In light of reality

Flight to cannes

In light of reality

Three years ago, on a night filled with utter hopelessness, self-doubt and frustration, filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan tweeted, “To hell with modesty and humility. I want an AC in my room and an iPhone in my hand.” Having quit his well-paying corporate job to pursue his passion for cinema, Ghaywan knew exactly what he had given up on, but the fear of whether he would make it haunted him.

Although he was assisting Anurag Kashyap on his two-part crime drama Gangs of Wasseypur (GOW) then, and was “thoroughly enjoying every bit of it”, Ghaywan wondered whether he had it in him to make films on his own. “The tweet, as is with anything done on impulse, got a lot of unwanted attention,” he recalls. The next morning he woke up to exactly what he had asked for — an AC and an iPhone. Both were gifts from Kashyap and a subtle nod to let Ghaywan know that he was ready to fly solo. 

Changing paths

Ghaywan, 35, whose debut feature Masaan (Fly Away Solo) won two awards at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and is slated for release on July 24, can’t thank Kashyap enough for giving him the much-needed push to chase his dreams.

Born and raised in Hyderabad to Maharashtrian parents, Ghaywan was the quintessential middle-class boy. He tread the conventional path of securing an engineering degree, an MBA, and made his parents proud by getting placed straight out of B-school. But soon he was getting burnt out. Around this time, he stumbled upon the now-defunct blog Passion For Cinema (PFC), and ended up being the editor of the blog. “It was like I was leading a parallel life,” says Ghaywan. It was on PFC that he became pally with Kashyap. Ghaywan switched jobs, this time, to the digital marketing team of UTV, thinking he would be able to work more closely with films.

Unfortunately for him, the on-ground story was totally different. Defeated and depressed, Ghaywan was contemplating his next move when he got Kashyap’s call from Madrid. “Anurag was writing GOW then and he patiently listened to all that I had to say,” says Ghaywan. “He encouraged me to jump on to the other side of making films.” When Kashyap offered him the job of an assistant director for GOW, Ghaywan was still confused. But it was Kashyap’s words that turned him around. “He told me, ‘If you never try, how will you know if you have it in you?’” says Ghaywan.

But the journey wasn’t a cakewalk. Having no experience whatsoever in filmmaking, Ghaywan had to start from scratch. “In a sense, GOW was my film school,” he says. “I was involved in every phase of the making of those two films, starting from scripting to production, post-production, promotion... just about everything.”

In the process

While shooting GOW in Varanasi, Ghaywan revisited a 36-page “shitty” draft that he had once written and tucked away in a corner based on an idea set in the city. “I had taken an outsider’s perspective, which is why my story felt alien,” he says. To get an insider’s look at Varanasi and the people who lived there, he roped in friend and writer Varun Grover to co-write the story. What followed was a gruelling 45-day research process. The common man’s morality is what has always interested Ghaywan, as is evident from his award-winning short films like Shor and The Epiphany. Much like his favourite filmmakers Satyajit Ray, Shekhar Kapur, Micheal Haneke and the Dardenne Brothers, Ghaywan, too, tries to explore “the moral conflicts the working class faces in their daily lives”. He confesses to have had a ‘fanboy’ moment at Cannes when he got a chance to talk to his idols, the Dardenne brothers.

Masaan, starring Richa Chadha, Vicky Kaushal, Shweta Tripathi and Sanjay Mishra, is set in the ghats of Varanasi and brings together the stories of a few misfits who are on the lookout for an escape route from their mundane small town lives. An Indo-French collaboration, the film, which had also won the Sundance Global Filmmaking Award at script stage itself, is produced by Manish Mundra, Macassar Productions, Phantom Films, Sikhya Productions, Arte France Cinema and Pathe Productions.

After its world premiere at Cannes, the crew was stunned when the audience gave them a five-minute standing ovation. “I think the basic human emotions are the same everywhere,” says Neeraj, on the universal appeal of his film. But more than anyone else, he knows that what he has achieved is, indeed, a rare feat. “I wish I could say, this is the stuff of dreams. But frankly, I never even dreamt of this day,” he says.

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