Friday, April 15, 2005

A Labour of Love

Passionate & haunting

By Ashanti OMkar

32 year old Anup Kurian from Kottayam, Kerala (the South Indian state) defines his true passion for film making by taking major financial risks, but thoroughly enjoying the journey along the way, from India to USA to UK, by creating his movie ‘Manasarovar’, an intriguing story of love and it’s idiosyncrasies, which crosses the great Indian urban/rural divide, an extraordinary story that is said to end before it begins!

Anup shares his highly educated background and how he got started in films: “Academically I am a B.Sc Chemistry then Masters in Computer Applications (MCA) and after working for a few months in Bombay I went to FTII in 1996 - Film and TV Institute of India, Pune - probably the best school in Asia to learn filmmaking. It is quite difficult to get admissions as there are only 8 seats for each discipline - I studied Film and TV Production. During film school I realised the only way to make a film which is true to your convictions and conscience is to finance it yourself or with your close friends. So, I went to US as a software engineer (MCA) in 1999 and worked until 2002 saving enough to do a low budget film. In early 2002, I quit my job, bought a 16MM camera from EBAY. I wanted to shoot my film with sync sound (allowing for precisely synchronized lips with film dialogue, as opposed to dubbing, which is commonly used in Indian movies) and as silent cameras are very expensive to hire in India, the plan was invest in a camera, shoot the film and later sell the camera. So we shot our film, and sold the camera to a friend and bought sound monitors from EBAY to do sound post production. The whole filmmaking we cut corners at without losing final quality. Then, I started writing scripts - the first two scripts were bad - but early 2003, I wrote "Manasarover" - an out of the blue idea with 3 characters, a goat, a parrot and an elephant - an unusual love story and the first draft itself looked good.”

He goes on “It is a general rule of thumb you need at least a year to write a good script - but my co-producer Mathan (also the Art Director) agreed and we had minimum cash to finance it ourselves. Talking about cost cutting, the main scenes of "Manasarovar" happened in 3 days - the reason: you need to buy only 3 pairs of costumes.”

When it came to casting, blending rural with urban India and working within strict budget, he gratefully reminisces: “Fortunately the actors - who are big name stars in India – Atul Kulkarni is the male lead and a twice national award winner – agreed to work for 10% of his normal fee and a percent of profits and the same with Neha Dubey (famous through Monsoon Wedding) and Zafar Karachiwala. Atul is a rural Maharashtrian - like his character Ravi Roy - a rural Keralite. Neha is an urban cosmopolitan Indian woman - like her character Malathy Chandran. So they were sort of playing themselves. One way to look at "Manasarovar" is as a story where rural India meets urban India. In my experience rural India is much more comfortable with urban India than vice versa.”

The main aspect, cinematography, which features lavish locales in beautiful visual settings, came to him in the form of: “My classmates from FTII, who got behind the camera - Viswamangal Kitsu as cinematographer, Gissy Michael as sound designer, Unni Vijayan as editor - and for all of us it became our first feature film. So "Manasarovar" is a debut film for everyone except the actors. We shot the film in about 30 locations throughout India - in the Central plains/Deccan plateau of Maharashtra and city of Pune, South part of Kerala and North in Dharamsala (where Dalailama lives – the final five minutes of the film happen there). We travelled in second class trains (even the actors joined us, it was the first time Neha who usually flies travelled by train) all over India. The shooting took 5 months.”

Musically, he surfed the internet, to find a match that was both unusual and again, worked in a ‘money friendly’ fashion : “I had heard of an Irish band called Random - - and they allowed me to use their songs in Manasarovar - the theme song is "Falling Through The Clouds". I was also helped along the way by a few friends of mine in Chicago - David Prahl, Lisa Stanislwaski (a singer, who had a hit single in US in 1995 with "I believe the rain") who came back from retirement to write 2 songs for “Manasarover”, and her husband Craig Leininger, who composed the music for Manasarover.”

