Thursday, October 24, 2013

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ACTIVISTS BECOME FILM PRODUCERS!!!



Not sure if you remember my earlier blog about a movie we wanted to make on sex trafficking “Durga”. After searching for a producer for months together, we gave up and finally decided to produce it ourselves. Well I understand only ‘fools’ with no business understanding take the risk of staking their own money to make a movie. I don’t know whether we also fit into that category or not…but so high is our conviction on what we embark to do, that till date for the strangest reason we have absolutely no regrets or fear that we have staked everything that we owned to make this movie. And by the way ‘we’ means I and my wonderful filmmaker husband Rajesh Touchriver.

After the initial search for producer and our consequent decision to produce it ourselves we decided to this film in two languages, Malayalam and Telugu. At this stage somehow the name Durga lost its appeal and we moved on first to ‘Prathyayam’ which means trust and finally “Naa Bangaaru Talli” which means ‘my dearest daughter’ in Telugu and “Ente” which means “mine” in Malayalam. Technically and practically it meant making two films as each scene had to be done twice…malayalam and telugu.

Selecting a cast had its own set of trouble. But finally after a lot of search we found Anjali Shinde Patil( Debut-Delhi in a day) and Siddiq( a well known versatile actor from Kerala) to play the lead roles. For some unknown reasons Siddiq gave us some terrible last-minute jitters by pulling out just 10 days before the shoot and coming back 3 days before the first schedule began. His star tanturms(if that is what you call for being difficult) continued throughout the production but ended strangely on the last day of the shoot. But the worst shock treatment was given by the then chosen cinematographer. A guy known to us very closely, who had seen all the locations with Rajesh Touchriver my co-producer and director.  Just a week before the shoot he sent a mail (otherwise calling Rajesh up a million times a day was so common) stating his inability to be part of the venture quoting some financial crises. In any case this was a huge crises as visual medium like cinema requires a talented cinematographer. Simultaneously the editor backed out with a curt sms. It was as if there was a planned move from some quarter to discourage this project(as all the rejections were coming mostly from Kerala). 

The last week before the shoot started was a nightmare to say the least…but somewhere our guardian angels were watching us. Just three days before the shoot we found Ramanthulasi, a brilliant cinematographer and DonMax our fantastic editor. Truly we were blessed.

We were also blessed with a number of people who were conspiring to make things work for us. My father who gave his pension savings for the film…my friend Lalita Iyer who staked all her fixed deposits for us…my sister-in-law, my brother-in law, my brother…everybody pitching in to ensure that this dream we were chasing will come true.  There were also senior police officers from Andhra Police who gave us all support regarding locations and other logistics. Finally we were good to go! In spite of all obstacles we started on time!

The shoot started…everyday ended with…thank God this day passed well…and a prayer…God ensure tomorrow is as smooth…in spite of all that there were days when things didn’t go as planned…money was lost on locations…for a few days all kinds of film based unions landed on the sets to disrupt the shooting. One day it was ‘you have given work to people without union cards’ or ‘how can you shoot for two films without our permission’ etc…etc. There was also constant trouble with junior artistes. The worst part was I could not even go for the shooting in the first schedule in Hyderabad as many junior artistes would recognize me. The junior artistes especially those involved in prostitution walked out of sets the moment they knew that I was the producer. They had seen me in a different contexts of raids etc…what a irony!!!

The paid technicians did their job to at least to some extent…but friends who were contributing on the technical side freely, were tough ones to handle…a core team mate even managed to leave the location for good when he was most required…Many lessons learnt…one of them being, in future take only technicians on payment otherwise goodwill does not ensure accountability. An unforgettable instance was when Rajesh Touchriver my co-producer and director(and also my better half!) had to become the art director and had to construct the sets by himself. Today we can proudly say that each aspect of the movie has a significant contribution from the producers themselves.

Production completed…post-production began. Editing…dubbing…music…and background score. DonMax our editor and Sasi our associate editor were super.

At that time we had asked Shareeth a leading music director in south to do the background score and the songs. The songs I must say did come out very well, but the background score was pathetic to say the least. By this time all our assistants except for Harsha had already dumped us. Now I cannot blame them…as we were paying them modestly. So it was Rajesh and Harsha sitting through the editing, dubbing…music…re-recording etc. And Rajesh single handedly managing the same in Kerala and Chennai as we could not afford for Harsha or anybody else to assist Rajesh there. Bhaskar another of our assistant based in Chennai atleast was available on call.

