12 Questions for Dev Benegal

These are answers to 12 questions for the telegraph interview.
This post is for Dhaval Desai and will be removed in 48hours.

You are known to be very comfortable with the latest film-making gadgets. How has that helped you as a film-maker?

Subrata Mitra one of the worlds greatest cinematographers was my Guru. He was a geek even before the word was invented. He was a painter, a calligraphist, an accomplished sitar player, photographed the greatest films of Satyajit Ray and could take apart an Arriflex Motion Picture Camera and put it back blindfolded. He was the perfect balance between art, expression and technology. I try in my own limited way to strive towards that.
I love technology but am not it’s slave. For me story is most important. People, emotions and expressions are the heart of what I do and am interested in when making films. Technology is a way to get to my audiences.

Would you say technology is opening doors for newcomers?

When one looks at the young participants of 24×7 the thing that hits you is how central technology has become in our lives. And to a large extent how it democratizes life.
More than technology, the business of filmmaking has high barriers of entry. You need a godfather, a grandfather, a patron saint, public funds and so on. Not everyone can get to make a film. And my simple question was WHY NOT? What if we threw the doors open to everyone?
And when I asked Apple and Panasonic their answer was, “when do we begin?”

How tough was the challenge of completing a film in 24 hours? Was it Mission Impossible or are there instances of people achieving it elsewhere in the world, in your knowledge?

The most important point here is that before the participants pick up the camera they are not filmmakers! It’s AFTER the 24 hours that they become a filmmaker. It is the most intensive process on all fronts. Incubating their ideas, mentoring them, workshopping with them and then pushing them out in the world to make their film. A filmmaker is born in 24 hours!

Most feature films take years to complete. At best one might make a film in a year. But only a handful of filmmakers worldwide can do that. So to make a film in 24 hours is really, really tough. It’s even tougher when you consider that most of the people taking part have had little or no experience in filmmaking.

Ashutosh Gowarikar told me that, “established filmmakers should be told to make a film in 24hours. It would free them and clear the cobwebs in their minds.”

Which is the philosophy behind my idea. How can we break free of the old ways of telling stories, the old ways of making films, the old ways of sharing our ideas and do this in an instant. How can we see the world through the eyes and minds and hearts of the young generation.

What kind of people applied? Especially the odd balls…

This is the beauty of the program. Anyone can take part. We’ve had people from all walks of life who have taken part. From all parts of the country and some from overseas as well. There have been people studying Hotel Management, some going to a flight academy, someone who wanted to walk a dog, the list is endless and never ceases to amaze us. It’s made me realise how important movies are to our lives, and how eager and desperate the young generation are to share their lives with others.

What were your criteria for choosing the final 35? For instance, if someone had a brilliant script but had no clue about how to run a camera, what did you do with him?

The idea is central. It has to be original. That’s the one thing my team and I look at. It’s does not matter if you have never seen or held a camera in your life. The big question is; Do you have something interesting to say? Do you have something original? Do you have a burning desire to tell a story?

What about the event, what was the infrastructure provided and where?

The program was held at the Fame Multiplex in Malad. Apple Computers from California gave us their latest and state of the art Intel processor Mac computers with their professional Final Cut Studio software. This is the same software used in multimillion dollar Hollywood films like the Nicole Kidman starrer Cold Mountain. Panasonic from Japan gave us their latest and state of the art digital camera’s. The multiplex gave us one of their regular screens to show the films as soon as they were made. Hungama Mobile has been key in getting the films a global distribution from day 1 and that is a huge achievement. It has been world class infrastructure for people with no qualifications or previous backgrounds in filmmaking. That I think is a reflection of what each of these world level companies feel about this program.

How chaotic was it?

Filmmaking has to be chaotic. Through chaos arises order, patterns and things of great beauty. I’d be panicking if things were not chaotic. But that does not mean things were disorganized. We had a team of young volunteers who did an amazing job of managing the workflow, accompanying all the filmmakers on location when they were filming as well a full technical backup support from Apple, Panasonic as well as editors and technical crew from the film industry all at hand in case there were any issues which needed to be resolved.

A word on the quality, would help if you take specific examples.

Quality is so relative. What is good for one person is awful for another. In 24×7 quality is never the issue. It has never been. That’s NOT what we are looking at. 24×7 is about the voice of the new generation. It’s a glimpse at the future of filmmaking where the rules of the game are completely different. It would go against the spirit and philosophy for me to apply my standards of quality.
But when you do see the films and you think for a moment that these people have NO background in filmmaking AND they have made this in 24hours you would be amazed.
So were Yash Chopra, Sudhir Mishra, Aziz Mirza, Manmohan Shetty when they saw the films. Whenever Aziz sees me he keeps repeating, “24×7, amazing movies, amazing!” Clearly it struck in chord in him.

9. Since this would definitely go to print after the 30th what impressed you about the winning entry?

What impresses me each time over the last three years that I have been running this is that the films get made! That the story telling is clear and by and large the films entertain and make us think. That the audiences react and respond to these films. They discuss and debate these films at length after the screenings like they would any other film.

The winning entries keep getting better and better each year and that’s what is impressive. The story telling is sophisticated, the young people are willing to take risks that no one else would.

Before each event I panic. I worry that no one will be able to make a film under the constraints set out. I have nightmares that people will laugh at us and the whole thing will be seen as a bad joke.
But when the image falls on the screen and the people respond to it, you have to see the expression on the face of the filmmaking team. It’s beyond words. And that’s what keep making us do this year after year.

How did you rope in Farhan as a judge amid this Don publicity 🙂

Yes that was amazing, especially as it was the time leading up to the release of his new film. I told Farhan about 24×7 and his instant response was, “when do you want me to come?” And the same goes for the rest of the jury; Nandita Puri, Meenakshi Shedde and Mayank Shekhar. Nandita was flying out that same night to Morocco with Om Puri where they were joining Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and yet she came and spent over 6 hours with the rest of the Jury watching the films, discussing, debating and arguing about them in depth. And the best was their criteria for judging was no different from the way they would look at films made by accomplished filmmakers.

Was it an unexpected bonanza when one one of the films from here was chosen for Cannes last year? Did the boy get to attend the show? How was the response?

When The Mud Island made it to the Cannes Short List we realised we were onto something. The international response to 24×7 Making Movies from Variety magazine, Cannes Film festival and others has been that this is one of the most interesting and exciting development in Indian cinema.

Finally, what are you working on now personally?

A screenplay I wrote titled Road, Movie was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival this year. The film is being produced by one of the hottest producers in America who has produced the films of Sophie Copolla and has been nominated twice for an Academy Award. We are looking at a shoot early 2007. Then there’s my passion project which is on the life of the genius Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. I’ve been wanting to tell this story for the last 20 years. We are leaders in technology today only because of Ramanujan and we all owe it to him.
There’s a cinematic adaptation of Kiran Nagarkar’s book Ravan & Eddie. The screenplay was selected amongst ten worldwide for a famous workshop in Europe presided by Academy Award winner Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale) and Upamanyu Chatterjee and I are in discussions over adapting two of his novels for the screen.