[R]ajan Khosa’s Gattu, which hits the theatres on July 20, won a Special Mention from the Children’s Jury at Berlin Film Festival 2012. A film about a street urchin who follows his dream, Gattu, produced by the Children’s Film Society of India, went on to win the Best Film award at New York Indian Film Festival 2012.
An alumnus of the Royal College of Arts in London, Khosa came into limelight with his feature film Dance Of The Wind (1997) which world premiered at Venice Film Festival and won the NETPAC award at International Film Festival Rotterdam.
Rajan Khosa talks about Gattu and the state of children’s films in India:
Tell us about the journey of Gattu.
I had worked with children in my earlier films and had realized that childhood was a beautiful stage of life to explore. So when the opportunity came to make a children’s film, I took it up.
Making Gattu was a journey of two and a half years: we spent a year in writing and then a year in production. We kept getting new writers on the film every few months. The Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) had a 5-member script committee which gave us regular feedback. So it was a collaborative process.
I decided I wanted to shoot in Roorkee. We were not sure of the script till the moment we went into shooting; we kept reworking and improvising the script until the shoot. Fortunately, Nandita Das of CFSI stood by it.
How did you find Mohammad Samad who plays the protagonist in the film?
I did casting in Mumbai but was disappointed by the chocolate eating brats. They were colored with a certain idea of cinema which was a block to deal with. So I made a strategic decision to cast in Roorkee. We auditioned in 12 schools and shortlisted 4 kids from 3 different schools. I wasn’t quite sure it was going to work out. We did theatre workshops with them during their summer holidays.
I also had a shortlist of schools that I wanted to show in the film which were representative of the education system in small towns. Fortunately Samad who was shortlisted was from one of these schools. So we decided to work with him. But he spoke very fast so we had to do lot of speech exercises with him.
Was it easy to find distributors for Gattu?
I knew distribution wasn’t going to be easy. Marketing people had told me: who is going to watch this kind of film? Urban kids don’t fly kites, they play video games. And small town people are very aspirational. They don’t want to see their own lives on screen. Chillar Party had to wait for a long time before it was endorsed by stars and theatrically released. Some other films had gone straight to television. But you can call it madness. I believed that if you make a quality film, it will find its way to the theatres. I wanted to show my film in theatres in small towns.
Rajshri loved the film. They had a different vision of distribution. They don’t believe in a grand weekend release and recovering their money, their way is more traditional: they begin with a few shows in small theatres and then expand. That is how they marketed Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Maine Pyaar Kiya.
So the main challenge here was to find people with the right kind of vision for distributing a film like Gattu.
What do you think about the state of children’s films in India?
Indian market hasn’t realized the potential of children’s films. If you consider some of the best works of Spielberg like Jaws and Aliens, they were made with children. Then there is Disney out there. But in India, children’s films don’t get made because they don’t have A-list stars. So marketing people don’t believe they will work. There is not much media coverage for children’s films either. Someone has to break that mould and come out with a successful children’s film.
What do you have to say about the new crop of Indian cinema that is making waves?
This was bound to happen and I am very happy about it. The audiences are largely consuming international content these days which has given rise to expectation for similar films from India. Had it not been for this change, films like Paan Singh Tomar, Kahaani and Stanley Ka Dabba wouldn’t have worked. But it will take some more time for things to change.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a supernatural thriller. It’s in pre-production stage currently.