With the background score practically killing all our significant characters…we were back to a situation of making difficult choices. No matter what, both Rajesh and I could not come in terms with this…it was then Shantanu Moitra, a dear friend came to our rescue. He agreed to do the background score, free of cost(just charging us the studio rents). The movie got delayed by a month…but by God what a wait…it is worth it! The background score done by Shantanu is superlative to say the least. And the super-best thing(I am not sure such adjectives exists…but it sounds good to me), the final climax number by Shantanu…I promise you none of you who will watch the movie will forget the tune for a long time to come. Shreya Goshal with her haunting melody…will surely stir everybody’s soul. My little sister who heard it last month briefly, still hums it…So everything that happens…happens for good only.

Movie done…and now  the greatest challenge is taking it to the theaters. Search for a distributer started in earnest.  The answers ranged from “this film does not fall in our kind of films” or “please show it in festivals”, nut and bolt of it was we cannot distribute it for you. The irony was most distributers who saw the film had tears in their eyes(I am not sure now whether it was real or whether I imagined all of it!!!) and told us all the right emotional answers. For that moment we were on top of the world…and then there would be a meeting in a day or two where their stand would be completely different.  All of them unanimously felt (I am telling you this after showing it to more than 30 big and small distributers) it was a great family-thriller, the background score was brilliant, the songs were great, the story mind-blowing, and the performance powerful…etc…etc  

So where is the movie falling short? No star cast, no item number, no sex…no violence…all in all no masala. Infact one small time distributer told me “you had so much scope for adding so many things in your film…atleast you could have shown some sex ( the film is a true story of sex trafficking)…or atleast one item number in the form of a bar dance!!!

This is where I am really questioning the activist in me….what do people want… and what actually sells? Was it wrong of me to believe that there is still a collective conscious in the society that will accept with open arms a sensitive film made on sensitive subjective with relatively unknown faces. Or sense & sensibilities sells only when a star is there…so what was the attraction the cause or the star.

To that extent I am also questioning all that I demanded of Rajesh. When Rajesh started the script I repeatedly harped on the same thing, it has to be a family film and the treatment should be in such a way that I can sit with my 6yr old nephew and not flinch. I also wanted situational songs that will enhance the viewing. I was not interested in making a film which is dark and gory and will only run in a festival circuit where the audience consists mostly of ‘converts’ who do not really require this sensitization. What I was really interested is showing to people who need to be sensitized both from the ‘class’ and from the ‘mass’….

In any case, by now frustrations was eating me up…First you stake everything…then you do not find a way a to take it to its logical conclusion, suddenly an alien sensation of helplessness seeps in. It is at this stage I went to attend INK Conference at Pune(incidentally INK is being held tomorrow at Cochin). I am not sure how many of you know INK. It is an abbreviation for Innovation & Knowledge, an extraordinary forum in association with TED. This is the brainchild of two brilliant and dynamic women Lakshmi Pratury & Anu Sethuram. A conference for the best of the minds and hearts to meet. It was its third conference.  I went for it…and then it felt like Gods were conspiring to make way for me. I met Anu Agha and Amit Singhal. These two people after hearing me speak at the conference, came forward to support this film for us to distribute it ourselves. What a miracle!!!

With this support in hand we decided to distribute this film ourselves in Kerala in association with Celebrate International. We had no choice but to tie up with a existing distributer to get access to the theaters etc.  “Ente” was released in Kerala early this year. The response from those who saw the film “it was the most transformative experience”.  Like I had hoped, from school children to very old people…everybody felt comfortable in watching the film and went back holding something… A mother from Kohikode called me and said…”the first thing I did after seeing the film was rush and hug my daughter”

Super critical acclaim everywhere….but sadly a commercial disaster.  Inspite of the fact that everybody proclaimed it one of the best films that they have seen…there was hardly any crowd rolling on top of each other at the ticket counter… Where were the hundreds & thousands who wanted good cinema…and write or speak so eloquently on facebook, social media and all forums. Suddenly it appeared as if everybody just disappeared…

But to my utter amusement all of them reappeared once the movie was removed from the theaters…we had demands and demands to show “Ente” in some university festival or other. When asked why they did not see it when it reached theaters in their towns…there were a lot of sheepish response. To test further, when we said please pay a screening fees…the disappearance act was repeated. 

Suddenly I was wondering whether people think, since she is a activist she has no right to recover her money…only the commercial film producers have a right to recover and make a profit. We will only buy tickets and watch films of the commercial film producer… and ensure he/she does not have a loss. Since she is activist…she can bear a loss!!! 

I also started questioning myself? What do people want?  Is this a denial? Or is it a resistance to change?                        

