PlanetBollywood.com writer Amanda Sodhi brings you an in-depth interview with the very talented National Award winning director Shivajee Chandrabhushan. Read away!
First of all, congrats for the double National Award wins for Frozen, Shivajee! This must be very exciting for you, even though Frozen has already won over 20 awards and has traveled to over 32 film festivals...
You seem to be rather cross with the media…In fact, you’ve written in your PFC blog write-ups, “...one support we wanted was from the media, to write something interesting about the film and create the ‘buzz,’” “We were foolish enough to think that a debut feature and best cinematography are good enough reasons for the media to take notice of our humble beings.”
Nah I am not cross with anyone. They are just doing their job. It is just that some space should be given to filmmakers like us. It would be healthy for Indian Cinema. When they say something like "Bollywood loses to Southies"...I mean what do they mean? National awards is not a competition. You make a film, you fill the form, jury watches it and awards the films. Films are not even nominated. But, the media loves to play one against another. By the way I am not saying this because no one came to interview me, I am saying that little bit of writing can help upcoming filmmakers like me.
I guess it was a bit infuriating to also see a HT interview saying Dharm’s director is the first Debutant Director to win a National Award...
Well I still don't know what Ms. Roshmila Bhattacharya meant by that. Lots of letters went to her but she never clarified anything. Media hunts down personalities to get their view or statement but when it comes back to them, they go into hiding. I also don't know what Ms. Talwar meant when she went gushing about the question. Let’s leave it like that.
I’m sure Frozen was well-received by audiences at all of the festivals it traveled to, nonetheless, out of all the film festivals Frozen has traveled to, where was the response the best?
It is tough to choose one. But if I have to name one then 2nd Cines del Sur at Granada, Spain last year. We got the Best Director Award with 30,000 Euros cash prize and the Audience Award for Best Film. A rare combination when the audience agrees with the Jury.
Otherwise all the festivals' screenings have been full houses and the audience abroad gives the maker a different type of respect which I love. In India one doesn't get a chance to interact with the audience as such. But I had a screening at Surat recently, a week before the National Awards. It was organized by the film society of Surat and the response was amazing. 300 plus people on a Sunday afternoon. I had a very nice question-answer session. It was a pleasant surprise. Another moment I remember was when Julie Christie came to watch Frozen in Munich Film Festival. She was being given the Life Time Achievement Award. She saw only one film and that was Frozen. Do you know she is born in Assam in India? I did tell her this and she loved it. She sat through the whole of Q and A. And, later she spoke to me at length. She took my hand to get down the stairs and I was thrilled that the heroine of Dr. Zhivago had taken my arm. I also had a moment when I was introduced to Omar Sharif at Granada, Spain this year.
Wow, that’s awesome. Shivajee, what is your favorite scene in Frozen?
There are two. Ice Hockey on the Frozen Lake and when the kids are playing and running in the woods.
How many times have you visited Ladakh?
Well, I started my Ladakh trips from 2005 June. I had driven my Scorpio from Mumbai and I entered Ladakh from Srinagar, Kargil side and came out from Rohrang Pass. After that 6 times ‘till this January when I did the Frozen River Trek, also called the Chader Trek on Zanskar River.
Tell us a bit about the shooting process for Frozen and the story behind the “silent generator”(smiles).
Oh, well that is a long story. Frozen is a sync sound film shot with a very noisy 120kv open generator. The silent generator operators from Mumbai and Delhi refused to drive all the way to Ladakh. I can understand their predicament as to reach Ladakh one has to drive through some of the highest passes in the world. So we used this local gennie, hiding it behind a small hill to avoid the sound as well as the vision of the camera. But the distance was nearly 1800 feet and with every feet there was a voltage drop. The result was just enough to light a candle light party. Also, because of the minus 25 degrees Celsius temperature, the cables were breaking like match sticks. So we bought local heavy duty cables and brought the gennie closer and stationed it in a small ditch. We made a small housing of mud and husk bricks to further muffle the sound. It worked! How we coped up with the Frozen diesel in the gennie is another story (smiles).
Any memorable moments from Frozen you’d like to share with us?
Oh each day is etched in my mind. It was a challenge to get up at 4 in the morning and get through your daily routine when the water is Frozen in the pipes. Then, the rarity of the oxygen. I really admire the crew and cast who coped with all this. The tough and near impossible situations make the whole shooting process memorable. The construction of the main house before the shoot was another challenge. Shooting in snow, on top of Frozen Lake, in the month of January and February when you could see the water below, phew...
Although I’ve read your PFC entries and already know the answer to this question, for the benefit of our PlanetBollywood readers I’m going to ask you to re-tell the rationale behind choosing black & white instead of color...
It was a spontaneous decision taken by me when I saw the conditions in the month of October through November. Shanker loved the idea. The landscape gets so stark that it really looks black and white even to bare eyes. The sky remains blue throughout giving the impression of summer. Other than these technical reasons another was the demand of the script. It is a very raw and harsh film. Ladakh remains closed for 6 months for winter, and it is snow all around. My story deals with this period. I also feel that color gives warmth and black and white coldness. Why do we forget about the grays when we talk about black and white? We all are not colorful, not totally black and white...we all have grays, that is what makes life interesting.
