Shekhar Kapur, the Indian film director and producer, is well known for his diverse range of films—from the 1983 Bollywood hit Masoom, starring Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah, to the 1998 Oscar-nominated English movie Elizabeth, which starred Cate Blanchett. In Chennai to address a screenwriters workshop, the London-based film-maker spoke to Lounge about his latest obsessions—short films, an inspired art installation and the boon the Internet is to film-makers. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Do you see potential in short films?
I’ve actually done three short films last year. In fact, it is very exciting for me to do short films because you can experiment with the art of cinema much more in short films. You are not stuck with three-act story structures, you don’t spend that much money, you can explore the idea of cinema as pure art. That’s why I do short films—because cinema is stuck in the ideas of plotting and plotting actually confines cinema, confines it from becoming a larger and purer art.
Technophile: Shekhar Kapur is unfazed by piracy on the Internet.
Are they commercially viable?
Yes, if we find distribution streams for them. The Internet, YouTube and Facebook are actually encouraging short films. The MTV music video was effectively the first of the short films, like (Michael Jackson’s) Thriller.
A film on YouTube of a child laughing has got 16 million hits. So obviously there is a market. Soon Google will pay you. They have already talked to me and they have talked to other film-makers. They are looking for the fact that if you post a video and with the number of hits that you get, they will get a percentage of the advertising revenue of the main page. It’s been on the cards, there’s no specific proposal yet.
You have worked in India as well as the West. What are the differences?
They are much, much better organized than we are here. Organization is a very Western idea. Problem is, creativity doesn’t get nurtured in an organization. We are far too chaotic but creativity needs a certain amount of chaos to provoke it. We are chaotic, so that’s our asset, but we are too chaotic, that’s our problem. They are organized and that is their asset, but they are too organized, and that is their problem.
Tell us a bit about your venture into the Swarovski Crystal Worlds museum.
Based on the Argentinean short film (Passage) that I did, they called me and asked if I could do a physical art installation based on the themes that I have spoken about in the film.
So did you make it or did you contribute ideas towards it?
I kind of gave ideas for it and talked about the design. I have a friend who is one of the top two architects in the world right now. His name is David Adjaye (the Tanzania-born British architect).
The film will be sort of running in various reflective surfaces when you walk in, from various points of view all around you, in focus and out of focus. Almost asking you to create your own story out of it and (in) your own time. It doesn’t tell you where the film starts and where it ends. Hopefully the audience will come out of it and say “Ah, so that’s what it is”. Then they walk in to see what the director had intended and they would completely disagree with the director. So what you are doing is looking at the linearity of time from different angles.
Many film-makers fear proliferation of their films via the Internet?
You cannot stop the march of technology. So you better get over the fear. But every technology offers an opportunity. Coldplay did that. They ultimately made more money when they went out to do gigs. Piracy has always been a great way to create branding. Even if 90% of people are watching Kamal Haasan’s movies in the pirated way, the fact is half of those people could never have afforded a cinema ticket. That means half the audience he is getting—that he may not have got at all—is through new technology.
Where is Indian cinema headed?
Are we making films for multiplex audiences and therefore isolating our mainstream audiences? That’s possible. It is dangerous. Because (even) if you are ignoring 90% of India, which cannot afford to go into a multiplex, they still do see a film. But they see it on DVD or pirated cable channels. And soon they will get used to not going to the theatre. So you are destroying a culture of film viewing that you created over 40 years.
Do you feel the loss of not winning the Oscars?
We can get very greedy. When you start a film, you hope it gets made and then you hope that people don’t laugh at you. When they don’t laugh at you, you hope it succeeds at the box office, beyond which you want critical acclaim. Then you want prizes. Then you win the Oscars, you want to win it again. So you ask me if I am disappointed about (not) winning the Oscars and I say, I am disappointed I am not the king of the world.