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August 06, 2016

Chauthi Koot Director Gurvinder Singh On His Brand Of Cinema

Text by Ranjabati Das. Photograph by Sachit Paulose

He talks about the challenges of indie filmmaking and taking his film to Cannes

Though only two films old, he is showing the Bollywood-obsessed Indian masses a Punjab that’s not all about its sarson ke khet and bubbly Geets. Gurvinder Singh’s latest release Chauthi Koot (2015), that premiered at Cannes recently, earned him his second Best Punjabi Film win and brought the National Film Awards tally for his work to four — which by the way also includes Best Direction for his debut Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan (2011). His strong suit? A distinct voice, uncompromising and adamant, one that was heard loud and clear when the FTII graduate recently spoke out against Bahubali bagging Best Film at the 63rd edition of the National Awards.

“Direction is such an intuitive, sensory and physical exercise, I enjoy it much more than being cooped up in a room, writing. Such diverse people with contrasting personalities are present on the sets. Collaborating with them is something I relish. So many important decisions are taken while shooting; elements which are not present in the script are introduced. The imaginary starts taking a visible shape and that’s a wonderful thing to experience.”

“The biggest challenge has always been financing and distribution. For cinema like mine, avenues for raising money are minuscule. Many film-makers are looking at the same pool of funds, so it’s very competitive. Very few private producers will touch these films.”

“I am not interested in personality-driven cinema. When I cast I focus more on the person, less on experience or ability. In fact, I look positively at the awkwardness that first-timers or non-actors have. At times I feel they are more true to themselves.”

“A village in Himachal Pradesh, where I have moved, offers a far better quality of life than a city. It’s great to be around people from a completely different socio-economic background than yours. You learn how they have been living in sync with nature and the seasons, and have minimal materialistic needs. And you learn to control your own urges. You realise that the basic things in life can be free: clean air, water and fresh organic produce. I am not much interested in the so-called conveniences of the city. I travel a lot for work or my film screenings, so I’m not totally off the map!”

“It’s great to work across formats and genres. I just finished a short as part of an international omnibus of 10 shorts. It required a completely different approach and form. You need sharp quick movements, whereas in a feature, time needs to be dealt with differently. You can linger on a feeling and have the scope of elaboration, like in a long rendition of a raga. Currently I am working on a non-fiction film about an Indian artist, so I am interested in how to bring fictional elements into the documentary, the same way that I am interested in bringing documentary elements into fiction.”

“Only cricket, Bollywood and politics get the kind of attention they do in this country in the mainstream media. But I suppose the internet and social media are changing that slowly. Ten years ago my films would have disappeared without a trace. Now even mainstream distributors are coming forward and releasing non-Hindi or non-Bollywood films.”

“Cannes is about the commerce and glamour of movies, as much as it is about giving space to film-makers pushing the boundaries of cinema to explore new languages and concerns. The reaction to Chauthi Koot was mixed. Some critics, specially the French, gave it good reviews. It is releasing in India this month.”

“I’m working on a feature script that’s a comic fantasy about the dreams and aspirations of the marginalised, again set in Punjab. Even if I make a film that’s not in Punjabi, it will definitely have something to do with Punjab, although it might be set outside the region.”

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