Harishchandrachi Factory got made because the film’s director, Paresh Mokashi, sold his house. Ironic, considering that his debut film chronicles the legendary film-maker Dadasaheb Phalke’s ordeals when making Raja Harishchandra, India’s first feature film, in 1913.
Made with a budget of Rs4 crore, the Marathi film beat competitors nationwide to represent India at the Oscars. Now, with UTV’s backing, it is slated to release in theatres across Maharashtra, and possibly the rest of the country. Edited excerpts of an interview with the award-winning director:
You’re a theatre veteran. What made you switch mediums and start from scratch?
It’s true that I’m not formally trained and have never assisted a film director. The first time I went on a film set was for my own film. That was also the first time I said “action”. When I read Phalke’s biography by Bapu Watve, I could see a screenplay, complete with visuals. I felt I had to make this story into a film. Putting it on stage would have been too limiting. Now, it’s going to go all over India and beyond. That’s the power of the subject.
When did UTV come in, and what was the offer?
UTV came in later, after the festival rounds and the state-level awards had happened. Till then, I was on my own. I didn’t sell my film outright, so I’m still the owner. UTV is in charge of the film’s promotion and distribution.
Autodidact: Mokashi has had no training in film-making. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
The film is sprinkled with black humour. Did you ever debate the tone of the film?
I never imposed my style on the film. The humour came out of the biography. Phalke was a very interesting, eccentric, scientific person with a unique sense of humour.
I had certain ideas about the making of the film, so I stuck to that. The still-frame treatment that I used has been handled by plenty of masters. It’s just that it has become very rare these days. It matched with the period feel and the old style of film-making. Just because a camera can be moved around like a cricket ball, everyone assumes it’s the main facility a camera can offer. All you see these days are pans, tilts and tracks and trolleys.
Despite the acclaim, would you change anything in the film?
Everything! I’d change each frame in the film. That’s how I feel now, to be honest.
What’s the publicity strategy for the Oscars?
I’ve been abroad, holding screenings. The response is good and critics like Kirk Honeycutt (The Hollywood Reporter) have given it encouraging reviews, mentioning it on their Top 10 lists. But the film is our biggest PR agent. When it comes to the Oscar campaign, you can’t do much. You can’t lobby and organize special shows for the jury. It’s a misconception.
You beat several high-profile, star-studded films to become India’s official Oscar entry. Which films did you like?
All the Marathi films in the competition category. They were the real films of this year. There were also Bengali and Malayalam films that were noteworthy. The others were run-of-the-mill Bollywood films.
However feeble, there are voices that don’t approve the selection of ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’ for the Oscars, describing the choice as a mistake.
Yes, plenty of critics have approached me and I’ve read a lot of comments. If someone likes a film other than mine, they have every right to spread the word.
Are you thinking in terms of a Hindi film platform now?
Sure, perhaps even an English one. For me, language is incidental.
You’re an expert on Indian mythology. One hears that there is talk of a film?
I always say that theatre and films are my extra-curricular activities. My main area is conducting an objective study of our ancient books, scriptures and Vedas. I do have a subject in mind based on an archaeological adventure. So yes, it will eventually happen.
At the time of the interview,
Harishchandrachi Factory was still in contention for the Oscars. It has since lost the nomination.
The film will release in theatres in Pune and Mumbai on 29 January.
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