Could you tell us a bit about your previous film, Palak?...
Well Palak was never completed. I stopped the post production of that film because of shortage of funds. And, I had already started working on Frozen. It remains shelved ‘till I have enough money to breath life in it. It is about a condition called "Rapid Eye Movement Disorder." Now I think I will rewrite the whole thing and make it again. So, Palak is another baby which waits to be born.
Coming back to Frozen, why just 3 prints?
Arre yaar one needs money to do that. Each print of mine is costing me $2500. My Print Lab is Deluxe Lab in Hollywood. I can't afford to release lots of prints. Also the recovery for such films is slow. So, as a producer I took the decision of doing a staggered/platform release. Word of mouth publicity and near nil further investment. I am banking on the DVD and satellite deals for more inflow of money. Oh, by the way, now we have only 2 prints as one is with the Directorate of Film Festivals, New Delhi because of the National Award win. Nah I am not complaining (winks).
Did you do any workshops with the actors before shooting? How was it like directing Danny, Yashpal, Shilpa, Gauri, etc.?
No workshops as such. But we had lots and lots of discussions. We knew that we won't have time to do that in a 32 day schedule, and in those conditions. So, actually everyone knew what they were suppose to do.
Danny saab, what do I say about him? Great man and totally letting himself to us...In the beginning he was a bit skeptical about our plans, but then slowly he knew that we had sane heads however mad we looked.
Yashpal Sharma and Raj Zutshi...I would be ever so grateful to them for coming all the way to such extreme conditions even when they had very less screen time. But they knew the importance of their respective roles. It was easy to work when the actors know what the director wants. It can only happen if they are ready to listen about the vision. We were focused and very clear about what we wanted, so in turn they understood us very well.
Shilpa...This was before "Chak de" days. I am sure I wouldn't have got her after that. She has gone on record saying that she did Frozen because she needed money...I am happy that people think I am good pay master (smiles).
Gauri...Surprised everyone. All the senior actors praised her. No demands, no complains, nothing. If I remember, only few silent tears of protest. I got her rolling down the mountain, dipped in water, sitting on snow for hours...man she is good. And, yes, I got a bit cruel. But then you as a filmmaker can demand more and more if you have the confidence on the performer. She was that performer.
What shot in the film was the most difficult? Well, umm, the entire film was shot under extreme conditions...
Shot at an average height of 17000 feet. Minus 25 to minus 30 degrees. 32 days back to back shoot. Yes it was extreme.
Okay, let’s backtrack a bit...tell us about how you got into films…
Well after I produced the album "Channa Vey" with Kunal Ganjawala in 2003, I thought I could direct a film. I have done lots of other work in Mumbai in the last 9 years. Voiceovers, photography, ghost writing for serials, etc. I have also produced two regional language music videos. The visual medium fascinates me and I have done lot of photography. I think films were a natural progression from still images to moving ones.
Could you tell us about your upcoming films? I think you’re working on Love You Dobara, The Untold Tale and another film about ice hockey which will also be shot in Ladakh.
The Untold Tale is actually at the most advanced stage. It is an Indo-Spanish multi-lingual film. The script is ready and I have a Spanish producer too. It is a huge film, starting in 1956 Madrid and ending in present day Rajasthan. But, Love You Dobara would be the one which would be shot first as of now. It is about a typical fight between a Delhi girl and a Bombay boy. Because The Untold Tale is a co-production between two countries, it needs those details, so it could take some more time. I can't tell you much about Love You Dobara...just wait till the end of this month for a formal announcement (smiles).
"One More" is a feature based on Ice Hockey. I was fascinated by it when I saw Ice Hockey being played on top of Frozen Lakes in Ladakh. It is something like a coming of age film with shooting in Ladakh and either US or Canada. It is at a scripting stage.
One favorite out of all these...The Untold Tale...
Have you written the screenplays to your upcoming films? If yes, my next question is about how does the screenplay writing process work for you?
Well I get these weird ideas. The one lines...some incident...just something. I just write it down. And then I let it lie there for days. If something keeps popping in my head again and again then I start working on it. I write a story first...even a small one page story. Then I wear the Director's hat and write a treatment. How will I tell the story on screen? That is a detailed one. The Untold Tale treatment is a 30 page one. This really takes time. I wrote and rewrote The Untold Treatment nearly 15 times till I got it right. Then I get down to writing the screenplay. I have an Assistant who starts the basic outline and keeps passing scenes to me and I add, delete and juggle it around ‘till we get it right (smiles). Simple steps, nothing fancy.
So when will Frozen release on DVD? All of us outside of India are dieing to see the film! (laughs)
One month and half. The culprit is me. I have been so busy that I have still not cut the making. But yes, coming soon.
Will the DVD have any special features?
Definitely. It has a 40 minute making feature and lots of production pictures and also fun pictures. I might add commentary, let’s see.
Great talking to you , Shivajee!
Pleasure is totally mine Amanda, muchos gracias...I have to learn Spanish fast (smiles).
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