Well, well, well. Ashvin Kumar was in our school!
Now, you’d ask: Who’s this Ashvin Kumar? But then, that’s not your fault, for in Bollywood-obsessed India people are only nuts about actors and not directors. In rare cases, directors of feature cinema do grab attention; but of art cinema, never.
Ashvin Kumar is an independent film-maker who has made several films and documentaries like Inshallah Kashmir, Inshallah Football, Dazed in Doon and many more. His short-film Little Terrorist was nominated for the Oscars and has been invited to and screened at more than 120 film festivals around the world.
He would be here on 26 July at 10:45 a.m. – we were told. Thus we waited until he arrived unnoticed (hapless directors, I told you). He held a two hour workshop where he acquainted everyone not only with the basics of film-making but much more. Thereafter, we had a talk with him. Here it goes:
Q. Is film-making something you aspired to do since your school days?
Not at all. In my school days, there was no such thing. We could not aspire towards film-making. There was no such concept that somebody actually made a film. We had no exposure, we had no idea. We just used to watch … ‘a’ movie. Nowadays, there are alternatives, but at that time there used to be only one movie running at a time. I come from a time when there was one Doordarshan channel on TV. So I grew up mainly working in theatre.
Q. How did you get into film-making?
It was a series of accidents. At that time film used to be Bollywood, that’s it, nothing else. And that also, it was one of the worst decades of Bollywood when we were growing up. So, my interest started then and began moving into theatre. I even started my own theatre company. But then, at that time theatre didn’t get good audience. I remember, we did a play and there were only two people in the audience. And there was one time when there was an empty hall and we performed to the empty hall.
I then decided to do something which is little more; I started thinking of other careers and things like that. I said, “Let me see what I can do in films.” And that’s when I started to look at films as a medium rather than entertainment.
Q. Any inspirations?
Yes, a lot of inspirations. Satyajit Ray immediately comes to my mind. Huge inspirations. There is Hitchcock, another enormous inspiration. Then Coen Brothers, and Inarritu who made Babel and 21 Grams. All the Iranian film-makers and the Chinese film-makers.
Q. How do you make your films reach out to people?
This is a big problem in our country. We don’t have an alternative cinema system. And till that happens, you will be deprived of the films, not just of me but of many others.
Actually, this is not our job. Our job is to make the films and distribution is the job of people who distribute.
Q. We had a chance to watch your ‘Dazed in Doon’ and also heard about the controversy. What’s your take on the whole experience?
We are becoming an intolerant society. It is very sad to see that an institute of education is indulging in the very censorship it should be fighting against. When I grew up in the school that we were talking about, one of the common stones of our education was ‘freedom of speech.’ And no matter what offense I may or may not have caused, freedom of speech should not be smuggled. That’s what it is. Nothing more to say.
Q. How does it feel being called the youngest Indian writer-director to have been nominated for the Oscars?
Listen; let me tell you one thing. As a policy in my life, I’ve never done anything for rewards. I know what I do. If people appreciate, like it, decide to give it whatever rewards it has to get, then that’s very nice. And it’s very important not to get too taken up by these things. At the end of the day, I make films because I want to tell a story.
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