In 1998, when the small film Hyderabad Blues released, engineer-turned-film-maker Nagesh Kukunoor was regarded as the pioneer of the crossover, independent film movement in India. Thirteen years and 11 movies later, as he prepares for the release of his first love story, Mod (starring Ayesha Takia and Rannvijay Singh), he is now regarded as a “veteran”, having slowly repositioned himself as a commercial director. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Why a love story now?
I hadn’t tackled a love story because I felt I had nothing new to offer, given that 100-odd love stories get made every year in the Hindi film industry. As a writer, you approach material and if you keep feeling it has been done before it becomes a horrific process. In my films, even when there is a love quotient, it is a small part of it. Then I saw the Taiwanese film Keeping Watch. I loved the premise of this girl who ran a clock store and a stranger who comes to her shop daily to get his watch cleaned. The Taiwanese version is more quirky. But I felt that if I could capture the essence of the little town—my version of utopian India—then this would be a story I would love to tell.
For me, good romantic films are the ones where we get to see the process of the couple falling in love. In Hindi movies, for the most part, the hero enters, the heroine enters, they fall in love and most of the films are about how it plays out after that. Mod is about how they fall in love. I bought the rights, rewrote it for an Indian setting, added elements to the second half and that’s Mod.
The new veteran: Kukunoor at his residence in Mumbai. Photo Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
How difficult was it to tell a love story?
Love stories hinge on one element—that the audience likes both characters—and that was a serious challenge. Plus, if you are casting unknowns who are going to fall in love, you have to make them likeable but you also have to make the love story believable. In this script, the guy does not have witty one-liners to make the audience immediately fall in love with him. He is painfully shy, says little, and Rannvijay Singh is completely fighting against his macho Roadies image.
What has been the learning from your last two unsuccessful films?
There are people who survive just as well without their movies working. But you have to be in the circuit, mixing. This start-stop-appear-disappear (which I have been doing) does not work. I have learnt that you have to be out there, promoting yourself. I learnt two other valuable lessons. There was a buzz about Aashayein when it was supposed to release in 2008. I totally get it now when they say “picture garam hai (the film is hot)”. But the film got caught between Percept and Reliance and two years later we tried to resuscitate it, it wasn’t as hot any more. Aashayein was always a hard sell because not many people want to deal with death.
Ayesha Takia and Rannvijay Singh in a still from Mod
The other film, 8x10 (Tasveer) suffered from a chain of events, including not enough time to build PR and buzz. It was released just before the producers-exhibitors strike and the PR of the strike was far better than the PR of the film. Now I know that marketing the film is critical but marketing is driving me dizzy. It’s unfair that I am required to have two skill-sets: film-maker and marketer.
You were considered one of the pioneers of independent cinema in India but the ‘Hyderabad Blues’ generation has grown up...
That mantle was thrust on me by accident; it was not a conscious design to change Indian cinema. I do movies the way I do movies. If a script requires Rs 20 crore, I will go after a star; if a script can be done in Rs 4 crore, I have the liberty to cast who I want. I went through a phase where I did Hinglish films and hence became the face of independent cinema. Now I am making Hindi films so I have been able to reach out to a larger audience post Iqbal. Plus, I am going through a phase of telling stories that are set in rural India and smaller towns. When I was the new kid on the block, there was a lot more interest in me and our films and people were a lot more forgiving. But not once you become a “veteran”.
A genre change for sure, because I get bored and still want to explore genres like full-blown action, horror and a sort of Iqbal-meets-Hrishi da (film-maker Hrishikesh Mukherjee) genre. I am also hoping to release Yeh Hausla soon.
Mod will release in theatres on 14 October.
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