'Peddlers is about alienation and loneliness'
The story of Vasan Bala, a 34-year-old former bank officer with hardly any savings of his own, and who raised a few thousand rupees to fund his first feature film Peddlers through Facebook is well-known. The film kept resonating at the Toronto International Film Festival where his gritty, violent and moving study of corruption of souls had a warm reception following a successful screening at Cannes.
Peddlers tells the story of a young drug peddler (Siddharth Menon), a young immigrant mother facing a fatal disease (Kriti Malhotra) and a corrupt cop (Gulshan Devaiah) whose sexual inadequacies in an adulterous relationship is one of the many inner demons he faces.
Bala tells Rukmani Sah what to expect from his film.
Since how long have you wanted to be a filmmaker?
For many years I had no courage to choose films as a career. I grew up in Mumbai and worked in banks for several years. Being the only child, I could not tell my parents that I wanted a life outside the so-called safer professions. But I was very bored working for banks.
In fact, I dropped out of a master's program because I could not understand taxation laws. My parents were not very happy that I was changing so many jobs.
A couple of years ago, I gave up my job and went to Chennai, hoping to work with Mani Ratnam whom I have admired for long, but that did not happen.
However, I was not going to give up. I worked on a couple of movie scripts and also blogged. That is how I came to know Anurag Kashyap who became my mentor.
Image: A scene from Peddlers. Inset: Vasan Bala
'Peddlers is not my first film script'
The film you have made is very different from the kind of films Mani Ratnam makes...
I still admire Mani Ratnam but in the past years, I have worked with Anurag, and most importantly with Michael Winterbottom when he made Trishna. I admire their courage and focus and relentless passion.
Winterbottom has been making good films for several decades and yet I was not overwhelmed while working with him. Though he has a lot of passion, he also looks at his film projects in a dry and detached way.
Peddlers is not my first film script. I wrote a quirky love story but it didn't work out well. And I think I should be glad about that because I am reworking the script.
How did you get the idea for this film?
I read newspaper reports about how young immigrants -- some of them who have a few years to live because of diseases like cancer -- get into illicit drug making and smuggling. They risk jail sentences, but given their knowledge that their lives are short, they are prepared to do anything to save some money for their immediate families.
Image: A scene from Peddlers
'It is more than a drugs and corrupt cop film'
How would you describe Peddlers?
It is more than a drugs and corrupt cop film. It is not really a thriller, even though there are a lot of unexpected twists and lots of drama. I could even say it is a film about normal people living normal lives in a post globalization Mumbai.
It is also a film about alienation and loneliness. The family system I knew a few years ago has been fast disappearing. In the new environment, you become somewhat of a stranger to your parents and friends.
I grew up in Matunga (in central Mumbai), which is essentially like small-town. I didn't realise that I was living in a big metropolis until college. Suddenly there were hundreds of people that came from all over the country. I felt a little left out and rootless. When I began to work, I saw more of the whole migrant city.
Soon I started feeling like an immigrant myself. Post-globalisation, India has sprinted so far ahead that our loneliness -- your parents are living in the same city as you are and yet they have a separate life -- was almost an every day phenomenon.
I explore some of this loneliness in my film and that is why for over 10 minutes, you have fragmented images in the beginning.
I set my film in the new Mumbai. The first few minutes in the film you may feel like you are in a ghost town, very different from overcrowded Mumbai. This was, of course, done deliberately to reflect the idea of people being locked in.
In a way, the concept of Mumbai is turned on its head. How the paths of the three characters collide is more important than the city in which it happens.
What is your next project?
I am revising my first script. I read a news item some time ago about a psychiatrist who certified dozens of people insane in a year after taking a bribe from the 'mad person's' relatives and in-laws. What could happen if a psychiatrist like him falls in love with a woman he had wrongly certified as insane?
Image: Movie poster of Peddlers