Makers of Chintu Ka Birthday talk about the industry and their aspirations9 min read
At Article-19, the annual media event of Manipal Institute of Communication (MIC), Devanshu Kumar and Satyanshu Singh, the director duo behind the movie ‘Chintu Ka Birthday’, held an interactive session with the students of MIC following a screening of their movie. The Manipal Journal had the opportunity to sit down with them and talk about their movie, the film industry, and their personal aspirations for cinema.
When you see the film industry, both mainstream and non-mainstream cinema, where do you see it heading today, and what do you see as your role in this?
Devanshu: Me or you?
Devanshu: I’m a very tiny speck in this ocean. There’s a shore which you can call the mainstream. There’s like the middle waters which are…I don’t know what you call it. People give it many names. We don’t like giving it a label, calling it “mainstream” or whatever.
So, I don’t take these things seriously. My role here is to be a filmmaker and die as a filmmaker. So, I’m here to make films, do things that I believe in. This is something I like doing. I am not here to take up the task of changing the world or proving something to anybody. Like a farmer would like to grow one kind of vegetable and not worry about what crops would sell more, and you know, make his field conducive, use the right kind of fertilisers, it’s the same kind of thing for me. I like to keep it very simple, to make and tell the stories I want to tell people, and make them laugh, cry and feel a certain way. And I don’t have any specifications that I want to do drama and comedies only. I’d like to make a sci-fi, I’d like to make a rom-com and have fun.
(To Satyanshu) Do you feel the same?
Satyanshu: I don’t consider myself a filmmaker. I don’t think I’m a filmmaker. I want to lead a good life, and making films in a good way because I want a lot of things. The most essential thing for me is to be happy and content, and make a few films along the way. But, yeah, I’m a film buff. I’m a film buff rather than a filmmaker. I love watching films, studying films.
As to where it is headed…if I am, to be frank, it’s not headed anywhere. Every five to ten years, we feel that the revolution is coming. There is no revolution. We keep waiting for it, but there is no revolution. Everything is ad-hoc in Bollywood. Everyone does what they think is right.
In 2006, when Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Ghosla ka Ghosla and Rang de Basanti all came at once, and then in 2007, when Black Friday, Chak de India and Taare Zameen Par all released at once, people thought Bollywood was gonna change with such good content.
Devanshu: Even in ’98, when Satya and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai released—
Satyanshu: Yeah and in 2000, Dil Chahta Hai and Lagaan released. But nothing happens. We go round and round and come back to the same thing. It’s very ad hoc. You know, all these years we tried to pitch our anthology series. But suddenly, Modern Love has come and now anthologies are in demand. So, no one is going anywhere. The industry is not heading anywhere. Everyone is doing their things. I think we need to find a way to survive in this industry and keep making films the way we want to.
I don’t think…when I was 20 or 21, I used to have these thoughts that we are heading somewhere. Kuch nahi ho raha (translation: Nothing is happening)!
(Collective laughter around the table)
Our industry, like Hollywood…where is Hollywood headed? Nowhere! You ask me where Korean cinema is headed, I have an answer or where Iranian cinema or Chinese cinema headed, I have an answer. I could tell you the entire journey of French cinema because they are headed somewhere. But Bollywood and Hollywood — because we are market-driven — market-driven things can’t be headed. If I ask you to look at modern Indian industry and commerce and tell us where we are headed, you won’t be able to answer. The market determines that. But if you ask me general trends, I could tell you that young entrepreneurs are coming up. Start-ups are dominating the market. Then these start-ups are sold after a few years to a bigger company and they reinvest the money in a new start-up. The same way, in filmmaking, there is now more democratisation for the filmmaker: you can make films for a cheap budget. There is access to good cinema. There is access to good literature (as in film screenplays, film textbooks). It’s easier to learn — better learning centres are coming up. The audience has better exposure. Like today, through Netflix, people can watch Roma, a black and white Mexican film. So, I think these are trends, which broadly tell us about the audience and the makers. But I don’t think it will manifest in a clear direction. It will be all over the place, and that’s how it is. India is like that only.
Hum log…ajeeb hain hum log (translation: We are weird)!
In a video online, and even in your talk, you mentioned teaching. What potential and energy do you see among your screenplay students today?