The release of “Ente” was a bitter-sweet experience with the Malayali crowd…Sweet because of the response of the those who saw it…and bitter because we were not able to reach to the desired level through the theaters. One of the most memorable comments was by Shri Oomen Chandy, the Chief Minister of Kerala, who sat through a film after 25years( I believe the last film he saw was around 25yrs back)…and said ‘this will always remind me on how less we are doing” and declared it “tax free”.

Now back to square 1, since the Malayalam version did not make the mullahs rolling…no takers in Andhra Pradesh for the telugu version “Naa Bangaaru Talli”. Just for the heck of it we send it some festivals…and lo and behold “ Naa Bangaaru Talli” as adjudged the best feature film at Trinity International Film Festival, Detroit.
I am sure such things are happening only so that our morale is boosted…(God has his/her own way to take care of souls like us)…

Searching for a distributer in Andhra Pradesh….simultaneously trying to mobilize around 30 lakhs or 50,000 USD to release it ourselves. Reliance Entertainment although not willing to invest has committed to support us distribute it if we mobilize the money…even here we need the help of a player in the market who can get us the theaters. So looking for fifty thousands and one hundred thousand to finally make it three hundred thousand rupees to take this film to the theaters. Now you will ask why theaters, why can’t you release it online…my only answer is I want the poorest person in the remotest village in Andhra Pradesh to watch this film…I want to reach where the problem begins.

Will I succeed in Andhra Pradesh…time will say…

And by the way…I hope nobody is saying right now after reading all this…who told her to make a movie…she should just do things that she knows…

My answer…”We have only one life Boss!’’

Watch the trailer…


I am not sure whether there has been an audio launch on a blog…if not let me be the first. Launching the title song of my film “Naa Bangaaru Talli”

Song (singer- Shreya Goshal, music director- Shantanu Moitra)


If you want to share it please feel free to do so… make the song your ringtone…this is your chance to support the cause…can you do it?

Vodafone Users
To Set Caller Tunes SMS Song Name Or Album Name to 57979 or Just Dial 57979

For Mobile Downloads SMS "NBT" to 56060

Also
Available on Nokia Music at http://music.nokia.com/in





22 comments:

  1. I had been waiting to this movie. I was an ardent listener of the song" pava njan" from ente.I used listen to it through youtube. I couldn't watch it as the movie wasn't released in Banglore.But I would like to screen this film in my college.WITH FEES.All the students in my college are like minded,I'm sure if you screen it ppl with turn up and this will bring fruits to your efforts.Hatts of to you ma'm.Expecting your reply asap.

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  2. Greetings Sunitha,

    Thank you - thank you for your advocacy and for your willingness to not only share the wealth of yourself, but to detail your experiences [seemingly] as often as time permits.

    After seeing your talk with TED, my sense of advocacy deepened so much so that I feel particularly obligated to do my part is fostering the significance of you, as well as others like you, stand for/represent. And, now, after reading this post, I am just as displeased in the lack of widespread aid to bring about awareness to the cause of human-trafficking, as well as recovering the investments you put forth into something you believe in. I applaud you on taking on the responsibility of producing the films; it is no easy feat.

    In light of doing my part, I would love to have the film screened at my university (in the US - North Carolina, if that's possible. How may I go about doing that? Who do I contact? Any help/direction you can lend would be incredibly appreciated.

    Thank you in advance; remain Blessed and Spirited.

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  3. Congratulations Sunitha for consistently reaching above and beyond. You say this was screened in Detroit -- I am so sorry to have missed it, because I live in one of the suburbs. We need to devise a better system of publicity so that your supporters can do everything possible to broaden your audience.

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  4. I really don't know what to say,Sunitha. I don't want to be the one among those who say, why did you make a movie? You made an effort. A huge one at that. I really appreciate it. I had been following it on FB for sometime..later, the updates disappeared. Later, I totally lost track of it. I wouldn't want to miss watching it.
    Yes, people won't watch the movie in theatres.. they won't. Because, it is not commercial. I really wish you make the money you spent on it.

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  5. Greetings Sunita ji,
    Every word you speak/write some way or other brings out the voice of an a powerful soul within. This is what I would seek to see in everyone. Holding high respects to your thoughts and works I would like to share my heartfelt greetings & wishes for the new project you're associated with. And yes , there may be few who'd ask "why make movie" , but those who know the works of prajwala would hardly ever raise such a thought. And the best way to understand the viewership is from the statment you said "asked why they did not see it when it reached theaters in their towns" .. this hapenns to everything "good" in our society. They realize what they missed , when it is gone !