Anup hit many hurdles in going on with his project and shares with us: “Once the film was completed in 2004 February I had no money left to live and returned to US and started working, but, in March 2004, a jury headed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan (Satyajit Ray called Adoor his successor) selected “Manasarover” as the best debut film for Aravindan Puraskaram - a highly respected prize instituted on the memory of G Aravindan - a famous filmmaker in Kerala.” He proudly states: “We beat popular Indian films and other art house fare.”

Awards galore, his labour of love was proving it’s worth, while helping clear his mounting debts: “In 2004 June a jury headed by Kamal Hassan - the popular actor/director selected "Manasarovar" for the "Gollapudi Srinivas National Award" - instituted on the memory of Gollapudi Srinivas who died in accident during the shoot of his first film - for the best debut film in India - our small film beat all the big name hits in India. The award also had a cash prize of $3500 - which helped in clearing some debts. I returned to India to collect the second award. While in India, around the 3rd week in August 2004, we got confirmation that the prestigious ‘London Film Festival’ picked "Manasarover" as the only Indian film in World Cinema Section. It was Adoor who recommended the film to Cary Sawhney - curator for Asian films at British Film Instititute. Immediately after this, a jury headed by Shaji N Karun - the director of "PIRAVI" - one of the most respected filmmakers in India selected the film as the "Opening Film of Indian Panorama" for ‘International Film Festival of India’. Indian Panorama is a prestigious event showcasing the best films in India for that year. Then in January 2005 “Manasarover” was picked as the ‘Best Film’ at the "International Film Festival of Mumbai". Atul Kulkarni also got the "Special Jury Prize" for his performance. We had only one screening in Mumbai. The theater capacity was 200 but about 300 crammed into all the available spaces and almost 100 had to be turned back. Two weeks ago, the biggest and best film festival in Japan – ‘Fukuoka International Film Festival’ picked “Manasarover” and I plan to go to Japan in September to try and get the film released there.”

On his trip to London, for the film festival, obviously a memorable and very important trip for him, he conveys: “In October 2004, three of us from the team, Mathan - co-producer/art-director, our executive producer Shruthi and I came to London for the "London Film Festival" (we took a loan for flight tickets and stayed in a hostel for 10 pounds a day - luckily LFF paid for the hostel) and our screenings were sold out. The last screening on the last day of the festival, Joe Mirza of Bollywood Films told us he will take the film to theaters in UK.”

This has now led to the latest screenings of the movie, which are reaching Scotland and London, he tells us: “So the UK theater run of "Manasarovar" started in the 1st week of February 2005 in Glasgow Film Theater, Scotland, then went to Dundee and it is now showing at Watermans and later at Tricycle on Sat 19th- Sun 20th March. Hopefully we should get more bookings on other cities in UK. We are going city by city as for a small film like ‘Manasarover’ as a bigger release is not economically viable. Bigger films cannot take this mode of distribution since if the word goes out the film is bad, it will hurt the sales and overall box office collection.”

On his plans for the future, he tells of his hopes for the future of Indian cinema: “We are planning a similar Indian release in April. The film is proving to be a path breaking Indian film and if it does well in Indian theaters the way people's approach films in India will change.”

Manasarovar (India/English/90Min)

Manasarovar Website

Zafar Karachiwala as George Nair
Neha Dubey as Malathy Chandran (Daughter of Lillette Dubey – both Mother and Daughter whose acting credits include the acclaimed Monsoon Wedding)
Atul Kulkarni as Ravi Roy


- Best Film and Special Jury Prize, International Film Festival of Mumbai,
- Fukuoka International Film Festival, Fukuoka, Japan, 2005
- Official Selection - London Film Festival 2004
- Opening Film, Indian Panorama, International Film Festival of India, Goa,
- Aravindan Puraskaram for Best Debut Director in India
- Gollapudi Srinivas National Award for Best Debut Director in India