Satyanshu: It depends. I’ve had students who think that they’ll attend my lecture and that will be their short-cut to the Oscars. They think that their job is done because they attended the workshop and they’re going to become a big writer. And then, there are students who understand that this is the beginning of their education. They know that after this, they’ll have to write on their own and learn writing. So, it’s very diverse and depends on who the student is.
What I want is to establish cinema as a legit academic approach. I want parents to be proud that their son or daughter is a BA in Film. So, that’s one of my plans. I want to spend my life working towards making the academics of cinema more acceptable, affordable, accessible and acknowledged by our society, especially the middle class.
Now that you’ve screened ‘Chintu Ka Birthday’ in many cities to many private audiences, what do you think of the reach you’ve had till now? What hopes do you have for the movie after this?
Devanshu: Well, when we were making it only, we knew for a fact that it would travel internationally and it could be watched at the metros in India, especially because it is in Hindi, English and also Arabic. Though it does not have a few other things to be a pan-India release, this much was clear. Fortunately, at the Jagaran festivals, because of which we managed to travel to seventeen cities like Ranchi and—
Satyanshu: Benares, Allahabad—
Devanshu: Kanpur, Lucknow, Patna and other north Indian cities. In this, we had people across different age groups. Mostly movie buffs — but people across different age groups and their families. They didn’t even care about the movie’s “A” certification, because the film wasn’t marketed. Films usually aren’t marketed in film festivals. So, they went by the title — ‘Chintu Ka Birthday’. The organisers had families sitting and eating samosas while it was raining bullets in the film. And yet, I’ve seen them laugh, I’ve seen them cry and speak their heart out in every Q&A session. So, fortunately for us, it has managed to read smaller quarters and we have been able to see their response which is mostly fulfilling and at times overwhelming. But since the film hasn’t released right now and it is a tricky film to market…only time will tell where it will reach.
Satyanshu: I think the film has a tremendous shelf life. I don’t know how many films we’ll make which will have a shelf life like this. Because technically, it will not get old anytime soon — look-wise or sound-wise. Story-wise it won’t get old. Performances-wise it won’t get old. So, the film has a long shelf life. If we wrote it 13 years ago, and we made it (the film) almost similar to what we wrote 13 years ago, that means this story and this film will be there forever. I feel as we make more films, I think practically, this is how Chintu will be watched. As we make more films and people watch our films, people will ask who we are and will discover the first film we had made — ‘Chintu Ka Birthday’ — and they’ll say, “Yaar, yeh tho bohot achchi film nikli (translation: This is a really good film)!” So, I think Chintu Ka Birthday will be rediscovered by people again and again because it won’t get old. I’m pretty sure about it. It’s one day, set in a warzone in 2004. Not like it was set in 2019 or ’18. Unfortunately, the world is not going to get any better. People will keep dying in wars, kids will keep facing violence, you know, and racial hatred and all these things will be there.
Devanshu: Yeah, and only last year, somebody sent us a tweet where there is a kid whose birthday can’t be celebrated because he is in a warzone somewhere. So, the people who live in the basement of his apartment, his neighbours got together and celebrated his birthday. And somebody sent it to us—
Satyanshu: Somebody tagged us saying Chintu Ka Birthday—
Devanshu: —and someone should make a movie. It’s so unfortunate.
Satyanshu: I realised two years ago that there are about six and a half billion people on this planet. So, every day is a birthday for 6.5 billion divided by 365. Right? The logic makes sense, right? Every day there are millions of people in warzone(s). So, every day there are millions of people divided by 365 number of people who are in a warzone celebrating or trying to celebrate their birthday. Every day. Like today, there are many kids who are facing violence and war and trying to cut their cake.
Devanshu: And it’s so funny, we are only looking at kids. But it could be a soldier also, whose birthday it is and who is going to get killed. It could be a soldier who is going to shoot the other one, or a general who says to start the war. It is as human as it can get.
Satyanshu: (asking interviewer and others present) You all will also recommend this movie, right? So, it’s that only — if you have a cousin or a child who grows up, you will show them that child. So, this way Chintu Ka Birthday will go on.
Featured Image Courtesy: Ramitha Koira Ramesh
Edited by: Disha Acharya