Filmmaker Rajshree Ojha,who directed Aisha,will finally release her independent film Chaurahen on March 16,after a 10-year-long struggle. She tells Talk why independent filmmakers find little support from investors and distributors
Chaurahen is an independent film made with belief,without support from anyone,production house,studio or distributors. A film that does not comply with the norms of popular cinema,of stars,of budgets or anything else. My work began in 2002 when I met Hindi novelist Nirmal Verma at the screening of my diploma film Badger. I approached him as a fan and a filmmaker to adapt his stories to cinema.
I remember sitting with him at the Sahitya Akademi in Delhi over a cup of coffee. Four stories? What will you do with them? he asked,amused by my confidence to make a film.
I went on to write this film which deals with three different stories in three cities. I was the first director from the class of 2002 from American Film Institute to start work on a feature film and it was a great feeling. It was later in Los Angeles that British actor Kiera Chaplin came on board as one of the first cast members. Yet,the film almost didnt happen. My producer backed out at the last minute and I was left stranded with a cast and crew without money,my reputation at stake. My family stood by me and the film went on floors in May 2005 on a hot summer day in Kolkata. We had no money or location and a very small crew. I started calling up acquaintance aunties to borrow their homes for shoots,and begged the owners of the Fairlawn Hotel to shoot there. We couldnt afford vanity vans for actors.
After the Kolkata schedule,the funds were finished and yet another wait and chase began,to last a year-and-a-half. We went to studios looking for help from investors,but everyone found a reason to say no. Once again,I looked to my family to help me achieve my dream. In 2006,we started the second shooting schedule in Kerala with Soha Ali Khan,Ankur Khanna,Karthik Kumar,Suchitra Pillai and Arundhati Nag.
Slowly,it all started falling into place. The Kerala schedule went by like a breeze but then came the chaos of Mumbai. Everywhere we went,people would ask for money for everything. With all the hiccups,the Mumbai leg of the film wrapped up in 13 days and I edited it with Bina Paul for two months. A friend suggested that I work with Resul Pookutty,the lauded sound designer,and then Manikanth Kadri,a young musician who brought another brilliant vision to the table. We met Gulzar saab and turned one of his poems into a song. I remember watching 50 live musicians playing live for that score and even though we could afford to hire the mixing studios only at nights,it was like a dream. Just when I thought the struggle was over,it got tougher. I started sending the film to festivals but found no way to release it. Studios said they liked it but wouldnt touch it. Others were reluctant because it was in English. The anxiety started getting to me,so I began making Aisha. The rest is history.
Today,all these years later,the struggle is still on to get a fair release for my dream. Chaurahen will finally see the light of the day as the latest venture from Directors Rare,a recently launched alternative programming initiative of PVR Cinemas.