EXCLUSIVE: Ram Kamal Mukherjee OPENS UP about his struggles of directing films, cinema post COVID 19 & more

Director Ram Kamal Mukherjee talks about his struggles of becoming a film, director, his journey in directing films and cinema post Coronavirus pandemic.
EXCLUSIVE: Ram Kamal Mukherjee OPENS UP about his struggles of directing films, cinema post COVID 19 & moreEXCLUSIVE: Ram Kamal Mukherjee OPENS UP about his struggles of directing films, cinema post COVID 19 & more
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Journalist-turned-filmmaker Ram Kamal Mukherjee has successfully directed short films like Cakewalk and ZEE5's Season's Greetings. The latter which stars actors like Lillete Dubey, Celina Jaitley and Azhar Khan. While the entire film fraternity across India has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, we got in touch with Ram Kamal Mukherjee to get an insight into his filmmaking journey and cinema post the coronavirus pandemic.

From a journalist to a filmmaker. How was the journey?

It's been a long and fulfilling journey. I started my journey as a journalist in Kolkata. Going forward, I wrote my first coffee table book Diva Unveiled in 2005 and became India's youngest biographer. It's been 20 years since I have worked with leading publications. I have managed to write five books and also worked with a leading communications company as Vice President on almost eleven films. My journey with entertainment production started with director Rajshree Ojha who created a beautiful finite series. After that Aritra Das and I formed our production house and produced our first Hindi short film Cakewalk. But this transition from author to filmmaker wouldn't have been possible without my co-producers Shailendra Kumar and Dinesh Gupta. Nothing moves without money, and that's what helped us in pursuing our dreams.

What were the initial thoughts?

Initially, I was a bit apprehensive. I never thought that I would venture into direction. I have always maintained that I am not a trained filmmaker, neither did I assist anyone. Of course in my early days of journalism, I had the privilege to spend hours seeing work of Aparna Sen (Mr and Mrs Iyer) Gautam Ghosh (Abar Aranye) Rituparno Ghosh (Shubho Mahurat) Nabyendu Chatterjee (Mansurmiyar Ghora) and Bappaditya Bandhopadhya (Shilpantar). That's when in my subconscious mind I probably learned a lot from these masters of cinema. I used to spend hours watching Bengali actors Prosenjit Chatterjee, Rituparna Sengupta, Raima Sen, Tota Roy Choudhury switching between commercial films and meaningful cinema. I treasure those memories.

What kind of struggles you have seen? Was it cakewalk or you had to wait for Season's Greetings?

Of course, it wasn't easy. We faced multiple roadblocks before we started making Cakewalk. We trusted people and wanted to make a feature film but things took an odd turn and we had to shelve the project. It was a big learning experience. A year later while I was writing Hema Malini's biography Beyond The Dreamgirl, I had to interview Esha Deol and while interacting with her we thought of producing a short film with her. At that time she was expecting her daughter Radhya and still, she agreed to do a film for us. But somehow that project didn't work out and we had to wait till Cakewalk happened. Even then I was supposed to produce the film with Aritra, but it was Esha Deol who encouraged me to take that plunge and direct the movie. She told me if you can visualize and execute a story, convince your actors to act, create your sound and storyboard, get investors to invest, and even sell your product to a corporate, then you are the captain of the ship. So I would like to give credit to her for helping me in becoming a director. But that was not the end. My struggle continued as people discouraged me at every step.

You directed Esha Deol and also Celina. Both come from different worlds. How do you see that?

Yes, Incidentally, they are best buddies, but completely different from each other. And I guess that makes them stronger as individuals. Both Esha and Celina submitted themselves as an actor. That's very important. I feel Esha is born with a certain quality that has not being tapped, barring Mani Ratnam in Yuva. There is a fabulous actor waiting like a volcano to erupt. I guess even critics said the same when they watched her in Cakewalk. And needless to say, the film walked away with almost 17 national and international awards last year. Celina is a dear friend and we bonded well during our trip to Egypt. Post marriage and motherhood Celina had taken a break from Bollywood and was happily settled in Dubai with her husband Peter and her twins. Celina treasures an amazing sense of humour and she is extremely articulate. When I conceived Romita's character for Season's Greetings I knew that they both are poles apart and yet have similarities. So when we met in Dubai and narrated her the story she had tears. She could connect with Romita and Suchitra. She was involved from the word go and made sure that she was fully prepared as Romita before she landed in Kolkata for the shoot. From director like Khalid Mohamed to producer like Arindam Choudhuri, from film scholars like Shoma A Chatterji to Dr Piyush Roy, from mainstream media to international press, Celina and the film were getting a massive response. But to tell you the truth, I was the happiest when Esha Deol called me (she was the first one) and spoke at length about the movie. She recorded her feelings for Celina and had sent her a voice note. All three of us were happy and emotional at the same time.

How do you see the changing phase in Bollywood?

Bollywood has changed. Content is the king. Now you can make big-budget films with Ayushman Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal, Rajkummar Rao, and you can also cast a hardcore commercial star like Ranveer Singh in Gully Boy and Alia Bhatt in Raazi and still make moolah at the box office. You can have Shah Rukh playing his age in Dear Zindagi and Aamir playing a father of two grown-up daughters in Dangal. You can have Tabu, Kangana, Deepika Padukone, Vidya Balan, Bhumi Pendekar, Anushka Sharma and Priyanka Chopra play the lead without any A list heroes. People are rejecting stars, they are waiting for actors and content. Abs, arms, and size zero waistline are not the main criteria anymore. Happy to see actors like Gajraj Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Neena Gupta, Shefali Shah getting good roles. This is the best time for Bollywood.

How do you see OTT as a platform?

Netflix and Amazon are yet to prove their choices beyond the typical filmy lineage. We need strapping personalities like Raj Nayak who had vision and power to take decisions. While everyone had their own prejudice, it was Mr Nayak who agreed to premier Cakewalk on satellite television. It broke the age-old concept of short films can't be aired on TV. Thanks to OTT that newcomers like us are getting a chance to exhibit our talent. If the budget is right, and we have decent content then people will watch. I hope someday Netflix and Amazon will welcome freshers with fresh ideas.

Do you think post-COVID 19 people will opt more for OTT?

Yes, people are scared to venture out with their families to public places. I feel that it will take at least a few more months to overcome the fear. OTT content is easy to consume and comes with a flexible choice of time. Of course, OTT is the biggest alternative medium. I am waiting eagerly to showcase my films Rickshawala with Avinash Dwivedi and Kasturi Chakraborty and two of my Hindi films Broken Frame with Rohit Roy and Shubho Bijoya with Gurmeet Choudhury and Debina Bonnerjee.

(ALSO READ: Celina Jaitly & Lillette Dubey's feature film Season's Greetings to release on a digital platform on April 15)

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