is still a growing child. We’re still learning. But that’s also why cinematic literacy and craft is getting better.”
While ‘Killa’ releases this Friday, Arun’s name will be seen in the credits of two other movies releasing next month — he is the cinematographer of both the award-winning ‘Masaan’, which releases on July 24, and Ajay Devgn starrer ‘Drishyam’, which releases a week later. But while he had “an amazing time” working on both those films, he is interested in making more films, especially those that have some longevity. “This whole concept of a crew of 300 people working for two years, only for three days at the box-office to decide the film’s fate, makes absolutely no sense to me,” he says. “I’d rather make movies that stand the test of time.”
His next idea is already brewing in his head: a fantasy film that will require a considerably larger budget than the Rs 1.5 crore it took to make ‘Killa’, since it needs “a fair amount of SFX and lots of miniature work”. He’d like to have a principal cast of child actors for this as well. “They have a beautiful, fluid energy that I love capturing,” he says. He doesn’t say it in as many words, but one suspects that it’s this very energy that keeps him going.
Aditya Vikram Sengupta, 31, Director of ‘Labour Of Love’ (Bengali)
Comfort zones are hard to get out of. It must certainly have been hard for Aditya Vikram Sengupta, who found his while working as a promo director at Channel [V] in Mumbai not too long ago. “It was a dream job,” says Sengupta, in a phone conversation with HuffPost India. “We were often involved in every aspect of filmmaking, from ideation to finish. It was a very enriching process. We had a very chilled-out boss, and everybody loved her. There were days when I’d walk into office at 12.30 pm and leave by around 5.”
This was his first job after four years of studying animation, film, and graphic design at Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design, where he graduated from in 2008. But after three-and-a-half years of working at this place this cushy, Sengupta decided to quit. “I just wanted to be able to say my own things [through films] rather than what others wanted me to say,” he says, by way of explanation.
Its ironic, therefore, that his debut feature film — ‘Labour Of Love’, which releases in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore on Friday — revolves around two people in unemployment-stricken Kolkata who say nothing at all to each other or anyone around them. “Dialogue, for me, doesn’t necessarily need to be spoken,” he says, insisting that his film isn’t ‘silent’. “Dialogue can be spoken through sounds, through images, through certain things depicted on screen. Words are only one way of expressing something.”
This may sound like an impossibly abstract concept to grasp for some, but ‘Labour Of Love’, which premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival in September last year, has left a tangible impression upon audiences at nearly 50 festivals around the world. It has picked up a total of 12 awards in the process — most prominently, these include the award for Best Debut Director at Venice’s independent sidebar Venice Days as well as the Indira Gandhi Award For Best First Film at the 62nd National Awards earlier this year.
The film stems from Sengupta’s own memories of watching his parents interact. “I never saw verbal or physical expressions of love from either of them,” he says. “It was always through mundane, everyday activities or gestures that they showed love and concern for one another.” His idea was to excavate these memories and tell a story by exploring them. For him, he says, even a clothesline fluttering in the wind has a story behind it that can be told in an elegant manner.
The film features some beautiful cinematography, credited to Mahendra J Shetty (‘Udaan’, ‘Lootera’) and Sengupta, and carefully crafted sound design, which won Anish John a National Award for Best Audiography. Sengupta, who also wrote the screenplay, drew all the film’s imagery by pulling from his “memory bank”, in which he tended to associate an emotion or a mood with an event, rather than the event itself.
His cinematic language, therefore, comprises the sights, sounds, and moments he grew up experiencing in Kolkata, his hometown. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he is more inspired by Bengali auteurs like Satyajit Ray and Tarun Majumdar than he is by the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman. “It’s quite embarrassing, but I have barely seen any of their films,” he admits, with a laugh.
The film’s Bengali title is ‘Asha Jaoar Majhe’, which literally translates to ‘between returning and leaving’, but its English title, ‘Labour Of Love’, describes it on a more literal level. Produced jointly by himself and his wife Jonaki Bhattacharya (through their company For Films, launched in 2013), this film began with an initial corpus of Rs 2.5 lakh that they invested from their own savings. Over time, it took a combination of freelance work that Sengupta and Bhattacharya would take up so that they could put it back in the film and loans from friends and family to complete the film.
Sengupta compares this labour of love to the act of drinking on a tight budget. “Y’know, you start off by ordering one whiskey and then you want another, so you borrow some money from one friend and get one more. Then you want another after that one is over, so you approach another friend,” he says. “In the end, you promise to pay them all back. That’s how this film got made.”