Sunday, July 25, 2021

Vasan Bala on pop-culture references: It’s a beautiful reminder of why I’m making films


Asprinkle of ”nostalgia” and pop-culture references have become signature to director Vasan Bala’s films, who says revisiting his favourite movie memories drives him emotionally as a storyteller.

The Mumbai-based filmmaker’s first theatrical release, 2019’s ”Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota”, was a homage to martial arts legend Bruce Lee loaded with Bollywood references starting from its title, based on megastar Amitabh Bachchan’s dialogue in 1985 movie ”Mard”.
The story about a man, whose medical condition makes him impervious to pain, was a hit with people appreciating Bala’s pulpy treatment that reminded them of films like ”Shehnshah”, ”Gangs of Wasseypur”, ”Paap Ko Jalakar Raakh Kar Doonga”, ”Pulp Fiction” and ”Inglorious Basterds”.
The director says the references are never introduced while writing the film and come in as a garnish at a much later stage.
”The references come much later. First, we are interested in deciding about what we are trying to say and what the characters are. And once we are done, then I have fun garnishing with references of films and actors and other things I love.
”I just sprinkle. It’s fine even if audiences don’t get those references. It gives me an emotional connect while making films,” Bala told PTI in a Zoom interview.
Prior to making his feature directorial debut with 2012 movie ”Peddlers”, Bala was making short films. He has also served as a co-writer on filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s ”Bombay Velvet” and ”Raman Raghav 2.0”.
The writer-director said as someone who has grown up watching all the pulpy, popular and cult films from across the globe, returning to his memories is the best way to stay on track as a filmmaker.
”It’s like tapping into some kind of memory bank, nostalgia or probably it’s just a kind of pinch to keep reminding me why I’m doing this. It’s a beautiful reminder. And if I have the opportunity to keep doing it then why not. No one needs to know all this… It’s about going into a moment that emotionally drives me.” The filmmaker adapted the same process for his next venture ”Ray”, a Netflix anthology series based on the short stories written by legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
The series has four episodes, each a contemporary interpretation of Ray’s writings, with Bala directing Harshvardhan Kapoor, Radhika Madan-starrer ”Spotlight”.
The story revolves around a popular but creatively unsatisfied actor dealing with, his insecurities as a cult leader’s presence threatens his stardom.
Bala said the team started discussing the project somewhere in 2019 and finished writing the first draft right before the coronavirus pandemic hit India.
Initially, the film was set in Varanasi but post the pandemic, they decided to shift it indoors to comply with safety protocols.
”Spotlight” also features many pop-culture references and well-defined characters.
Bala said the best way to write a story is to give every character its own life and persona.
”None of these characters are sidekicks or protagonists or anything. They all exist in their own worlds and are connected the way people are connected in real life. When the writing doesn’t fall into the trap, wherein a character has to exist just to react, it’s great.
”We take that approach in writing and make sure every character has its own emotions in the context of the film. There isn’t an archetype we were trying to tap in. We put in all the experiences of everyone we know so that, at the human level, we all can connect to these characters,” he said.
Apart from ”Spotlight”, the anthology features three other episodes — ”Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa”, helmed by Abhishek Chaubey, and Srijit Mukherji-directed ”Forget Me Not” and ”Bahrupiya”.
The ensemble cast includes Manoj Bajpayee, Gajraj Rao, Ali Fazal, Shweta Basu Prasad, Anindita Bose, Kay Kay Menon, Bidita Bag, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Akansha Ranjan Kapoor, among others Making an almost one-hour-long visual interpretation of a writing by cinema great like Ray can be an overwhelming process, but Bala said despite the awe he believes in owning the script once on board as a director. ”I believe once a director gets into making a film, they have to own it. If a filmmaker can’t own it then I don’t think one should even do it because then one is participating as a consumer and not as a filmmaker. Despite the reverence and the awe, one needs to have the courage to own it, ” he added.
“Ray” will premiere on Netflix on June 25. (PTI)