IF life throws ‘stones and tomatoes’ at him, he would collect it and make a comedy about ‘Stones and Tomatoes’. That’s Sandeep Mohan for you, an indie filmmaker and the man behind The Great Indian Travelling Cinema initiative. As part of this initiative, his latest film Shreelancer was in Chandigarh recently. Shreelancer narrates the story of a freelancer named Shree,in his mid 20s, as he tries to grapple with nagging self-doubts about pursuing an “artistic” life.
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“Unlike my earlier films — Love Wrinkle Free & Hola Venky, which were termed”comedies”, Shreelancer might be slotted as drama. Also in my previous films, the protagonists were in their mid 30s…in Shreelancer, for the first time, I am delving into the mind of a mid-20s freelancer. It is a contemporary story told in an engaging manner,” says Mohan, who has developed his own kind of cinema – guerilla style, candid, witty, full of observations and reflections on life and people. Cinema for him is a constant process for exploration, and he “hopes he doesn’t discover fully what cinema is, because then the charm goes out. I want the mystery and magic to remain forever.”
With the final mix of Shreelancer over just 10 days back, this is the first screening of the film in Chandigarh. Mohan is also travelling with it to alternative spaces across the country as part of his The Great Indian Travelling Cinema experiment. “One of the reasons for screening here was that a few of the cast members are from Chandigarh — Chandan Singh Gill, Karanveer Khullar, Vivek Sharma, Krishan Rathee, Nikhar Daniel…I also shot a part of the film here. There is something charming and big-hearted about this city,” says Mohan.
Born in Jabalpur, he moved to Mumbai at the age of 21. Being an ‘independent spirit who prefers to learn by making mistakes rather than be taught by an authoritative figure’, independent cinema seemed to be the right choice for Mohan. For someone who consciously stays away from film festival circuit and is allergic to the censor board, he conceptualised The Great Indian Travelling Cinema. A one man experiment, Mohan travels to various cities and screens his film. The idea is to see the film with an audience and learn something, while watching and interacting with them. “Since my films fall between mainstream and film festival films, I have to see for myself that there is an audience for my films and travelling cinema screenings help. I soak in the energy, feel motivated, and then go back and write another film exactly the way I want to, reassured that there is an audience.” However, he would love to go through the festival route for his films. “Ideally one would want a right mix of a limited theatrical release, film fest rounds, travelling cinema screenings and a good online release on bigger platforms. To sell the film in India and for satellite rights etc, you need a censor. So, I might have to take one for Shreelancer. It was for my last film Hola Venky that I refused to take a censor and went around travelling and screening it in 92 cities,” he says.
It’s a space where survival is tough, and Mohan feels one has to be very strong internally and think long term. “Indie filmmaking won’t make you rich but happier especially if you have creative control and if you go about it a little smartly, then you can even survive well. Money will follow for there are better things to run after in life,” he adds. He agrees that with Netflix and Amazons coming in, viewing habits will change…it is good time for filmmakers who budget their films correct and tell a good story. As for demonetisation, “I downloaded the Paytm app and ask people to pay through it after My Great Indian Travelling Cinema screenings.”