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  6. Namaste Sunita! Have been wanting to watch Ente but could not as am in Sharjah. Watched the beautiful song by Shreya Ghoshal. It has a haunting quality about it.
    Reading through you filming experience was an eyeopener. When you have honest and right intentions to make something happen, the Universe will conspire to make it happen. Read about the Telugu version of Ente winning an award and critical acclaim at Detroit. Congratulations & all the very best to you and Rajesh.
    The fighter in you is visible in this piece. May you be blessed manifold for the pathbreaking efforts against human and especially sex trafficking. May your tribe increase.

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  7. Have you tried kickstarter? You might get funding to show this in universities for free

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  8. I don't know how I can help. But after a long time I paid money to download the songs with a hope that this money will reach you. I know what I did is not enough. All I can say is all the best..

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  9. Just watched the trailer of "Naa Bangaru Thalli"and the song "Pavunai...."by Shreya Ghoshal. I could easily make out that the level of commitment put in by all the team involved is of the highest level... don't want to comment anything more right now... am just waiting to watch the movie in theaters with my family ...... and I am sure it will release in theaters in AP as you had wished for ....

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  10. Sunitha

    I can understand your concern and frustration about releasing this movie in AP. I am a NRI and from Hyderabad. Please give me your contact details for further talk.

    thanks

    arun

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  11. My sister was raped, my bestfriend in primary school was systematically raped by a family member for 5 years, a girl from work was raped. I know you say people ask 'what can they do,' as a form of getting out of guilt. But I don't know what I can do, as a 17 year old Australian girl, I have the opportunity to go to College. Yet I feel the need for action, rape is all to common. I feel violated, for the actions committed against women and their children. I've been reading this blog, since I was 14, and have cried before going to sleep. My tears aren't enough, a western girl who could never understand, tears aren't enough. I am inadequate, but one day, I will meet you, I am determined. Recently, in the US, three women and a child were found in a man's basement, the women were tortured and raped for 10 years. This caused major outroar in America and Australia. I can't help but wonder, their case caused people to spit on the ground, curse rape and abuse against women. But to a westerner, is it only valid when it happens in a western country? What about the 3 year old sold into slavery only to die by internal virginal wounds? The young women and girls who have spent more then a decade in a kind of horror and torture I am unable to fathom, to receive with HIV and AIDS, and leave an imprint on them? Why are lives of these women and children ignored? Why is it forgotten that these are individual people? Why must women continue to die for the community to realize? I will never 'have a clue' about your work, or what your girls go through, but everyday, I die a little inside and wonder of their strength, and of yours.

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  12. Sunitha, I pray that your film gets receives international success and makes lot of money too as money plays an important role in your great mission. I am sure that will happen. I am sure God is with you.

    All the best!

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  13. vegadart.blogspot.comNovember 21, 2013 at 1:38 AM

    Respected Sunitha
    I have seen the movie "Thira"directed by Vineeth Srinvasan on 20/11/13 with my daughter .and felt that it is a serious movie vaguely based on your dedicated work .
    before writing a review about the film I tried to cross check the facts and came to your blog here. I Could not see your movie ""├źnte"" in Bangalore..To spread the message and the movie to the serious people My suggestion is this
    Make an arrangement to copy it into DVD and sell it online from your Blog/facebook or any other platform. Price it for minimum Rs 500/=
    I am sure it will work
    with regards
    v c joseph
    vegadart.blogspot.com
    vcjoseph3@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  14. Movie Thira made me look up more about you and so I reached this blog.. Nothing I say or comment can applaud or commend the Work that u doing... I just pray that You will continue to be empowered with Forces from God and from every possible support you could receive to move on with whatever you attempt to venture.. People like you are a rarity.. Don't want to go on... Be blessed....}

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  15. Any link to watch 'ENTE' online.Please suggest !

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  16. Suggestions to generate revenue.
    1. Can you put up this movie for sale on Youtube, iTunes, Amazon?
    2. After a few months when viewership drops, on Youtube, make it free & put ads.
    3. Show Ads on your blog.
    4. Run KickStarter & IndieGoGo campaigns.

    On a different note, can you publish all the red light districts & areas that you know of in India or the world where you know that human rights are being violated? Once this information is public, maybe, we the people can put pressure on the administration to take action.

    I routinely see organizations such as AID & ASHA have fundraisers in USA. Maybe they can help raise funds for you?

    May God bless you all & help make the world a better place.

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  17. Madam please try talking to Dr. Mohan Babu(Lakshmi Prasanna Pictures).
    I think he can help you release the film!!!
    You are one of the greatest souls I have heard of!!!

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