[A]jay Bahl’s debut film B.A. Pass was named the Best Film in Indian Competition at the recently-concluded 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival. Bahl talks about his film in this interview:
What was the starting point for B.A. Pass?
Making any film, let alone the first, is almost always a reaction. A reaction to all that is messy, uncontrolled or disorderly in one’s professional, personal or extra personal life. The film becomes or at least you hope that it will become the vehicle that helps tide you over the turbulence. B.A.Pass started the same way.
How did you secure funds for making the film?
All filmmakers go through years of struggle, getting signed up for films that don’t take off, scripts have their own destinies, some get made, others don’t and I was getting stuck with the ones that never got produced, it is no big deal, that is just the way it is. But there comes a time when you say-I’ve had it with this shit- and put up your own money into something that interests you…so that is what I did. I am afraid that there is no glorious story to it, I just asked my family for the money and they gave it to me. I mean they did not ask me one single question and I was like: Damn! Why did I waste so many years! What is the point in ranting and moaning about the heartless film producers or whoever, if you are lucky to have your own money then put it where your mouth is, shut up and get to work. If you don’t back your own first film who the hell will. B.A.Pass is totally a tribute to my parents.
Tell us about the journey of making “B.A. Pass”.
The funds had been secured and I was looking for some material that interests me. I am afraid that there are very few good writers of original screenplays in our country: those who are good soon become directors and write exclusively for themselves. Searching through bookstores, looking at various modern Indian fiction writers, I came across ‘Delhi Noir’ (Harpercollins 2010). The story ‘The Railway Aunty’ in it by Mohan Sikka was just right to be made into an indie film, with its cinematic setting, limited scale and lovely, complex characters. Ritesh Shah did a great job of adapting it for the screen.
Next I was lucky to get brilliant actors like Shilpa Shukla, Shadab Kamal, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Rajesh Sharma, Geeta Sharma and the very special Deepti Naval who agreed for a friendly appearance.
B.A.Pass is my first film as a director and also as a cinematographer so the journey of its filming was a complete revelation. How you interpret a scene, sub-textualize with actors and where you decide to put the camera tells you so much about your own self, it’s fascinating and unnerving at the same time to discover all that is good or even ugly within you.
The film was about eighty percent done when Deepti D’Cunha saw it and recommended it to NFDC for the Work In Progress (WIP) Lab, Film Bazaar 2011, where I was mentored by Dereck Malcom, Chris Paton and Katriel Schory. I must add that NFDC is really doing a great job of finding new talent, shining examples are Ship of Theseus, Miss lovely and Mumbai Cha Raja: all these films were in the WIP Lab the same year as B.A.Pass.
Are you anticipating trouble with the CBFC over the ‘bold’ content of the film?
The film has a very strong sexual theme which also forms the spine of the story so in that sense it is not extraneous. The aesthetic is very pure and even during the most passionate lovemaking the viewer is always discovering more about the characters and the dynamic between them, so the scenes are a very important part of the story telling and I don’t think that the censor board should have objections. To its credit, over the last few years, the censor board has been dealing with increasingly mature content of films in a very intelligent manner.
Have you found any distributor for the film? Any plans for a theatrical release?
Making a film and finding distribution for it are two different worlds. Being both the producer and the director of the film, I did not want to digress into the distribution aspect before completing the creative. I have finished the film only about fifteen days back and apart from one screening in a twenty seater preview theatre for very close friends, the screening at Osian’s Cinefan Film festival was the first ever public screening of B.A.Pass with fifteen hundred people in the audience and it was a completely overwhelming experience. So yes, the time has come to find distribution and I have begun talks with a few people. The film has a commercial appeal and I am hopeful, but while the talks go on, I will also be taking the film to a couple of international festivals starting with Montreal World Film Festival.
What is your comment on current independent film making scene in India?
The indie scene in India is picking up, I saw some lovely films at Osian and there are some very exciting talents ready to burst into the scene. So these are interesting times. The onus is on the new generation Indian filmmakers to change the perception of our cinema globally; to go beyond Bollywood and they are starting to do that.
Who are the filmmakers you admire?
There are so many filmmakers that one admires, I tend to have phases. On the Indian front, in the past, I have been moved by the works of Guru Dutt, Shyam Benegal, Hrishikesh Mukherji and Bimal Roy and in recent times by Vishal Bharadwaj, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Vikramaditya Motwane, Udaan is such a spectacular film and of course, Bandit Queen, it is timeless.
Internationally I admire Inarritu, Johnnie To, Kim Ki Duk, Wong Kar Wai, Zhang Yimou, Sydney Pollack and Sergey Dvortsevoy. Tulpan is an all time favourite film.
Tell us about your background.
I have been brought up in Delhi and was a national level cricketer. Disillusioned by the politics in sport, I quit and dropped out of high school and meandered through various professions from music piracy to manufacturing jeans till I found a book on filmmaking at a friend’s house. I am, for all practical purposes, a self taught cinematographer and director.