Kenny Basumatary’s Local Kung Fu looks almost like a Dogme 95 film without intending to—real locations, home video-like candidness, a fluid camera and without any technical gloss. The two Danish directors, Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, created this film-making manifesto in 1995, which made technology and special effects redundant in film-making. It was a canonical development at that time and its stress on story-telling, acting and theme over budgets made many film-makers around the world accept it and practice it. Of course, with the digital revolution, the Dogme aesthetic has almost become routine.

When Basumatary decided to shoot his martial arts film with a budget below 1 crore, he was unfazed by the lack of technology accessible to him. He had been shooting kung fu videos since childhood, and this was like an extension of that practice. The Assamese film has been screened at festivals within India and will be released this week in Assam as well as 12 screens outside of Assam, including Mumbai and Bangalore, as a PVR Director’s Rare release. Durlov Baruah, founder of Kuhipaat Communications and Technology Pvt. Ltd, a brand management and film promotion agency, is promoting the film across India. “Releasing the movie in Assam was a complicated experience. Assamese movies have not been doing well; the number of halls have reduced from around 120 to around 40. Distributors are not confident with the failure of big movies like Jahnu Barua’s Baandhon. So we are meeting all the exhibitors and people with high social quotient to promote this movie."

In this interview, the 32-year-old director, Mumbai-based Basumatary, author of the book Chocolate_Guitar_Momos, musician and an actor (he plays the lead role in Local Kung Fu and acted in the role of a police officer in Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai), talks about his adventures in kung fu and film-making. Edited excerpts:

Why a kung fu movie?

I had to make a film sooner or later. But I was too lazy to go around looking for someone who’d trust me with a few crores. So I decided to make a zero-budget romcom and wrote the script for what eventually became my debut novel Chocolate_Guitar_Momos.

After that I thought of making a martial arts film instead because I already had the main resources at home: An uncle who’s been teaching martial arts for 20 years and his students. We’d already been making small fight videos. I figured if we made six fights and strung them together in an entertaining story, we would have a full feature on our hands. So we set forth.

Is there a serious martial arts/kung fu following in Assam?

I can’t say for now but when I was a teenager, pretty much every other boy tried a few kicks at some point in his life—in small towns especially.

Tell me about the Deoris, they make up 99% of the cast. Are they a family?

Yes, they are my mother’s family. I don’t know how my mother herself escaped being cast (laughs).

How did you work in this film? Did you have a script or storyboard? The acting seems improvised on set.

Yes, we worked with a script. We made changes along the way depending on real-time situations, ideas or gags that people came up with, etc. For eg, the #1 Under 18 Don song is Bonzo’s (an actor in the film) own composition. He sang and played it to me on the phone one day. I laughed long and hard and found a way to put it in the film.

And we rehearsed a lot. Comic timing needs practice. Of course, one also needs to find a balance between rehearsing and letting the actor peak at the right moment.

We didn’t have professional storyboards but after a few days of shooting I started drawing stick figures which only I could understand. They helped our efficiency a lot. For the fights, we made very detailed shot lists, because we wanted the fights to be completely tight, with every punch and kick connecting properly.

Although it is such a slapdash comedy, I found it to be about the hopelessness and frustration of youth. Was that something you had in mind while writing it?

I can’t speak for the youth of Assam. What the film does have is elements of my anger at certain social evils, but let out in a comic, rather than a preachy manner.

Local Kung Fu releases in select PVR theatres on 27 September. Click here for details.

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