“Don’t Waste Money, Keep The Storytelling Simple & Don’t Try Hard to Entertain Audience”

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Well, if you are Filmmaker in Chennai aspiring to go mainstream then chances are that you may not have heard about this guy. Because two things, He is not from Chennai and he is not mainstream. But let me complete this. There is going to be tonnes of learning if you watch his films, which is truly frugal, independent, experimental, liberating and still not boring!

Without watching his films, you can still read his answers on how he completes his films with limited time and money, how he manages to acquire a set of following for him. And let me tell you, from his first film Love, Wrinkle-Free to his most recent film-in-progress, Nirmal Anand ki puppy, it looks like Sandeep Mohan is going big and before he shuns us like any other ‘big’ filmmaker do, we manage to interview him and here we go!

(You can watch Love, Wrinkle-Free and Shreelancer on Amazon Prime)

The ending of Shreelancer, the idea Shreepad (Protagonist) suggests his Father (Let’s not spoil it for the audience), did that come up even before you started writing the script, or it naturally came up only towards the end of your writing tenure?

I always like to spend a lot of time on how the film should end. In fact, it is quite reassuring for me to know that I have an ending while writing the screenplay. Makes life easy for the writer in me, So yes, for Shreelancer, I knew Shree is going to end up that way while I decide to end the film. It is an ending that came naturally especially since the film is about a Freelancer.

The film was not draining, as I often find that in commercial movies there is an elaborate effort to get my attention. Like the ads you see to get my eyeballs, there is every effort to get us into the theatres, get us hooked to the movie, so we won’t feel the drag or get bored anywhere. The commercial director is always insecure about losing the audience attention. On the other hand we have people like you. How do you feel about this? Do you feel proud?

I don’t make films with a specific target audience in mind. I make films to explore ideas and themes that interest me/trouble me/am curious about. I don’t try too hard to entertain nor do I try too hard to bore you. I don’t approach it that way. In fact I don’t try too hard to achieve anything. I just keep the storytelling simple and try to tell it straight from my heart and brain and groin. My films are mostly character based and I listen to them intently and let them take me where they want me to. And I believe there are many people out there in the audience who can relate to my kind of stories. Also I am aware that there are many who don’t enjoy my films too. I am okay with all that. At the end of the day, I am exploring myself through my films. Drains me out for sure at the end of the process, but am glad to know that it didn’t drain you, the audience. Feels good!

On that note, I must tell you that I always see you as an ‘ideas’ person? You were experimenting with a concept called travelling cinema. Yes, we need business models to support Independent films. And thank goodness now we have streaming platforms to the rescue. But do you think the internet audience come to your kinda films uninvited?  Or they prefer still mainstream cinema. What needs to change? Audience tastes & curiosity level or something from You Guys side?

I like it when people stumble upon my films and then message me on FB. I feel reassured that someone is watching my films 🙂 Streaming platforms and their reach are massive. A limited theatrical release to get the word out and wide streaming platform release is ideal for my kind of films. I want to see my films on the big screen. It is a big kick. As for the audience, well, habits don’t change over a week or a month, it takes time. I did travel with my projector and screen in alternative venues and called it “The Great Indian Travelling Cinema”. It was fun. It was an adventure. Understood that there is an audience out there yearning for interesting content. Also to be honest, I can clearly see a change in the taste of the audience over the last few years. I don’t think it is the filmmaker’s fault or the audience’s fault. It is primarily a distribution/exhibition issue. If we have around 100 odd small niche theatres catering to slightly off beat films, then the audience will get slowly used to watching interesting and different films in a big screen too. When I eventually win that Lottery/Jackpot, I have a plan of opening around 100 such screens:)

Let’s talk about making. In a very small budget, things are damn tough, that well I know, with my limited experience. What were the talks between You and your Executive producer? How do you guys manage to get permissions from cafe, shoot in public places, in transit. I am sure most of them is guerilla, but for the benefit of our readers, tell us, how did you achieve this?

Well, I don’t have Executive Producers and stuff. I am my own EP. That way, I get to decide where to shoot. I write all these locations that I know right into my script. I do the entire planning, fine tune the script if I find it tough to get a location, I adapt and get meticulously ready before I shoot. I don’t outsource Scheduling and other planning stuff to others. I am hands-on doing this because it helps me control the budget from the very beginning. Most of my films are shot Guerilla and I have taken Permissions to shoot only a few times when it was totally unavoidable. Otherwise, I train my small crew to keep quiet, get the shot we need and move on. We don’t put on a big show of shooting a feature film and get caught unnecessarily in arguments and fights over location, permissions etc. Keep it simple is the motto. The full focus is on finishing the film on schedule without too many hassles. Especially since I never have major budgets.

Let’s talk about Casting. Be it the Father character, or the French tourists, the village woman, I could see magic, because these people were acting like they knew acting. Are they professionals? How did you guys manage them on board. How did you train them?

Well I like to work with a combination of Actors and non Actors – people I have chosen from real life for the way they look or talk or at times, just because they give me free locations. I don’t know. I have never had Casting directors in all these 4 Films that I have made. I have chosen the Actors. Also I don’t audition. I like to spend some time with them talking to get an idea about how they talk and think and that’s it. As for the Father Character (Salmin Sheriff), he is a wonderful actor from Bangalore, the French Tourists too. The Village Lady is not an actor. She is the wife of a Mountain Guide, and he is a good friend now. I don’t train anyone. I just work on them for a while during the shoot until i get what I want. Then I move on to the next shot.

How many people were behind the camera on an average.

Apart from the Cameraman and Focus Puller, I am there. We are a small crew of 10 to 15 depending on the location. We do Sync Sound, so the Sound person is there too. I like to work with small crew. A crew that can move faster is what I need. Also a crew who understands that I don’t like too much shouting on the set. After the first day of the shoot, they get me, and then it is relatively easy. Kind of…

Personally it must have been one hell of an experience for you. Can you tell me how many schedules you guys went and How many days it took to just shoot?

Well, if it’s Shreelancer you are talking about, then I had only two schedules. One in North India for 15 days. And another one for a week in Bangalore. It was a tough shoot considering the budget and other constraints, but I enjoy these challenges and try to get the best out of the situation to make the film come alive. I don’t set out with the intention to complain…i’m there to find creative solutions

Could you give us an idea on the cameras and lenses used?

We shot Shreelancer with Sony A7S2. My first film Love Wrinkle-free was shot with RedOne. Hola Venky was shot with Canon 5d mark2. The new film that I just shot and am editing now was shot with Arri Alexa and C200. I see the budget and the kind of story I am telling and accordingly choose the camera in collaboration with the DOP.

Okay, Chennai is mostly about mainstream cinema. What would you like to tell to an independent filmmaker from chennai? Any practical advise?

All I know is that there is good cinema. And bad cinema. It doesn’t matter if it’s mainstream or indie. I have only these two distinctions. Well, go ahead and choose to make films that have your distinct stamp on it. If possible, write your own scripts. And don’t waste money. And listen to your heart when it comes to creative calls. It’s your film after all

Sandeep, do you like to stay as an independent filmmaker? And In what way your next movie Nirmal Anand ki Puppy will be different from your previous films?

I am happy as long as I get to write and direct the kind of films that I want to make. And yes, I would always want to stay independent in the sense that I don’t want any interference in my creative process. I will keep making films and exploring myself through my films till i am alive. After I die, i might take a 2 to 3 year vacation and then start filming again:)

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