[C]ameron Bailey, the artistic director of Toronto International Film Festival calls Mumbai Cha Raja a film that can change the image that Slumdog Millionaire created of Mumbai. It deals with the lives of two street kids Rahul and Arbaaz.
Manjeet Singh, who has also been selected for Toronto Talent Lab, talks about his debut film which awaits world premiere in the City-to-City programme at Toronto International Film Festival:
What is Mumbai Cha Raja about?
It’s a salute to the spirit of the under privileged kids of Mumbai who find joy in things which might seem trivial to the society, and enjoy life to the fullest, in-spite of the problems they face.
What was the starting point for the film?
It was a cumulative effect of my childhood memories: a feature script I had written about the kids who sing in Mumbai local train; desire to capture the beauty of the Ganesh festival in the city and charming balloon seller kid Arbaaz, whom I wanted to see on the big screen.
How did you secure funds for making the film?
I started the film with zero account balance. The support came in mainly from the family. Then the friends also chipped in. We also tried crowd funding in desperate situation for post-production funds. Somehow we have managed to take the film this far.
Share with us the journey of making Mumbai Cha Raja.
I had missed two Ganesh festivals, ever since I had the idea of the film. I did not want to miss the festival again. It was also the right time, as the digital technology had advanced and was very accessible unlike before. Passionate people came along. I wrote the script keeping Arbaaz in mind. Rahul was cast
from a group of 8 boys a local snack vendor introduced us to. We did not test Rahul’s acting skills, but cast him for his real life emotional experience, which was similar to the protagonist. Rahul turned out to be an amazing actor, needing minimal instructions. During the shoot I realized that the film should be the interpretation of the kids themselves, so they were allowed to improvise the reference dialogues in given situations. We had to spend lot of time in edit as well. It seems like lord Ganesh’s grace helped us in every stage.
How did it help you to win the Prasad DI Award at Film Bazaar 2011?
I guess the mentors Derek Malcom, Katriel Schory and Chris Paton were impressed. Perhaps I was the most needy one! It turned out to be a great help. Prasad lab provided the services for the color grading of the film, on Baselight setup. It helped us save money on the vital process.
What are your plans for distribution of the film?
It’s hard to make plans without funds for publicity. We are hoping that a corporate helps in reaching out this film to wider audiences. The press has been supportive so far, but to release the film we will need much stronger media presence.
What do you think of the current independent film making scene in India?
It has never been so impressive. We are seeing very personal stories being told in unique ways, not adhering to the market tendencies. With the advent of digital technology there is no excuse of not being able to make films. The genuine film-makers are now making films; whereas earlier con-men who could impress producers were making films.
Who are the filmmakers you admire?
I am a huge admirer of Ray and Kurosawa. Among the contemporary directors I find Brillante Mendoza impressive.
Tell us about your background.
I have studied Mechanical Engineering. A brief film-making course introduced me to the medium of Cinema. I realized if I did anything else in life, it would be wasted. I have not been to a conventional film school. I did not even have a single credit in any feature film, before making this film. Internet has been a great film school for me!
What are you working on next?
For the last six years I have made a bank of scripts. Among them is the quadrilogy of stories based on caste discrimination in different parts of India in different regional languages. Then I have a script made out of the clichés of commercial cinema; which has thriller, a love triangle, a social-political noir with terrorism elements. There is a musical coming-of-age film based on the lives of kids, who sing in Mumbai local trains. A script based on our obsession with Cricket, which is set in Mumbai and captures the finer details of ‘gully’ (street) cricket. There is a silent thriller I am working on.
What are your expectations from the Toronto Talent Lab?
I am looking forward to interacting with highly experienced mentors and international lab mates. It would be a great learning place to share one’s experience.