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The Indian filmmaker with THREE Oscar 2012 nominations

Last updated on: December 20, 2012 16:31 IST

Image: Rupesh Paul
Shobha Warrier in Chennai

A Hollywood film directed by an Indian has been long listed in the Best Film category for the nominations for the Oscars.

Saint Dracula 3D is a musical directed by Rupesh Paul. The film has two more Oscar nominations in the music category -- Best Original Song (2 songs) and Best Original Background Score.

The music has been composed by Kochi based Sreevalsan Menon, a very well-known Carnatic musician.

Sohan Roy, director of Dam 999 has produced Saint Dracula 3D.

In this interview, Rupesh Paul, an engineer-turned-journalist- turned-filmmaker talks about directing the international cast and crew in his second directorial venture. His first was in Malayalam, My Mother's Laptop, but it was a huge flop at the box office.

Why did you decide to turn Dracula into a saint and a romantic lover?

The Prince of Wallachia, whom people call Dracula, was not against the cross. He killed 40,000 Turkish Muslims for the Cardinal, for the church.

Later, he was characterised as a bloodsucker and vampire. What the Prince did was save the church when it was in a crisis but his image has been tarnished through literature. I wanted to break that image.

As for his love story, that is my imagination.

'My first film My Mother's Laptop made just Rs 4 lakh at the BO'

Image: A scene from Saint Dracula 3D

From when did you start thinking about making a film from this perspective?

The first literary prize I won was for a short story titled Dracula's Seventh Bride

I wrote the story when I was in the eighth standard. Dracula's life has haunted me since I was young.

From there to making a film, that too a Hollywood film, how did it happen?

Let alone directing one, I never ever imagined that I would one day see the shooting of a Hollywood film!

My first film, My Mother's Laptop, made in Malayalam, was the biggest flop of 2008. The box office collection of that film was just Rs 4 lakh.

It is another matter that it became a best seller when the DVD came out.

The situation was such that no producer (in Malayalam) was even willing to see me. It was like, 'we will see anyone but the director of Laptop'.

'I became a journalist only to meet film stars'

Image: A scene from Saint Dracula 3D

Were you not working as a journalist?

Yes, I was. I became a journalist after studying engineering only to meet film stars. I must confess that I was not sincere in my work. My ultimate aim was to be a filmmaker.

To be a filmmaker, I quit my well paying job with India Today. And there I was, after my first film, with no work. So I started making short films to make ends meet.

As luck would have it, one of my short films, You Cannot Step Into The Same River Twice, was selected for the Short Films Corner at the Cannes Film Festival.

But my visa was rejected and I couldn't go. The year that followed was one of the worst times in my life.

Then my short film Mrugam was again selected for the Cannes Film Festival. This time, I made sure that I reached there with the film. I decided to take a visa to Italy and from there go to France.

'I was scared to face the audience when my film was screened at Cannes'

Image: A scene from Saint Dracula 3D
What was the Cannes experience like?

Before I tell you the experience of screening my film, I want to tell you how I survived there. I did not have much money. So, I survived on the green apples and beer and wine they had kept for Happy Hours.

I was in such a depressed state that when my film was being screened, I went out and sat in a restaurant, scared to face the audience!

After the screening, an Indian couple -- a man in a business suit and a woman in a gorgeous silk sari -- came and sat next to me, and started talking to me. They knew I was the director, and later, they invited me to dinner at an Indian restaurant. I ate my fill that night.

He later asked me whether I had any story ideas.
Tags: Cannes , Indian

'I believe God knew about my passion for cinema and He gifted me such an opportunity'

Image: A scene from Saint Dracula 3D
Was he Sohan Roy, the producer of Saint Dracula?

Yes. When he asked me about story ideas, I thought he wanted to direct a film. I told him the story of Dracula. Then he wanted to know whether I had the screenplay. I had, and immediately I logged onto my account from his Blackberry and downloaded it.

He read the script and said, we are going to make a film with this.

I thought he would like to direct the film based on my script. What he said next shocked me. He said, "You are the director, only you can direct this film." That was the beginning of Saint Dracula 3D.

An unknown person meets you and offers you a film! Do you believe in destiny?

Yes, I do. I believe God knew about my passion for cinema and He gifted me such an opportunity. How else can I explain what happened?

You talk to producers and try to impress them but here was this man who comes and asks you to make a feature film after seeing your short film!

'The language of cinema is the same all over'

Image: A scene from Saint Dracula 3D

How did you feel about directing a Hollywood film?

It was all like a dream!

I was back in Kerala soon. Then one day Sohan Roy came home and made me sign the contract and gave me the signing amount of Rs 1 lakh.

We met in July 2010. Forty-five days later, we started shooting for the film.

His budget was so huge, unimaginable, for a man who had made a small film in Malayalam. And he told me not to compromise on the quality.

There was training in the US and the UK on how to use the technology and also on 3D. Till then, I knew nothing about 3D.

Afterwards we shot the film in the UK with an international crew and except for me and Roy, there was not an Indian in the film unit.

It was obviously very different directing a film on such a huge canvas after making just a small film in Malayalam.

The language of cinema is the same all over. I also found that all over the world, everyone accepts the dictatorship of the director.

We auditioned 545 women and only one of them was non-English. She was so extraordinary that we chose her. She was Patricia Duarte from Brazil.

After the shooting, we have not been able to contact her at all. Her FB account has also disappeared and there has been no response from her Gmail. She disappeared mysteriously just as she had appeared for the audition!

From directing a film that was a flop to making a film that gets long listed for the Best Picture category for the Oscars -- how has it been for you?

In making the film Sohan Roy followed all the technical requirements that are needed to be in contention for the Oscars. We diligently followed the formalities.

'We thought we'd get one nomination for the screenplay'

Image: A scene from Saint Dracula 3D

It was the music of the film that got nominated first. Why did you decide to have a Carnatic musician score music for a film like this?

I know Sreevalsan Menon personally and I was fascinated by his knowledge of music. That was why I asked him to compose music for my first film and decided to have him as the composer for Saint Dracula also.

The great thing about my producer was that he didn't interfere in my decision at all.

What kind of music did you want from Sreevalsan Menon for the film, Carnatic or world music?

What we wanted was to get the western feel with Indian instruments so that the western audience would get to hear an altogether different sound.

When we were shooting, we found that the cast loved our songs and that was a positive feedback.

We really worked hard on the music. In fact, we spent nearly 45 days on the background score.

Were the Oscar nominations on expected lines?

We felt we would get one nomination and we thought it would be for the screenplay as we were looking at something from a fresh perspective.

But, whew! three nominations -- Best Original Song, Best Original Background Score and Best Motion Picture.

Not even in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we would get the Best Motion Picture nomination. That was the icing on the cake!