The Great Indian Travelling Cinema

The movement of independent cinema from the hallowed screens of film festivals to the television sets of the Aam Aadmi audience has been a slow process if at all it has been a process. In an attempt to break through these barriers, one man has been travelling all over the country, screening his films in different independent spaces such as art galleries, bars, cafes and pubs as part of bringing his ‘indie films’ to the audience he wishes to screen to.

The concept of travelling theatre is deep-rooted in parts of India, especially in West Bengal and the neighbouring regions of Assam and Bangladesh where “Jatras” bring theatre from urban cities to the smaller towns and villages. Independent filmmaker Sandeep Mohan, however, is among the pioneering few to bring cinema to a niche audience.

Sandeep’s eyes had a passion for cinema as he talked about what he did

Untied Laces managed to bring Sandeep Mohan to Manipal to screen his latest film, Shreelancer, which tells the story of a freelancing copyrighter Shreepadh and the struggles he faces as a twenty-year-old in urban India. Shreelancer has been screened in 19 previous locations across the country including Kolkata, Bangalore and Bombay and even internationally in New York to positive responses.

MTTN was lucky enough to obtain an interview with Sandeep right before the 20th screening of his film which happened right here in Manipal, in Interact at the KMC campus.

Humble and genial, Sandeep shared with us his journey of starting the Great Indian Travelling cinema, his creative process of writing and direction and his need for independence in his creative outlet.

Sandeep Mohan, 42, has produced four independent films in the last six years, all of which have subjects dealing with corporate life and the tensions and stresses which are faced in urban India. The key feature of his cinema is that it resonates with its audience. He uses humour to bring out the various issues he addresses in his films.

Choosing to stay out of the mainstream cinema industry, the filmmaker travels to different parts of India, showcasing his films in independent spaces to an audience of his choice. There is no restriction to the space, as long as there is a projector.

“My journey began with my second film, Hola Venky. I didn’t want my film to undergo various cuts by the Censor Board. It takes away a lot of the creative independence,” says Sandeep.

Sandeep decided to take his films to his audience instead of them coming all the way to the theatres at odd showtimes.

After the film has been screened, Sandeep opens the floor up to questions, remarks and criticism of his film. He finds delight in baring himself to criticism as well as appreciation.

“They cannot lie. As soon as they have watched the movie, their opinions are honest and that is what fascinates me the most,” remarks the 42-year-old filmmaker from Kerala.

He finds it paramount for his own growth as a filmmaker to be open to criticism. Through his screenings, he notes “that people often laugh at some scenes which I didn’t expect them to and I make a note of that for future purposes.”

On being asked how different audience reacts to the same film, Sandeep quips that each state has its own set of reactions. “The reaction differs from place to place. I just had a screening in Kolkata a few days back, and I got the response I wanted. Elsewhere, I may not find the response I may want and I’ve got to take that into account and evolve.”

Once the Q&A is done, he opens up his bag and asks the audience to contribute and pay as much as they want to, in accordance with how well they liked the film.

Set in Goa, his earlier film “Love Wrinkle Free” is a story about 38-year old Savio who works in a lingerie company. The story follows the eccentricities that ensue as his 46-year old wife Annie becomes pregnant, further complicating their relationship with their adopted teenage daughter Ruth.

Sandeep writes his own scripts and he chooses subjects so that he “doesn’t get bored of it in the next two years.” His scripts are ubiquitous and for the same reason, a lot of film festivals and production houses are interested in having him. However, Sandeep prefers staying away from the rather artsy audience which these festivals pull, some of whom tend to watch part of the movie and critique the whole.

The filmmaker produces his films with the help of friends, who pool in money and produce his films. This lets him have complete creative control.

“When we shot in San Francisco, the people thought we were tourists making silly videos of ourselves and the place,” says Sandeep, recollecting his experience of shooting with just 3 people for the production of Hola Venky. He finds it easier with fewer people on set since it gives him more flexibility and lessens the effort required in man-management and allows more time for the creative side of things.

“Bigger production houses involve a lot of cuts and edits. At the end of the editing process, you can’t recognise the film in the way you imagined it. That is something which I can’t accept,” remarks the filmmaker who is equally adept with a racket on the Badminton court as he is behind a camera.

“In travelling cinema, you don’t have to make movies to impress your producer or the censor board. If people like what you made, communities, venues and most importantly the audience will find you.” 

The director-scriptwriter claims to have not watched too many movies in college. He has a special place in his heart for Woody Allen and Wes Anderson. “Their cinematography and scripts are just way too different and their direction is really something I admire.”

Interestingly, Sandeep named his daughter after the French romantic comedy movie “Amelie.” His family comprising of his wife Nalini and daughter Amelie reside in Bombay, providing him with immense support to pursue his passion.

Sandeep talking about his time in Bollywood

Sandeep had spent his early twenties working for Sanjay Leela Bhansali as the 5th Assistant Director for “Hum De Dil Chuke Sanam.” He recalls the time when he was rebuked, as his bemused younger self ended up in the camera shot amidst the hullaballoo of the glamour and glitz of the sets.

The journey of becoming a filmmaker for Sandeep started and ended in Bombay as he couldn’t adapt to the flashy tinsel town. He started working in the corporate sector in Bangalore only to be reunited with his passion for making films and now he has already made four films, all of which have achieved great acclaim. He is a prime example of deriving happiness out of doing what you love.

As the our interview drew to a close, we could see Sandeep, laughing a bit nervously, eager about the reception Manipal would provide. Whilst leaving, he noted how different Manipal was since the last time he set foot here. Optimistically, he talked of the place and how it had managed to break the “sons and daughters of rich parents” stereotype.

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