You Ain’t Looking At The Mirror When You’re Looking At Me!

OK. So here we go. Someone anonymously commented somewhere that my film Karma Is A She -Wolf is pretentious, just by watching the trailer. Every person is entitled to their opinion and I have nothing against it. In fact I will be completely surprised if my film is widely accepted in India. It does not aim to please or cater to the lowest common denominator. So if Anonymous expressed s/he hated the trailer, or expressed that s/he will hate the film when it’s released, I would not have bothered to write this long piece.

However the word ‘pretentious’ made me cringe at this criticism. If I correctly understood, I was being accused of ‘pretending’ to ‘be’ what I am ‘not’. Or in other words, I failed to meet the expectations of Anonymous of what s/he ‘thinks’ I am. So let’s see what I am actually like.

I am an Indian, born and brought up in Kolkata, lived in Bangalore and now in Mumbai. Hence I must be someone who is a product of Indian culture and most definitely a product of mainstream Indian Cinema or at best a product of Indian art-house /parallel cinema. I must be like almost every urban Indian out there. Right? Let me see. Like every Indian kid I watched numerous Indian mainstream films of Raj Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bacchan, Mithun Chakrabarty, and later on Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar etc, etc, while growing up. I also grew up on heavy doses of Bengali films of Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Soumitra Chatterjee and off course the quintessential films of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha among many others. In addition to that I took ample helpings of mainstream Hollywood, from the terrible to the good. I was already a movie buff in high school and my school mates can vouch for that. But nothing, no film or director made me feel that I must make films.

The first time Cinema truly struck me was when I watched Taxi Driver and Raging Bull back to back in 1996 or 1997. It was a kind of Cinema I never knew existed. Soon I started watching Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick and the new masters like Paul Thomas Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. By 2000 I was discovering Jean-Luc Godard, Truffaut and the Nouvelle Vague. This made me deeply interested in Cinema as a serious artistic expression. Then in 2004 something happened. I discovered Andrei Tarkovsky and watched his entire filmography in 3 consecutive days. All 8 films. It was a life changing event and I realised Cinema was my calling. Tarkovsky transformed me completely as a person. I was still an undergraduate student but I knew I will have to pursue Cinema sooner or later. By this time I am already deep into contemporary cinema of Aki Kaurismäki, Lars von Trier, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alexander Sokurov etc.

Also back in school I was listening to American and British alternative music heavily: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Oasis, The Verve, The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and retrospectively going back to the greats like Pink Floyd, The Doors, Black Sabbath etc, slowly moving on to other forms of music ranging from Baroque and Romantic period of Classical music to the extremities of Norwegian Black Metal. Around 2002 I started studying History of Western Art starting with Vincent Willem van Gogh and Salvador Dalí, quickly moving on to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and then tracing back the roots to early Renaissance. I started studying Philosophical works of Descartes, Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka and Albert Camus among others. Nobody, I repeat, nobody introduced me into any art forms/artists/directors/musicians or taught me anything. I introduced several people into several different filmmakers, bands, artist etc. But there is not one person who introduced me into anything, that I didn’t know already (this is in college though). I discovered art and artist all by myself. The treasure is out there only for those who seek it.

I went to a film school in Europe in 2012. So you see, film school didn’t teach me much other than the technicalities. I have studied everything all by myself straight from the masters. Before I went to shoot my first feature film I have already seen about 5000 films from more than 100 countries (yes, that is right, last time I counted it was 112 or something) and almost every master you can think of, from every corner of the world. I was raised by European and North American Music and Cinema and the Western school of Philosophy. And even though later on I spread my learning sources from Japan to Middle East, from Africa to Latin America (and off course India and its Ancient Philosophy and Hindustani and Carnatic Music and their evolved forms), I am primarily a product of Western school of thought and expression.

Now do I resemble the majority of urban Indians? You decide. I do look like you. But my mind does not look anything like your mind. There are a few oddballs like me in this country (and I know a few of them too), like everywhere else, but I suppose that’s not the majority of the urban India. I am not against Indian mainstream films or Indian culture. But I do not see why I have to limit myself to only Indian art and culture and expression just because I was born here. The world is my inheritance and I draw influence from every culture and place. Is that a taboo? I don’t know. But I am certainly looked down upon by you, Anonymous and some others like you, for ‘being pretentious’ it seems. So if you judge me and my film/writings/expressions with your own standards and your own understanding of life and find me to be pretentious I guess you have to realise you are not looking at the mirror when you are looking at me. I am not you. And if I make a film within your expectation to please you, that would be ‘pretentious’.

Karma Is A She -Wolf is as real as it can be, it’s a confessional, semi-autobiographical film based on truths and events that I have lived. So Anonymous, go ahead, hate the trailer, diss the film. That’s alright. You have no obligation to tolerate it. But don’t call me ‘pretentious’. My film is probably more real than you can ever attempt to be.

PS: Another strange word is ‘self-indulgent’. If a person does not indulge in herself/himself how on earth does s/he create something? After all any art form is primarily an attempt to understand the human self. Unless we are talking about assembly line films, which is mostly what happens in here.

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