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Helming India's entry to Oscar, 2010

Last updated on: October 5, 2009 14:57 IST

Helming India's entry to Oscar, 2010

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Neha Bhatt

The Oscar nomination season is upon us again. Marathi film Harishchandrachi Factory -- based on the making of Dadasaheb Phalke's first feature film -- has been picked as India's entry in the foreign film category for the Academy Awards 2010.

It is possibly one of the few occasions when a regional language movie has been showered with as much attention and appreciation, but debutante filmmaker Paresh Mokashi tells us that he doesn't think local language cinema is marginalised in India.

Why did you choose to film a part of Dadasaheb Phalke's life and work?

It was not a conscious decision to make a film on him. I just needed a good story. While reading his biography, I was drawn to the period when he made his debut film. Therefore, the idea of focusing on the years between 1911 to 1913 -- that covers the making of Raja Harishchandra, and its success -- appealed to me. I don't want to use the word "struggle" here, because it indicates a sorrowful, larger-than-life journey.

I have, instead, treated the events in Phalke's life as an adventure, layered with light humour, because he was like that. He was eccentric, sharp and a passionate character. It's a happy, inspiring tale.

Technically, I decided to stay away from making it into a larger-than-life biopic because I don't like that kind of storytelling. It restricts you. You end up trying to cover all the important events in the life of your subject, and are not able to delve deep into the psychology of one event, or the person.


Image: A scene from Harishchandrachi Factory

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'I believe that regional cinema works in waves'

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How difficult was it to access information on him?

Most of us know only two things about Phalke: that he made India's first feature film, and that there is an award instituted in his name. So in that sense, it was difficult to access information because there isn't much available.

But since my focus was very clear, I went through a couple of biographies and met some people who have known him through their fathers or uncles who lived in that era. The National Film Archives of India, in Pune, was helpful in accessing his films.

Harishchandrachi Factory is the second Marathi film to be selected for the Oscars, after Shwaas in 2004. Do you believe that the Oscar tag has helped sell regional cinema in India?

I don't think regional cinema is marginalised in the country. For example, look at Telugu and Tamil cinema. They are stronger than mainstream cinema in many ways.

It's true that some of the other regional film industries remain economically weaker, but then again, I believe that regional cinema works in waves. There are ups and downs, just like in Bollywood.


Image: A scene from Harishchandrachi Factory

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'Sometimes it's difficult to handle the overwhelming compliments'

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You mortgaged your house to produce your film, since nobody in Bollywood would back it unless you made the film in Hindi. Doesn't that kind of pressure make it doubly hard for regional filmmakers to survive?

Not really. Even if you want to make a film in Hindi, you may face the same hurdles. It's not so much about the language. If I go to a producer with big names like the Khans or Roshans, I will get the money fairly easily. But if you knock at their door with a different kind of a story, they won't entertain you.

I'm all right with that attitude because it really tests my passion. It makes me question myself, "To what extent will I go to make this film?" So why not face these obstacles?

It's essential to struggle on your own for a while and prove to the world that you have the brains and brawn. Support will then automatically come your way. Look at my film now, and the kind of support it is receiving. Sometimes it's difficult to handle the overwhelming compliments. It's great to see the film cross language barriers, and emerge as part of national cinema.

Do you think the government is doing enough to promote regional cinema?

One cannot fully depend on the central and state governments because I'm sure they have their own restrictions and limitations. I have no complaints, though. You just need to do your own work well. The rest will fall into place.


Image: A scene from Harishchandrachi Factory

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'Harishchandrachi Factory has been consistently appreciated at all film festivals'

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What do you think worked in your film's favour, as opposed to the other films that were in the race for the selection?

Oh my god, I have no idea. It was a pleasant surprise. There is a lot of subjectivity in such a competition.

I believe if you change the jury, you may get a completely different choice. What has worked in our favour is that the film has been consistently appreciated at all the film festivals it was screened at, and we have picked up quite a few national awards. So, yes, we did have hope there.

With the kind of media and mainstream film-industry attention your film has received, you should find it much easier to finance your next project. What are your future plans? Would you consider making a Hindi film now?

All I know is that it will be a film. I don't know about the language. Whatever comes most naturally at that time. I have a couple of subjects which I have been thinking about but it's too early to talk about them right now.


Image: A scene from Harishchandrachi Factory

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