Set in the highly-competitive world of college theatre, this Friday’s release CRD has already been hailed as an “unusual” cinematic experience. CRD showcases the journey of a young playwright, who rebels against his fascist tutor, and forms his own group of misfits to win a drama competition even as he struggles to find his ‘voice’. In this bold and experimental movie, Pune-based director Kranti Kanade, 37, questions ethics and fascism in the field of art. Kanade, who has earlier directed National-Award winning short film Chaitra and children’s film Mahek, also makes a bold statement about the society we are living in, through this movie. Excerpts from an interview with Kanade:
How did the idea of CRD come about?
It’s straight from the most voiceless moment of my life. When I was 16, I went to Fergusson College, Pune, and wanted to write this play for the inter-collegiate theatre competition Purushottam, which is nothing short of Oscar or BAFTA for young students. But I was told to sit down since I was not experienced enough to write an “award winning play”. They used to get professionally successful writers and directors to stage plays for student competition. I found it unethical and left.
This year, 51 colleges and around 10,000 students were involved in Purushottam. During the competition, impressionistic minds often get engulfed in the obsession of winning instead of exploring. That is also the state of India today — we are obsessed with winning at any cost in peripheral activities instead of dealing with the real issues of grotesque inequality.
CRD raises a host of questions regarding art, artistic practices and philosophies.
Our Constitution guarantees us equal rights based on ethics. But we live in a parallel world of market-consumer where there are no laws, no ethics. I can sell you anything I want as long as you are buying it — it doesn’t matter what the health hazards or emotional repercussions of that item is. Today, we are nothing but consumers of things, and pre-fabricated culture and ads. We have wasted our national intellect and time in meaningless pursuits creating icons out of a week-long privately organised party-cum-beauty pageant contest that declares someone ‘Miss Universe’ as if it were a PhD. We have slowly distorted or destroyed the meaning of words itself: What does a ‘Miss Universe’, ‘a Star’, ‘a 100-crore film’, or a ‘celebrity’ mean? These are private fantasies or words coined by publicists, but they have been turned into public discourse. So yes, I wanted to question everything. A film is ultimately your worldview, your philosophy.
The movie was in Film Bazaar in 2014. What has been its journey since then?
The Film Bazaar is run with good intentions but it has a strange and self-defeating obsession with getting a foreign ‘analyst’ and ‘curators’, who barely know the actual socio-political layers of India. Most of them are self-proclaimed script doctors, slaves of some system, have day jobs for terrible studios that make horror films, but are invited with a free business class plane ticket to ‘see’ and ‘judge’, commenting casually on our films (in which we have put our lives, our homes) over free cocktails. Why do they need to spend a couple of crores on these two evenings in swanky Marriott’s, sitting on badly designed arm-less chairs, discussing how to make a rural downtrodden ‘Dalit’ story more relatable to a European audience? Isn’t that almost insane and criminal? Filmmakers should be out there on the field, like journalists and reporters, or like Medha Patkar, Anand Patwardhan and Arundhati Roy. I would request NFDC to dissolve Film Bazaar and the hideous expense around it, and distribute that money as script funds, seed funds to writers and directors through online interviews, essays and panel interviews. That would actually serve new cinema better.
What drew you to filmmaking?
I was raised to be an artist. My grandparents were doctors, freedom fighters, socialist thinkers and leaders. My parents were professors, who also ran a theatre group for 40 years. In fact, the rejection from Purushottam at 16 took me to a section in the library which had books on cinema.
You released the movie abroad before releasing it in India. Why?
Two prestigious film schools, University of Southern California, and University of California, Los Angeles, had invited CRD for a screening. A curator-professor there loved the film and suggested it to a well-respected cinema chain. Los Angeles Times and other critics loved it. After that, it took time to release in India because I am also a tree planter: pre-monsoon and early monsoon I am usually busy with tree plantation.
When did you rope in playwright Dharmakirti Sumant to write its script?
He’s an equal parent of this film. In fact, he had gone through the whole journey of Purushottam and rebelled against the fascism in it. I brought my cinema, he got his theatre. It was magical to work with him.
What kind of improvisation took place during the shooting?
CRD is made in a unique form. It’s neither American dramatic-analytic narrative nor a certain kind of single-mood art-house European cinema. We were trying to create a new idiom. We wrote a treatment (not the full script) and did the casting and then we started bouncing off these ideas with our actors and asked them, ‘What do you think about this scene?’ We asked Mrinmayee Godbole (who plays the character of Persis) why she wouldn’t quit an abusive scenario? She had a very simple but strong answer we hadn’t thought of. So, we started taking actor’s inputs and then developed the scenes. We would write scenes and give them to play by saying, ‘Now forget what we wrote, just improvise and develop.’ All of them came up with wonderful ideas.
What are you working on next?
My other film (Gandhi of the Month) is with the legendary Harvey Keitel, who plays a schoolmaster in India trying to protect his students from fundamentalism. I am concerned with the decay in humanity. I am also worried about tree felling in Pune, and will begin working on a fiction feature film that deals with this subject. I mean, they go and murder trees at night.